Lapisardi, Historical Impersonator and
"The Voice of Rebel Rose" O'Neale Greenhow...
Emily at the
Pittsburgh Soldier's Fair
The Aviary, Pittsburgh's North Side
Thursday, June 19, 2003
I met a woman from the Old South the other day. She was wandering through a Union Army encampment in West Park on the North Side, dressed in black, gloved and carrying a fold-up fan.
"May I inquire as to where your sympathies lie?" she asked us.
Jon told her I had a Southern background but that his family had left the South for Maine to avoid the conflict. "They were pacifists," he said.
The woman leveled him with her gaze and said, "Indeed, sir?" Then she composed herself and said, "We have not been properly introduced. Let me give you my card."
She produced from her dainty purse a card, reminiscent of the calling cards people used to carry. Her name is Emily Lapisardi, but the character she was playing was Rose O'Neal Greenhow, a Confederate spy who was arrested by the Pinkertons.
"Are you a war widow?" Jon asked her.
"I am in mourning for my daughter, sir, who died of consumption," Rose said.
As I took her in -- the full-skirted black dress, the strand of lace threaded through her arms, the proper accent and diction, the graceful movements of a lady of the era -- I was ashamed that I had sauntered through the Civil War Soldiers' Fair wearing an oversized Pirates T-shirt, shorts and sandals that exposed my toes.
She looked at us the way someone might who was living in the 1860s and suddenly came upon a bunch of Saturday people from 2003. I felt like an unmade bed. Meanwhile, Jon was engaging her in political discourse. Behind them stood Abraham Lincoln.
My voice came out in a raw whisper, "There's the president behind us."
Rose turned slowly to look, then said to us, "Ah, so there's the Beanpole."
We laughed, but her disdain seemed genuine.
"Mr. Lincoln thinks I am a traitor," she said. "All the South has asked is that we be left in peace."
"It depends on who you mean by 'we,' "Jon said. "The Constitution guarantees liberty to all persons, not merely white Southerners."
Rose held her head as if her neck might break if she moved. "Tell me, sir, who is better off, a man who has food and shelter and is provided for, or a man who works in a factory in the North and is starving?"
"Of the two, which one would you choose to take the place of?" Jon asked her.
"Sir, I don't believe I would choose to be aye-ther."
"Don't you suppose he should have the right to choose which to be?"
Rose looked directly at him. "I do not believe that slavery is the reason for this war."
"I believe that it is," Jon said.
What I believed, for a brief moment, was that our times and the times she was pretending to live in had merged. I wanted to say, "Hey Emily, can we break character for a minute? I want to ask you stuff." But I couldn't. It would have been unseemly, a breaking of the spell. I was even beginning to feel sad about her dead daughter.
"I'm afraid, sir, that we will never come to agree," she said to Jon.
We parted with gunpowder and the strains of a violin wafting through the air and joined the parade of people -- some in shorts and sandals, others in long bell-shaped skirts and cavalry uniforms -- walking to the Civil War Soldier's Monument to hear the president deliver the Gettysburg Address.
|Local historical reenactor and General Pierre Beauregard impersonator, Thomas Watson, greeted and escorted Emily Lapisardi of Pittsburgh, Pa. who gave a one-woman performance of famed Southern heroine, Rose O'Neal Greenhow, at the War Memorial Civic Center in DeRidder.|
The talented young actress, just 18-years-old, who showed an amazing grasp of the historical character, drove to DeRidder with her father and uncle after her airline ticket was canceled because of the Sept. 11 attacks that has disrupted flights everywhere.
Johanna Pate of DeRidder, representing the sponsoring organization, Emma Sansom Chapter of the Order of the Confederate Rose, said the group was willing to postpone the event but the young actress, in the best tradition of the theater, insisted the "show must go on."
Mrs. Pate, who is also Louisiana OCR president, said the event was a fund-raiser to purchase flags for a color guard for Maj. Jesse M. Cooper Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, in DeRidder. The proceeds will be used to buy flags for the camp color guard.
Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a Confederate spy who worked for Louisiana General Pierre G.T. Beauregard in Washington, prior to the First Battle of Manassas, Va. Greenhow later gave her life for the Southern cause when she drowned while trying to run the Union blockade with gold from Europe. The Order of the Confederate Rose is named in her honor.
Miss Lapisardi, in her performance, captured the style of speech, gestures and, most difficult, spirit of the times.
She wore a magnificent gown true to the 1860s women's clothing styles, right down to the petticoats and accessories. The petticoats contained secret pockets to carry messages and a secret message decoder.
In reliving Greenhow's life story, Miss Lapisardi recounted that the Southern heroine was a native of Maryland who was a great admirer of former Vice President and Senator John C. Calhoun, who shaped her political view of the world.
She said that Greenhow was recruited as a Confederate agent by Beauregard's aide, Col. Thomas Jordan. She then organized a spy ring that successfully obtained information about Union troop movements just prior to the First Battle of Manassas.
Miss Lapisardi also detailed Greenhow's subsequent arrest by Allen Pinkerton and imprisonment in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. After nine months in confinement, she was exiled to the South, where she was greeted as a heroine by President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Va.
The actress was escorted by local re-enactor and Major Cooper Camp compatriot, Thomas Watson, who has been portraying General Beauregard for years.
P. O. Box 62738
Charleston, SC 29419-2738
A special presentation by Emily Lapisardi -
Rose O’Neal Greenhow (1817-1864), a lady of society living in Washington, D.C., during and before the American Civil War, developed a network of Confederate agents which secured and passed information to General Beauregard and others. This presentation reviews her life, reveals some techniques used in espionage, and summarizes her imprisonment and exile to the South.