Farm on loan for battle

September 13, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

"Excited" doesn't describe Frank Artz as this weekend's Battle of Antietam re-enactment approaches.

"Pleased," maybe.

Pleased, for example, that a crew is doing most of the set-up work, taking some of the pressure off him. "I like to sit back and watch," he said.

Pleased, too, that such a massive historical simulation - tens of thousands of people commemorating the War Between the States - is happening in Washington County.

Artz, 75, is lending 500 acres of his family's Rench Road farm so more than 13,000 re-enactors and an estimated 70,000 spectators can relive America's bloodiest day: Sept. 17, 1862.


Another 200 or so acres of the re-enactment site belongs to Allegheny Energy.

During the last few weeks, new re-enactment details emerged each day and were taken care of. Fences were erected. Power poles were put up, extending electricity to food stands and the news media area. A water line was installed.

"We're pretty well caught up now," Artz said.

He wondered if this latest round of re-enactors might have too many comforts. For example, showers - how authentic is that?

Sally Artz shakes her head as her husband returns from another trip across the land.

The hectic pace is not new, she said. "This is the way it is all the time."

Even without the re-enactment, several times a day someone shows up with a question for Frank Artz. Does he have a particular brass fitting? Can he sell some hay? Is it OK to walk the land and look for Civil War relics?

Frank Artz stopped farming the family land in 1993. He gave up growing grain. He got rid of 50 dairy cows, then beef cattle.

"Now, I have groundhogs and deer," he joked.

And now, Steve Beckley works the land for him.

When Frank Artz gets back to his house before he's interviewed, he climbs out of the John Deere 4x2 that gets him where he needs to be. He grabs his cane.

Because of a chronic back problem, his posture is stooped and he takes each step at an angle instead of head-on.

Artz remembers volunteering his property for the 135th anniversary re-enactment five years ago, probably the biggest production since the battle itself.

He isn't sure he can commit to a "next time," though.

"If there's any land left ...," Artz said. "We're in an urban growth area (where development is encouraged). There are four or five real estate guys after it right now."

Artz said that after the last re-enactment he talked with a group that wanted to invest millions of dollars in his family's property and turn it into a simulated historic village, in the same vein as Williamsburg, Va.

"We was talking to them about it," he said.

Artz said he'd rather see that, or a Civil War museum, or an outdoor stage for bluegrass concerts, than see townhouses.

The trouble with developers, he said, is "they don't want to give you nothing." That, and there are too many middlemen along the way and each wants a cut.

Artz said he could have made some money for the use of his family's land for the re-enactment, but he didn't ask.

The arrangement this time is the same as it was five years ago: Artz and Beckley will split the compensation for the crops that couldn't be planted on about 130 acres because of the re-enactment.

"I don't mind helping people out if I'm able to," Artz said.

He's looking forward to putting some of his farm collectibles in a tent for the public to see at the re-enactment.

His exhibit - set up between his home and a nearby field of sutlers - will include a drill, a corn cutter, a manure spreader, a potato grater and machines of all sorts.

He'll also be glad to see the many people who recognize him - "they throw up their arms; they call my name" - even if he doesn't always remember each name or face.

During the 1997 re-enactment, the Artzes hosted at least a dozen people every time they served lunch. They'd grab sweet corn and tomatoes from the garden. Someone would supply a ham.

The night before the Cornfield Battle, 30 people who had just attended a concert slept on the Artzes' floor, Frank Artz said.

Although the actual Battle of Antietam took place about 10 miles away, some of the Civil War unfolded on Rench Road. The Confederate line was there after the Battle of Gettysburg, Artz said.

The Potomac River was high and there was nowhere for the Confederates to go. "If the Union would have attacked, they would have had them cornered," Artz said.

Frank and Sally Artz - who have four children, nine grandchildren, two stepgrandchildren and one great-grandchild - expect relatives from New York, Raleigh, California and Wyoming to attend the re-enactment.

Frank Artz said people from 46 of the 48 continental United States will be there, too, along with residents of England, Norway, Germany and other foreign countries.

Asked what appeals to him about hosting such a large-scale event, Artz replied simply, "I just like history."

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