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A summer salute

Antietam hosts MSO in Salute to Independence

Antietam hosts MSO in Salute to Independence

July 02, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

SHARPSBURG - Old Glory got a booming lift from Lyle Jacobson, whose crane hoisted the flag over the Antietam National Battlefield stage, billowing high for thousands to see.

Because so many people are watching, "it's a little nerve-wracking ..." said Jacobson, who lives in Chambersburg, Pa., and works for Grove Manufacturing. "It's a rehearsal and performance all in one."

Just after six howitzers went off in succession - boom! boom! - at Saturday's Salute to Independence, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra started "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Jacobson, at the controls of a 33-ton National Crane, hit his cue. The 30-foot-by-50-foot American flag rose higher and higher, reaching its peak - 135 feet from the ground - just before "... and the rockets' red glare."

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This was the 21st year the Maryland Symphony Orchestra has played music filled with imagery of flags, troops and marches at the battlefield.

In the fireworks finale, blasts and bursts of light filled the darkened sky.

"This is a time for independence," said Gene Farmer of Jefferson, Md., who made his patriotic feelings clear.

He wore a vest with a flag pattern and a red, white and blue floppy hat. His T-shirt, his sneakers, a picnic basket, a rug - all matched the theme. Several American flags hung from his tent.

Farmer, who served in the U.S. Army from 1973 to '76, said it's important to show support for American troops.

The crowd did just that for Alpha Battery of the Maryland National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 110th Field Artillery, of Westminster, Md., which operated the howitzers.

"Some of these boys just got back from Iraq and Afghanistan," Thomas Riford, the master of ceremonies, announced, eliciting a rousing cheer.

Riford reminded the crowd that the battlefield was the site of the nation's bloodiest day - Sept. 17, 1862, when 23,110 soldiers were casualties in a Civil War battle, leading to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the end of slavery.

As the concert started, Ed Wenschhof, the battlefield's chief ranger, said the crowd was large, but looked "a little lighter" than in past years.

The audience included several local and state elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, Riford said.

Well before the orchestra launched into the Armed Forces salute and other patriotic tunes, many people spread blankets and put up tents, easing into a slow-paced, sunny day.

The Tri-State area was hit with more than 8 inches of rain in the early days of the week, but Washington County was sunny and warm on Saturday. Weather observer Greg Keefer's Web site reported a temperature in the high 70s in Hagerstown around 8 p.m.

Wenschhof said the bowl section near the stage was wet in the days leading up to the Salute, but dried out. The crane got there OK, he said.

The pleasantly warm day kept the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Co.'s food and drink booth humming.

Sales at the Salute are the fire company's biggest fundraiser of the year, President Jim Kalbflesh said.

The company brought 1,200 hot dogs and 1,200 hamburgers and expected to sell most, if not all, of them, he said.

Mike and Mary Brown of Greencastle, Pa., and Brenda Keefer of Clear Spring came prepared for a leisurely day, complete with hooded beach chairs. A round flap comes up the back of each chair and rests on top, giving it the look of a folded lily pad.

In his 21st year as a Salute spectator, Mike Brown said he has learned what to bring.

He said he likes spending hours talking, reading and watching people.

The mood also was relaxed for orchestra members backstage, where John Findley and Daniel Sherlock showed no nerves about playing before a large crowd.

Findley, a French horn player from Falls Church, Va., said he has been in about 10 Salute concerts.

Sherlock, the principal tuba player, who lives in Severn, Md., has been with the orchestra for 17 years - but this was his first Salute. Usually, he's away with the U.S. Army Field Band, but the two schedules didn't conflict this year.

Major sponsors of the Salute included Susquehanna Bank, the National Park Service, the Washington County Gaming Commission, The Herald-Mail Co., Volvo Powertrain and Antietam Cable Television.

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