Luminaires at Antietam

December 04, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

SHARPSBURG, Md. - Not too cold, not too windy and no rain - the weather really cooperated Saturday night for the 11th annual luminaires show at Antietam National Battlefield, attracting an estimated 4,000 or so vehicles past the 23,110 candles cradled in paper bags.

Each luminaire served as a remembrance of a dead, wounded or missing soldier from America's bloodiest day on Sept. 17, 1862.

"I had tears in my eyes at one point," said John Wisor of Howard County, Md., a first-time visitor. "I could imagine people dead on the battlefield."

John and Sue Crawford of Olney, Md., said they have been trying to get to the luminaires show at Antietam for three or four years.


"Spectacular" was John Crawford's one-word, but ample, description.

Edward Smith and his wife, Janet, drove in from Glengary, W.Va. It was his first time visiting the display, her second.

"The first time was really moving," said Janet Smith. This time, she agreed with her husband it was an awesome sight.

Earlier in the day, more than 1,100 volunteers filled each bag with sand and a single candle and placed them on the ground along the roads and through the rolling hills of Antietam.

The candles were lit around 2:30 p.m. and were expected to last through the night, according to Georgene Charles, chairman of the project.

The luminaire project was started in 1989 to remember the soldiers from both sides who met in battle on the farmlands and woods overlooking Antietam Creek and the town of Sharpsburg.

Park rangers said 3,600 soldiers from both sides were killed in the battle,18,000 were wounded and another 1,000 to 1,200 ended up missing.

Susan Blair, assistant superintendent of the Antietam Battlefield, hosted a brief ceremony Saturday afternoon thanking the volunteers who filled and placed the bags.

Among the dignitaries on hand Saturday were U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and Maryland Comptroller and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who serves as honorary chairman of the project.

The National Park Service sent Deputy Regional Director Gentry Davis, and David Hayes, deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, was also in attendance, according to Charles.

Music was provided by the Ebenezer AME Church Choir of Hagerstown.

Unlike many other endeavors going begging for volunteers, the luminaires project now has the opposite experience.

"We turned away about 500 people this year," Charles said.

While a fair share of the volunteers come from Washington County and the Tri-State area, many traveled from Delaware, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and even as far away as Georgia, park rangers said.

Volunteers included Scout troops and packs, church groups and Civil War-related organizations including Greg Inge's history classes from Beaver Area High School in Beaver, Pa.

"This is our school's fourth trip," Inge said. "This year there are 19 of us ... three teachers and the rest students."

One of those students was Peter Miller, 15, who until 1998 lived in Hagerstown and attended Northern Middle School.

"We moved to Beaver last year but this is my first time to attend this event," Miller said.

Emily Hulsizer, 17, and Jessica Green, 16, were also making their first pilgrimage this year and enjoying every minute of their two-day tour.

Inge and his son, Jeb, 12, were among those who camped out in a field at Antietam Friday night after touring Harpers Ferry during the day.

The highlight was definitely setting up the luminaires on Saturday.

"This is living history," Inge said.

The National Park Service and the Sharpsburg Fire Department were on high alert in case of fire spreading to grass, Charles said.

Traffic was directed by Maryland State Police and the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

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