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Small battle turns into nationwide attraction

Mike Reynolds was anything but a Civil War buff when he helped launch the annual Battle of Selma re-enactment back in 1986.

Like many casual observers, Reynolds was surprised to learn that it’s not uncommon to find re-enactors who in real life are successful lawyers, doctors and other professionals. They just happen to share a common passion for bringing history to life.

Reynolds says his initial interest in the project had nothing to do with history. He was merely trying to generate a few tourism dollars for the city.

The Battle of Selma was the brainchild of the local Kiwanis Club. Reynolds and his fellow Kiwanians thought hosting an annual re-enactment would be a good civic project and might even draw a few tourists to the city.

It succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.

So much so that last year the Kiwanis Club handed oversight of the battle, which takes place April 24-27, to the Battle of Selma Authority, a quasi-official board that coordinates the countless details that go into making for a successful weekend.

Those efforts have earned national recognition for the city. A report in U.S. News and World Report magazine rated the Battle of Selma as one of the top four re-enactment events in the country.

The battle has also become one of the city’s top tourist attractions. Reynolds estimates that the battle attracts 700 to 800 re-enactors and their families each year. The event is also expected to draw thousands of tourists over four days.

In addition, more than 3,000 students from around the state visit the battle site during school days.

That translates into a significant impact on the city’s economy. &uot;We like to say that with the rollover effect it’s a million-dollar weekend for the city,&uot; Reynolds says.

One of the reasons Selma is so popular, according to Reynolds, is because of the re-enactment ball that’s part of the festivities.

Another intriguing aspect of the ball are the &uot;hedgies&uot; &045;&045; local residents who don’t actually attend the gala festivities but who peep through the hedges surrounding the grounds of Sturdivant Hall, where the ball is held each year.

Observes Reynolds, &uot;We’ve had some interesting events take place in the hedge over the years, as you can imagine.&uot;

Although the Kiwanis Club no longer oversees preparations for the battle, Reynolds and many of the other members still lend a hand.