Visitors help Harpers Ferry celebrate the season

December 13, 1997

Visitors help Harpers Ferry celebrate the season


Staff Writer

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Jennifer Takagi, who got married less than a month ago, learned Saturday that her new name means "tall tree" in Japanese.

Takagi and her husband, Brian, looked up the origin of their name at a Harpers Ferry shop during the Olde Tyme Christmas celebration.

The Sterling, Va., couple, both 24, are two of an estimated 5,000 people who have visited this historic town last weekend and this weekend, said organizer Jane Murto.


A steady stream of visitors walked the steep streets of the town, its 19th century buildings adorned with greenery, ribbons and white lights.

They ducked inside the shops to get warm and do a little Christmas shopping.

Brenda Snyder, 42, of Cumberland, Md., said she was glad the town wasn't too crowded on Saturday.

"The mall frustrates me. This is what I call an old-fashioned Christmas," she said.

Harpers Ferry is home to many historic events. It saw the arrival of the first successful American railroad, John Brown's attack on slavery and the education of former slaves at one of the earliest integrated schools in the United States, according to the National Park Service.

So it's no surprise that the town was one of the first to adopt the Olde Tyme Christmas theme 27 years ago.

"We were the original Olde Tyme Christmas," said Murto, president of the Harpers Ferry Merchants Association, who has organized the event for the last four years.

Shirley Dougherty and other merchants started the concept with one caroling group, Murto said.

"The spark was lit," she said.

Now, visitors are treated to puppet shows, magicians and traditional singers and dancers.

St. Nick, dressed in flowing red velvet robes, hands out candy canes to children.

The highlight, many visitors say, is the living nativity scene in front of St. Peter's Church on Saturday night.

"It's really just a special place. The quiet and tranquility just can't be beat," said Nate Calloway, 51, of Lanham, Md.

Olde Tyme Christmas doesn't get the crowds it used to because so many towns host similar celebrations, Murto said.

Merchants were glad they had dry weather both weekends.

"The weather, historically, has been unreliable. With El Nino, the weather's been rain on the weekends," said Roy Muller, who sells items relating to the Civil War at Potomac Sales.

Today is the last day of the festival.

Shops open at 10 a.m. Entertainment includes magician Rodney Pittman, the Gerberich Sisters on traditional Appalachian instruments and Wonderment Puppets.

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