Seen and heard at Antietam

July 04, 2004

Zeke Rowland of Fairplay has been coming to the Independence Day celebration at Antietam National Battlefield for about 10 years. On Saturday, he brought a group of Frostburg (Md.) University classmates along. While waiting for the concert to start, they were hanging out in the shade next to the Dunker Church.

Rowland already had spread a blanket near the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's stage across the street. "My friend and I stopped here at 9:30 (a.m.) to stake our claim under the tree."

"I love the music and the fireworks. It's always a fun time. We try to bring more friends every year."

Rowland, who said he's looking for a job, appreciated the free entertainment. "I'm unemployed right now and I can't afford the ticket" to see the orchestra otherwise.

His friend, Tony Czeh of Frederick, Md., loved the location. He said the fireworks in Washington are nice, "but they don't have the setting" the battlefield affords.


"It's a good use of a national park," Czeh said. "I can't think of a better place to be on the Fourth of July."

For Bill and Elaine Garrett of Shepherdstown, W.Va., the annual pilgrimage across the Potomac River to Sharpsburg for the concert isn't quite routine, but it seems to have developed a rhythm.

They'd come in the early afternoon and set up a canopy, and while the concert still was a few hours off, they were sitting with friends, enjoying the party.

"We've got it down pat," Elaine Garrett said. "We bring everything down here and then park way in town." That way, as their friend Margaret Kolbe observed, they're halfway home by the time they get to their car.

Sitting under a canopy near the battlefield entrance, Connie Knight and her sister Ruby Houser, both of Sharpsburg, were selling tickets with their friend, Doris Shoemaker of Dargan, for refreshments provided by the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Department, as they do nearly every year. The snow cones seemed to be a particularly big hit.

"We've had a pretty steady flow," Knight said. And as if to prove it, no sooner had she said that when 30 or 40 customers suddenly lined up.

Do they ever run out of food?

"Sometimes," Houser conceded. "If we get a good crowd."

For Hagerstown residents Dick and Phyllis Reel, the Independence Day holiday just wouldn't be the same without a trek to Sharpsburg for the concert. They've attended every year since the symphony began its battlefield concerts.

"We wouldn't miss a year," Phyllis Reel said. "We hope we never do."

By 4 p.m., they'd already made a day of it. "We got here about 8 or 8:30 (a.m.)," Phyllis Reel said. "Some of these people were already here. We were late."

But not too late to get an up-close-and-personal spot for watching the show.

"We just love the orchestra. The fireworks are nice, but the orchestra is the main thing. And you can't beat it for the price," she said.

Their "beach hut," as Dick Reel called it, was a pastel masterpiece of a canopy, with multicolored panels stretching from its roof to the ground - spaced just enough "to let in the breeze," he said.

For them, it was the perfect place to relax. For the whole day.

"We kind of watch the people; we watch them putting up their canopies," Phyllis Reel said. They'd brought magazines to read, but neither had bothered.

"It's just a relaxing day," Phyllis Reel said. "We work two jobs and it's about the only day we have to relax."

Patsy Crumbacker of Hagerstown arrived about noon along with her aunt, Mary Helen Helmer, cousins Peggy and Charlie Keller and their sons, Bobby and Nick, cousins Drew and Mary Ellen Fowler of Charles Town, W.Va., and her best friend, Mona Turner of Martinsville, Va.

The family sat in a circle around blankets laden with picnic food, prompting Crumbacker to confess that they'd spent the day "eating."

Even though Crumbacker is a local, Saturday's Salute to Independence was her first. But before the show even started, she'd decided it wouldn't be her last.

Bobby and Nick sat in lawn chairs playing with their Game Boys, but they already had taken a hike to various parts of the battlefield, and got to hear a preview of the blast of the big guns the Maryland National Guard would be firing during the evening's program.

They'd also heard one of the night's soloists, Corey Evan Rotz, rehearsing. Bobby, 11, liked the cannon - and he "liked the guy singing."

Nick, who gave his age as "5 and three-quarters," liked "the cannons."

"We've had so much fun this year, we're gonna make it an annual event," Helmer said.

"We're already working on the menu, aren't we?" Charlie Keller noted.

At a tent near the visitors center, the Western Maryland Interpretive Association was recruiting "Antietam Partners." The nonprofit group raises money to help preserve the battlefield and is taking on a number of projects this year, according to Kurt Redenbo, who works for the association.

Volunteers were passing collection jugs among the crowd. "We've had at least 20 volunteers out today," Redenbo said. Then another walked up to the tent and asked for his assignment. "Make that 21," Redenbo said.

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