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C&O Canal Days come of age

August 23, 1998

Canal DaysBy MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

photo: MIKE CRUPI / staff photographer [enlarge]




WILLIAMSPORT - Turning 21 this year, the C&O Canal Days celebration has definitely come of age.

By 11 a.m. Saturday, all available parking on U.S. 11 through town was occupied. More people came on foot, spilling from their homes in this community made famous by the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which follows the Potomac River as it meanders nearby.

"Things started kind of slow this morning but the people are coming now," said Martin Gallery, a district interpreter with the National Park Service, just before noon Saturday.

The recently refurbished trolley building near the C&O Canal Visitor Center was open to the public Saturday and will be on display today as the two-day event continues with something for all tastes.

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"We came for the music," said David F. Brackett Sr., who accompanied his wife to Saturday's event.

Brackett was bothered a little by the rising temperatures but said he felt cooler when he spotted someone dressed in fur portraying Smokey Bear.

Some came for the good food while others were looking to buy popular crafts of handmade rag dolls, hobbyhorses, yard art, small cabinetwork, quilted pillows and much more from more than 100 vendors.

Activities abounded at W.D. Byron Park as well as at the C&O Canal Visitor Center and Museum.

At the museum, wildlife rehabilitator Frank Galvin displayed three owls and two hawks he cares for and answered questions about the birds' habits and menu requirements.

Maine native Mark Gilchrist said he stumbled on the event and stayed to meet some of the townspeople.

"I'm spending a year traveling this country by motorcycle, writing about the people I meet along the way," Gilchrist said.

On Saturday afternoon, Gilchrist was trying to find someone who could tell him about the mule skinners who worked the canal in its heyday.

"You know, many people think of just Baltimore when they think of Maryland. ... There's so much more," Gilchrist said.

Longtime Williamsport Mayor John Slayman and his wife organized the first Canal Days in 1976. The Slaymans, along with a small committee of interested residents, petitioned the Williamsport City Council to allow the event, which was planned to celebrate the nation's bicentennial. It was such a success that the committee kept it going, renaming it C&O Canal Days in 1977.

Last year, more than 12,000 people attended the two-day event. With picture-perfect weather and 20 years of memories, that figure might be exceeded this year.

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