Sharpsburg Heritage Fesitval

A union of commemoration and history

A union of commemoration and history

September 12, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

Four war memorial plaques stand firm on Sharpsburg's town square. Each remembers neighbors, relatives and compatriots of wars spanning the country's history.

The plaques are surrounded by houses decorated with American flags and banners. On porches, rockers move in the breeze, seeeming to whisper of days when warriors marched and townspeople were far from celebrating.

Residents now, 140 years after being indexed in history books along with Antietam and the "bloodiest battle" of the Civil War, are alive with pride in the soldiers who stomped through their square on their way to the fight that changed the course of the conflict between the North and the South.


The 11th annual Sharpsburg Heritage Festival, Saturday, Sept. 14, and Sunday, Sept. 15, along the town square of Main and Mechanic streets, features music with fifes and church bells, history with lectures and books, and soldiers in uniforms that have never been worn in battle.

Town residents and frequent visitors are gearing up for the two-day event, which coincides with The Antietam National Battlefield's anniversary activities, and many say it's the nostalgia that keeps them coming back - and for some, drives them away.

"The festival keeps the the battlefield and Sharpsburg connected with the battle anniversary," said Ben Arndt, chairman of the festival. He said he's excited because he was able to get two military bands for the event.

Marjorie Jamison, 57, a retired Boonsboro Middle School history teacher and now substitute librarian with the Washington County Free Library system, thinks the festival is wonderful.

She has lived in Sharpsburg all her life and usually sells pins and programs for the festival.

Jamison taught the Civil War to her American History classes. She brought her students to the battlefield and filled them with the old adage, "history repeats itself."

Even of her quiet, rural hometown, she taught them that, "Something that horrible can happen anywhere," she said.

At Cap'n Bender's Tavern on Main Street, Joe Greeley, 58, a retired correctional officer who worked at Roxbury Correctional Institute, sits on a bar stool and reflects on the anniversary of the 140-year-old battle.

"It brings back the battle," he says of the festival and surrounding events.

Greeley said last year the event closely followed Sept. 11 and as a result echoed the patriotism felt all over the country.

Dottie Knight, 55, Cap'n Bender's Tavern owner, said she was born "on the battlefield," at a house near Dunker Church and has lived its history since.

"It's nice going back in time to see how it used to be and how easygoing things were in those days," she said.

Knight said it never surprises her to find a man in a Civil War uniform pull up a stool at her bar.

Cap'n Bender's Tavern will host the Second Maryland Fife and Drum's music Saturday, Sept. 14, after the band walks the streets. Knight said she'll be serving her barbeque spare ribs during the festival - back by popular demand.

For some, like Shepherdstown, W.Va. resident Peggy Pinckney, 42, the festival, re-enactment and battlefield activities are too horrible to bear, even with the history that goes with them.

"We plan on staying far away," she said about herself and husband, Jim Pinckney, 61.

Jim Pinckney, raised in Washington D.C., said even with his lineage - he's a relative of Matthew Brady, famous for pioneering Civil War era and battle photography, and Charles Pinckney, signer of the U.S. Constitution - he's not interested in participating in the fanfare next weekend.

"I've read so much about the Civil War," he said. "To be honest I don't know if I've ever been to the battlefield."

The Pinckneys say they come to Sharpsburg for Nutter's Ice Cream, off the corner of East Main Street and Mechanic Street.

At Nutter's, owner Debbie Nutter, 39, said she is usually stuck in the shop scooping vanilla ice cream during the festival, but likes the attention the event brings to the community and her business.

Since her shop opened six years ago, she said, "I've learned more about the Civil War" because customers routinely ask questions.

Nutter's customers that day said they appreciate the town and its history, but rarely get out for special events.

Mackenzie Peperak, 4, just looked into her chocolate and vanilla swirl cup when asked if she knew about the Civil War, but she spelled her name beautifully. Her mother, Desiree Peperak, 34, a special education teacher at Smithsburg Middle School and lifetime Boonsboro resident, assured her daughter that not knowing was all right for now.

Desiree Peperak said she thinks the history in the area is important, but said,"I've probably taken it for granted."

She has never been to the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival, but she and her mother, Joyce Rowe, have tried to attend the re-enactment and couldn't because of crowds.

Rowe, 61, a Maryland Parole Commission worker and also lifetime Boonsboro resident, said she likes to bike through the avenues of the battlefield and look at the markers.

"As a child I roamed the fields, playing," she said. "They didn't have the re-enactments like they do now."

She said the area is beautiful with South Mountain, Antietam Creek and the Potomac River, but she agreed with her daughter Desiree.

"When I was a kid I took it for granted also," she said.

The festival affords the opportunity for just about anyone to catch up on lessons lost.

"It's unique to live in an area with a lot of history that has meaning so many generations back," Rowe said.

The festival kicks off Friday night at the square with a Barber Shop Quartet and ends Sunday afternoon.

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