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Birthday bash
Georgia Historical Society announces events for the state's 275th anniversary
Mayor Johnson, far right, at the press conference last week detailing the Georgia Days events

WITH THE 275th anniversary of the founding of the colony of Georgia on Feb. 12 getting close, the folks at the Georgia Historical Society have been busy planning a suitable celebration. They’ve even turned for help to the man who led those first 114 English colonists here way back in 1733 -- Gen. James Oglethorpe.

Georgia Days have always been celebrated in the past. “It’s our signature educational program,” says Dr. W. Todd Groce, President and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society.

“It’s always centered around the founding of the colony,” Groce says. “This year, since it’s the 275th anniversary and a special year, we decided we needed to do something more.”Every year, a historical figure important to Georgia’s history is chosen as the main focus. “The logical choice is Gen. James Oglethorpe, even though he’s been the focus in the past,” Groce says. “We’ll focus on his life and the contributions he made to the colony.”

There also will be a black-tie Birthday Bash and Awards Gala. Laura Garcia-Culler, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, is in charge of planning it. “One of the nice things is that people have stepped up to make this possible,” she says.

Cocktails will be served on the river walk at the site of Oglethorpe’s landing. “We want to try to evoke the feeling that they just got off the ship,” Garcia-Culler says. “There are a lot of galas in Savannah and we wanted to do something different.”

Then guests will be seated according to a plan designed to evoke Savannah’s historic squares. Awards will be given during the gala.

“Archie Davis will receive the Volunteer of the Year award and Bradley Hill will be recognized for lifetime achievement,” Garcia-Culler says. “Both have contributed greatly to Georgia history and the Georgia Historical Society.”

In the past, a luncheon with a keynote speaker was held on Georgia Day. “We thought we would step up this year,” says Dr. Stan Deaton, Vice President for Programs & Scholarship.

Michael Beachloss, the officialal president historian for the NBC television network, will be the keynote speaker at the gala. “He will talk about great moments in America’s history,” Deaton says. “Since 2008 is an election year, we thought it was great timing.”

The entire evening will be themed around Georgia’s history. “We had a lot of fun naming the food,” Garcia-Culler says, which explains the inclusion of items such as “Mary Musgrove’s Mushrooms” on the menu.

Greetings and well wishes from none other than her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II will be presented by the British consulate. “My guess is this will be the biggest thing in Georgia this coming year,” Groce says.

The schedule of events for this year’s Georgia Days celebration includes some familiar events, too.

The Colonial Faire and Muster will be held Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 2 and 3, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Wormsloe State Historic Site. Participants can see the ruins of the plantation house, costumed interpreters, colonial-era musicians and demonstrations of colonial life.

This year’s Georgia Days Kickoff Event is An Evening with James Edward Oglethorpe, a dramatic historical presentation by Scott Hodges. It will be held Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. at the Georgia Historical Society, 501 Whitaker St.

Hodges, who is based in Darien, is a professional historical interpreter who travels throughout the state to bring historical characters to life in schools and at special events. To portray Oglethorpe, he has studied journals, diaries and letters of the time period.

“Some historical interpreters don’t look like the person they’re portraying, but Scott does,” Garcia-Culler says. “He has gone to considerable lengths to look like Oglethorpe.”

On Friday, Feb. 8 at 10 a.m. in Darien, Oglethorpe’s visit to the Scottish Highlanders there in 1736 will be reenacted at Fort King George State Historic Site. Hodges will again portray Oglethorpe, as he has for 30 years.

One of the most popular events of Georgia Days, Super Museum Sunday, will be held Feb. 10 from noon to 4 p.m. More than 40 house museums, art museums and historic sites will be open free of charge during the afternoon.

The Black History Month Essay and Public Speaking Contest will be held Monday, Feb. 11 at 5 p.m. at the Georgia Historical Society. Five finalists will present their essays publicly and prizes will be given.

The Georgia Day Parade will be held Tuesday, Feb. 12. It will begin at 10:30 a.m. at Forsyth Park and go north on Bull Street to city hall.

More than 1,500 elementary school students will join dignitaries, costumed characters and local citizens to march. At the parade’s end, Mayor Otis Johnson will extend the city’s greetings to the marchers.

The Fort Frederica Living History Festival will be held Saturday, Feb. 16 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on St. Simon’s Island. Colonial-era games and demonstrations will be presented.

The Birthday Bash and Awards Gala will be held Saturday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Savannah. About 500 people are expected to attend, twice the number who usually attend the annual Georgia Days luncheon.

The Scottish Highland Dinner will be held Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at Fort King George State Historic Site in Darien. The dinner is held in the barracks, and is hosted by Oglethorpe himself.

Other events will include colonial crafts workshops, colonial town hall meetings with Oglethorpe and an elementary school banner competition.

In addition to the many other things the GHS does, a major website overhaul also was taking place while the planning was going on. “In every way possible it’s better,” Deaton says. “When you look at the site, the material is fun to use and the site is user friendly.”

Visitors to the site will see a new section, Today in Georgia History, that will tell them what happened on that day. “You learn something every day,” Deaton says. “It opens up the collection in a way that has never been opened before.

“Someone called one day and asked if we had anything on chain gangs,” he says. “I said, ‘You can go online and enter chain gangs and search the site for it.’”

Also available at the site is a historic marker map that shows historic markers throughout the state. “This is something we couldn’t do 10 years ago,” Deaton says. “It makes our collection available to people who can’t be here.”

With a new Web site and a major celebration planned, the folks at the Georgia Historical Society are very excited about the colony’s 275th birthday. The only question is, how will they top it 25 years from now, when Georgia turns 300?