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Proclamation of Statehood Celebrated

June 20, 2013
By SHELLEY HANSON - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - Dressed in period attire, sporting a beard and standing 6 feet, 4 inches tall - the same height as President Abraham Lincoln - Fritz Klein spoke about the Civil War and the importance of uniting the country.

"It's of inestimable value to continue this struggle to preserve this jewel. It is worth fighting for," Klein said while portraying Lincoln at West Virginia Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling.

On April 20, 1863, Lincoln formally proclaimed West Virginia a state, approving its secession from Virginia. Wheeling area residents got the chance to experience that piece of history as Klein, an actor from Springfield, Ill., portrayed the president and read the proclamation that made West Virginia the union's 35th state.

Article Photos

President Abraham Lincoln, played by actor Fritz Klein of Springfield, Ill., proclaims West Virginia a state during an event at West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling.

Photo by Shelley Hanson

Sixty days later on June 20, 1863 - 150 years ago today - the act went into effect allowing the state to separate from Virginia.

When becoming president, he said he was asked whether it was possible to preserve the constitution and lose the country at the same time.

"My conclusion was that it was not. ... I've simply done what I deemed my duty. And I'm gratified the people of West Virginia have done the same," he said.

And while there was much debate about the reasons for the war, he said the sole purpose was to preserve the union though he believed all should be free.

"We must save the union or we lose all. ... It's perfectly legal for West Virginia to become a state. ... If we don't give West Virginia statehood, we will lose her. That much territory given to slavery now is given to freedom," he said.

After the event, Klein said he was recruited to play Lincoln 30 years ago in a play after he was spotted acting in a different period production while living in Hawaii. Originally from California, Klein eventually decided to move to Springfield, Ill., where Lincoln started his political career and family.

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