Antietam organizers look to the future

September 15, 1997


Staff Writer

The 135th Commemoration of the Battle of Antietam was so successful organizers already are talking about holding the event every five years.

Event co-chairwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said Monday she and co-chairman Dennis Frye talked casually this past weekend about making the commemoration a regular event.

Saum-Wicklein said she thought Frye's estimate of 100,000 spectators was a little high, although official counts were not yet available.

It will take awhile for organizers to determine how much the three-day event raised for local businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Frank Artz, 70, said he would be willing to host the re-enactment on his Rench Road farm again, if he lived long enough.


He said he met many courteous people from across the country and some from abroad.

Tourism officials should capitalize on the publicity generated by the event to enter the international tourism market, said Ben Hart, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

More than 25,000 tourism information packets were distributed during the weekend, he said.

"This was epic. That was the only word to describe it. That's what they're going to remember," Hart said.

Tourism officials will analyze addresses from advance ticket reservations to determine what markets to target in attracting tourists interested in Civil War-related events, he said.

Saum-Wicklein said she asked County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook to have a survey of local businesses conducted to determine how much sales increased this past week compared to the same week a year ago.

"I think we will have millions of dollars infused into the local area," said Saum-Wicklein.

During the three days of the event, about $350,000 was collected from ticket sales, parking fees and sales of hay and ice to re-enactors, said Ray Foltz, assistant finance director for the city of Hagerstown.

That doesn't count money made at food booths operated by nonprofit organizations.

One way to determine the event's economic impact will be the monthly revenue from the room tax on county hotels and motels, which helps fund the tourism bureau, she said.

"From our sutlery, this was the biggest event we've ever done," said Saum-Wicklein, who sells period jewelry.

It was the only successful major Civil War-related event this year because the Shiloh, Tenn., re-enactment was rained out, she said.

"We got tens of thousands of people in the community who haven't been here regularly or haven't been here at all," Saum-Wicklein said.

Now that they've had a taste of the community they might want to return for a more leisurely weekend stay at a bed-and-breakfast and go see a show at The Maryland Theatre, she said.

"Tourism really is a word of mouth industry. We need to treat the people well that come here," Saum-Wicklein said.

Until the next Antietam re-enactments, Saum-Wicklein envisions Washington County hosting a different major Civil War-related event each year, such as the Ransom of Hagerstown and Battle of South Mountain, Saum-Wicklein said.

The ransom was not held in Hagerstown this year in lieu of the Antietam re-enactment.

"I'm not wedded to the Ransom as an annual event," said Saum-Wicklein. It does provide a different view on the war with downtown skirmishes, she said.

Several re-enactors and sutlers asked Monday said they would come back to another Antietam re-enactment.

"If we could do this every weekend, I would just stay here," said sutler Cindy Hopes, of Ohio.

Re-enactor Doug Taylor, 35, of Union City, Pa., said he would come back every five years. "It's definitely the biggest event I've been too," said Taylor, a Union quartermaster with Wiedrich's Battery I.

Several re-enactors said organizers did a good job setting up the event and accommodating re-enactors, although there were a few snafus, including traffic congestion and some portable toilets that needed to be serviced more often.

"The way I judge things, if the re-enactors are happy and the public was well served, it was a success," said Don Warlick, site manager.

Warlick said congestion should be expected at any large outdoor event.

"I felt like we made the tie-ups as painless as possible," he said.

On Monday, the only visible signs of the weekend crowd were bags and cardboard boxes full of trash scattered across several acres and packed ground from foot and vehicular traffic.

The remaining re-enactors were breaking camp, volunteers were dismantling tents and crews were plowing mulch off Rench Road.

"This farm will be back to normal looking pretty much by Thursday," Warlick said.

Probably the wisest move made getting the 612-acre site ready for the event was to use mulch instead of gravel in the fields for parking, Warlick said. The mulch soaks water, prevents ruts and can be plowed under easily, he said.

Artz needs the land plowed to plant this fall's crop of wheat, he said.

The first priority will be to clean up the tons of trash left behind at the site, Warlick said.

Staff writer Laura Ernde contributed to this story.

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