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Music, crowd light up Fourth

July 05, 1999|By GREG SIMMONS

SHARPSBURG - Crowds held off until late Saturday afternoon to fill the acreage set aside for the concert by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra at Antietam National Battlefield. Eventually the music, fireworks and patriotism brought out more than 30,000 people for the 14th annual Salute To Independence.

Antietam Park Superintendent John Howard said that while planning the event involves a lot of work, the peaceful crowd makes it enjoyable. In the history of the July 4 event, no one has been arrested.

"This is the best crowd I've dealt with," Howard said Saturday.

Howard said some people started setting aside places to watch the concert around 8 a.m., but most didn't start coming until the afternoon.

According to the National Weather Service, the afternoon high in Hagerstown was 93 degrees with a heat index, which represents how hot it feels, of 100 degrees.

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The heat kept crowd levels thin until the sun began to set, Howard said. The crowd estimate was as low as 20,000 at 5 p.m., but by concert intermission, the crowd had peaked at about 32,000, Howard said.

"It's smaller than last year," said Jaime Adair, 21, of Hagerstown. He and two of his friends were kicking around a soccer ball a little after 5 p.m. By 8:30, their plot of playing field had been lost to the masses.

The Antietam concert is a good place to "hang out, have fun, celebrate our country's birthday," Adair said. He was there with 20 friends and family members ranging in age from 16 to 26. They brought three coolers, plenty to drink and a Radio Flyer wagon and trash bag to keep from leaving a mess behind.

Angie Haugh, 24, of Boonsboro, came to the Salute to Independence for the first time Saturday. She said she was impressed with the planning of the event. "I think it's great that the community does this for people," she said.

It took the work of 10 agencies to coordinate the event.

About 100 paid and volunteer workers ran the show - from emergency medical services to the fire department and the Army National Guard.

The Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Department is the only group allowed to sell food and drinks on the battlefield each year. Sharpsburg Fire Chief Jeremy Gay said he expected to reap up to $4,000 dollars selling drinks, burgers and hot dogs.

Water and Gatorade sold out early, Gay said. But their popularity was topped by snow cones.

Because of the heat, Sharpsburg Emergency Medical Services was more cautious than usual, but certain innovations made handling this year's event a little easier than in years past, said Lester Bussard, Sharpsburg EMS chief.

Hagerstown Community Rescue personnel rode bikes through the crowd, which the Park Service sectioned by marking off the seating areas into a grid. And for the first time, a physician supplemented the emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

Washington County Hospital's Dr. Timothy Jahn, who also is the associate county medical director, said his presence solved many problems for patients who suffer injuries or get sick from the heat on the field.

In previous years, asthma or severe heat sickness would send a patient to the hospital, but Johns could administer intravenous injections and other care on the spot.

But music, not medicine, set the tone for the night.

"I picked these pieces because they lend themselves to the day - and the summer," MSO Music Director and Conductor Elizabeth Schulze said.

After a fly-by from a C-130 cargo plane from the West Virginia Air National Guard, the concert began. The program included a "Star Wars" medley with music by John Williams, and there was plenty of John Philip Sousa. But the crowd was brought to its feet by Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."

With the sun's power hidden beneath the horizon, the only light for the crowd at this point was that reflected off the crane-lifted United States Flag, and that of the howitzers that boomed in synch with the maestro's baton waves.

Maryland Army National Guard Sgt. Robert Cadrette said the M102 105mm howitzers, which can blast 7 miles accurately, were shooting blanks that looked a lot like Citronella candles. "If they had a wick, you might even light one. But I wouldn't recommend it," Cadrette said.

Also with the National Guard, Spc. Akili Amabenemu said Hagerstown is definitely a change from his native Washington, D.C. "It's nice if you're coming out to get away from the city."

Don and Linda Loeffler, both 53 and from Bloomington, Ill., came to visit friends from Hagerstown they had met in Cancun. "We think (the concert) is super," Don Loeffler said.

Dottie Saslov, 54, came from Atlantic City, N.J., with her husband to visit her daughter, son-in-law and grandson over the weekend. They set up their wood table, chairs, cooler and full table setting early to enjoy the day, she said.

"It's just a beautiful thing to have on the Fourth of July," Saslov said.

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