History

Historic reenactmentsThere was drama — literally — in downtown Florence, Alabama, Mountain Tom Clarkthis week as volunteers donned costume and reenacted the infamous story of Mountain Tom Clark. A renegade Civil War deserter, Clark returned to Florence near the end of the war and with a gang of fellow thieves and outlaws pretty much held the town hostage through robbery, murder and general mayhem. After a particularly grisly murder at a nearby plantation, Clark finally was caught. But before he could come to trial, an unruly justice-seeking mob dragged Clark and other gang members from their jail cells and lynched them — and a legend was born as rumors and Local historysecrets swirled. Who exactly was in Clark’s gang? Did prominent business people have any connection to the outlaw? And where were the men who were supposed to guard the jail on the night of the lynching? Hmmm…. will we ever know the truth? More than 140 years later, we’re still fascinated with the story. Local historian and head of the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library local history/genealogy department Lee Freeman (in T-shirt above) has spent countless researching the Tom Clark story and trying to separate fact from fiction. This past week the library sponsored a reenactment of Clark’s capture and arrest. Lee wrote the script and costumed volunteers played the roles of key characters in the story, with much of the action reenacted in downtown Florence on the exact spots where the story originally happened. About 30 of us trooped along at twilight, following Clark’s murderous path around town that culminated in a jailbreak so authentic that during one night of the reenactment, concerned citizens called the police to report a violent fight in the middle of the street. And no wonder it was so convincing — many of the Shoals’ best actors were involved, such as my friend Anna Gibson (above) as Mrs. Blair, mother of the city marshall who captured Clark. But Mrs. Blair had another claim to fame and she charmed our group with tales of how she smuggled necessary goods from Nashville, Tennessee, back to Florence during the Civil War. Other actors played Florence merchants, the mayor, a member of Clark’s gang, Clark’s wife and children, the Confederate-veteran marshall who arrested Clark and the outlaw himself. One of the actors was even descended from the character he was playing — I love the South! The reenactment was great fun, and it was wonderful to see all ages there soaking up some local history.

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