Hammond celebrates unique part of Louisiana history

By Alexandra Hedrick

Rifles have been fired, tickets have been sold and laughs can be heard coming from the Vonnie Borden Theatre because of the bicentennial of the West Florida Revolt. The revolt was commemorated in Hammond through the play “Only in Louisiana: The Not-Quite-True Story of the West Florida Revolt” and through a re-enactment in downtown Hammond.

Re-enactors fire off their rifles to signify that the West Florida flag is now flying

Sam Hyde, a chairman of the West Florida Republic Bicentennial Commission and history professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, said the celebration events commissioned by the state started in October 2009 and will end in January 2011.

The Tangipahoa Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted the re-enactment on Oct. 1. The event included the changing of the flag from the Spanish flag to the lone star West Florida Republic flag and re-enactors talking about the revolt and teaching the community about the forgotten event.

Pirates, Patriots and Settlers of the Spanish Mane, a group of re-enactors, displayed colonial items and taught the locals about the weapons and tools colonials used in war and everyday life.

Other re-enactors dressed as West Florida rangers and West Florida mounted rangers who fired the rifles, changed the flags and spoke to those with questions after the event.

Emily McKneely of the Tangipahoa Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau said the event started with the commissioning of a play written by Southeastern professor, Jim Winters and the performance of the play at the university.

“It’s been a neat process because most of us don’t know our own history,” McKneely said.

The West Florida Revolt is a unique part of history because there are only two other places where a similar event has happened. Both Texas and California had revolts against the Spanish empire, and they continue to honor the revolts on their state flags today. The West Florida Republic lasted 74 days before the federal government disbanded it.

“In Louisiana, we have forgotten this momentous event,” Hyde said.

The events continued with a play written by Winter and another professor, Chad Winters, directed the play.

VIP guest shows took place on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Student and public showings took place from Oct. 4-6.

The Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies commissioned Winter to write the play in 2009 for the bicentennial celebration of the revolt. The play was workshopped during the summer, and rehearsals began in August with the student cast.

The cast consisted of 26 students and one Actors’ Equity Association actor who played the narrator, Old John. The crew was made up of about 20 members.

“The show is a farce in its style, and we’re hoping that it will get people interested in the event,” Winters said.

Although the play was comedic and not completely historically accurate, it included the event’s important points.

Trey Lagan played Clarence Widdle, a modern day student that gets transported to 1810.

Laughter could be heard throughout the theater during the performance, and Cajun music set the mood as it played over the sound system.

The play goes back and forth between two high school students in 2010 and Philemon Thomas and Floyd Barrow in 1810. The four get themselves into trouble.

Trey Lagan, a student at Southeastern who portrayed the main character Clarence Widdle, said he really enjoyed being able to get involved in the play. He got involved with the theater by going into D Vickers Hall and talking to the three theater professors whose offices are in the front of the building.

They are always looking for new people. If you are interested in theater, talk to one of the professors.

Despite the economy and budget cuts, Winters said they have been able to put together a successful production.

“We’ve been very successful with help of the center to get funds to produce the play,” he said.

The play sold out for its Oct. 5 performance and nearly played to a sold-out audience at its Oct. 4 and Oct. 6 performances.

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