Annual battlefield illumination has become a holiday tradition

December 03, 1998

Antietam National Battlefield will host the 10th memorial illumination from 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Dec. 5.

About 9,000 cars carrying 30,000 people drive through the park to see the illumination, says John Howard, superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield. The route takes 20 to 25 minutes to travel, he says.

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He says about 26 park staffers work the day of the event to designate the roads in and out of the park, put up markers outlining the route and direct traffic.

"Our most important role is to keep the traffic moving," Howard says.

About $5,000 is raised each year for the event, says Georgene Charles, general chairman of the volunteers. She estimates $40,000 of in-kind services are donated by area businesses and volunteers.


A Sponsor-a-Candle program helps pay for the cost of the illumination. Donations of $1 per candle for next year's program can be sent to Antietam National Battlefield, P.O. Box 158, Sharpsburg, Md. 21782 or American Businesswomen's Association, in care of Georgene Charles, P.O. Box 188, Clear Spring, Md. 21722-0188. Contributors should write "adopt-a-candle" on their checks' memo lines.

Donations also will be accepted at the beginning of the route, Charles says.

Robert Stanton, director of the National Park Service, will speak to the volunteers before the 6 p.m. start to thank them for all of their work. "We're really happy he's going to be there," Howard says.

The event will be moved to Saturday, Dec. 12, in the event of rain, wind or heavy snow.

A decision will be made the morning of Dec. 5 about whether the illumination needs to be rescheduled. After 10 a.m., people can call the visitors' center at 301-432-5124 for information, or tune into area radio stations, which will announce rescheduling plans.

Beginning in January, volunteers will begin to compile information on the illumination and how it developed, photographs from the last 10 years' events and history of the Battle of Antietam for a book that is expected to be ready by September 1999, according to Charles. She says she hopes the book will be a worthwhile teaching tool and that the information will be easy to digest for those who are not well versed in Civil War history.

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