SIDNEY — A living history program entitled “Democracy on Trial,” about events that took place in Sidney in 1918 is being offered free to the pubic on Monday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Temperance Masonic Lodge in Sidney.
In light of the current politically charged and divided times, sponsor Shelby County Bar Association is presenting the program with the Shelby County Historical Society as a reminder that democracy has had its share of challenges over the years.
“We call it ‘Democracy on Trial’ because it was a significant test of our democracy. On one hand you had patriotism, and people were saying, ‘you are either for America’ — it’s like ‘Make America Great Again.’ It was the same kind of issue you have playing out today. And people back then were saying, ‘you better stand for America, or you better get out,’” said local historian and board secretary of the Shelby County Historical Society Rich Wallace.
The unscripted program will take a close look at events in 1918, which constituted a serious challenge to the freedoms Americans take for granted today, Wallace said.
The scenario to be recreated are events that took place in Sidney following the death of Shelby County native Simon Snapp, who had the “unfortunate distinction” of being the county’s first native killed in World War I.
According to the “Democracy on Trial” press release, “large headlines in local newspapers announced (Snapp’s) death in the early part of April 1918. At that time, there were many German immigrant families who only spoke their native language. They had been hardworking and contributing citizens of our community. However, the United States was now at war with Germany. Patriotic fever was rampant. The death of Simon Snapp ignited simmering tensions which boiled over.”
“Sidney High School students presented a petition to the Board of Education requesting all German books in the school be burned as a statement of patriotism. The board unanimously agreed. About 10 days after the death of Simon Snapp was announced, the students and many angry onlookers marched to the north side of the Court Square in downtown Sidney to burn the German books,” the release continued.
“Chaos ensued. Many citizens voiced pro-American and anti-German sentiments. Some decried the censorship which was taking place in the form of burning the German books. At one point, the crowd got out of control and beat a suspected German sympathizer. Only later was it determined the wrong man had been assaulted,” the release said.
Wallace said, “These high school kids need to understand the issues of today in 2018, in some ways, are no different than they were way back when. It’s maybe a little bit of a difference, issue of context, but the principals are the same. Democracy is always on trial and its always changing to sort of reflect the times, but it’s got to be a flexible document of the culture is not going to work, and so that’s why we are doing this.”
Adult and student volunteers from the Temperance Lodge, the Historical Society, and Sidney, Lehman Catholic and Anna High Schools will be living history participants to re-enact the book burning event in Sidney in 1918. Also, Sidney Police’s Community Resource Officer Mike McRill will be portraying a local pastor from 1918 and is expected to give a speech about acceptance, different beliefs and the importance of tolerance at the end of the program.
The free program to be held at the Temperance Lodge 73, located at 303 E. Poplar St., is open to the public. Registration is not required. Audience participation will be encouraged.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.