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Luminarias illuminate the night at Rest Haven

November 30, 1999|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

The first year Don and Dee South of Hagerstown learned about the annual Festival of Lights at Rest Haven Cemetery, they brought their own luminaria materials, mistakenly believing they were responsible for placing and lighting their own.

This year, buoyed by more than accommodating weather, the Hagerstown couple decided to do their part.

"The cemetery sent us a nice letter about it, and he decided he wanted to come ..." said Dee South, 78. "We just brought some matches with us to see what we could do."

In past years, bitter cold temperatures and snow kept the couple, who have been married for 55 years, inside their vehicle, and they would join the thousands of others who drive the cemetery's meandering roads, she said.

"You couldn't ask for a nicer evening," she added while lighting candles placed in small white paper bags, stabilized with sand and placed along a cement walkway in front of the cemetery's mausoleum.

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Beginning Saturday at 8 a.m., cemetery owner Charles S. Brown said about 100 volunteers placed about 9,500 luminarias on headstones and markers across the cemetery. The group finished about 10 a.m., Brown said.

The 19th year of the Festival of Lights featured a concert by a Frederick, Md., brass quintet, which played holiday favorites at the Rest Haven Funeral Chapel for about an hour.

"I love the music," said Carolyn Cowan of Hagerstown.

Cowan and her sisters, Linda Keefer of McConnellsburg, Pa., Jackie Leasure of Mercersburg, Pa., and Terrie Robinson of Hagerstown, along with two younger generations of family members, met at the cemetery to light candles at the grave sites of their parents and grandparents.

"It's one time we all get together," said Cowan, who planned to return later Saturday to enjoy the soft glow of the luminarias dotting a landscape already adorned in red and yellow poinsettia arrangements, evergreen wreaths and red bows.

"It's beautiful," Keefer said. "It's something to look forward to."

Lee Renner of Hagerstown said her family began to take part in the festival last year, which she said prompts memories of "the great times we had with" loved ones.

"My grandfather, he loved trains and worked for the (Western Maryland) railroad," Renner said.

Started the year before the luminaria event was launched at Antietam National Battlefield, Brown said the Festival of Lights is particularly comforting to people who recently have lost a loved one.

"Christmastime, that's the longest time of the year," Brown said.

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