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Antietam battlefield and Maryland Symphony prepare to salute independence

July 01, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

SHARPSBURG -- The stage has been built, and about 50 portable toilets will be brought in Thursday to accommodate the tens of thousands of visitors expected Saturday for the 23rd annual Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield.

The annual event features a concert by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, followed by a fireworks show.

This year's event also includes a flyover by historic aircraft from the Hagerstown Aviation Museum, according to Tom Riford, president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau and master of ceremonies.

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra each year must raise about $100,000 to cover the direct costs of the Salute to Independence, said Sharon Ahrens, orchestra manager. Another $87,000 of in-kind donations and services, most by the National Park Service, also contribute to the event, she said.

For 23 years, the event has continued because the orchestra believes it's important to, "bring the music to everyone at Antietam," she said.

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In the last 10 years, anywhere from 25,000 to 38,000 people have attended each of the events, said John Howard, superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield

More than 25 percent of the concert-goers traveled 50 miles or further for the event, Riford said. Estimates show that the Salute to Independence has an annual direct economic impact of $500,000 on Washington County and is one of the county's largest events, second only to the annual Mummers Parade, Riford said.

He called Saturday's event a "celebration of what's good and wonderful in our country."

Howard warned people to be prepared for a long walk to get into the park Saturday.

Visitors may bring picnics, but no grills are allowed, he said. Sunscreen, bug repellent and a flashlight for the trek back to visitors' vehicles are recommended, Howard said.

People begin arriving at the battlefield as early as 10 a.m. on the day of the concert, but most of the crowd usually doesn't show up until late afternoon, he said. Howard said people may begin setting up picnic blankets and chairs as early as 6 a.m.

John Phillip Sousa's "The Liberty Bell" and "Stars and Stripes Forever" marches will be performed by the MSO, as will Robert Lowden's "Armed Forces Salute," Jerome Kern's "Waltz in Swing Time" and Morton Gould's "Yankee Doodle Variations," organizers said in a news release. The concert is to conclude with the MSO's traditional Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" with live cannon fire provided by members of the Maryland National Guard.

Some of the National Guard members at last year's event had recently returned from Iraq. Riford said the crowd went wild when he announced the Guard members' service.

"It's people proud of being American, welcoming these soldiers back home," he said.

If you go ..



What: 23rd annual Salute to Independence

When: Saturday. Concert at 7:30 p.m.; fireworks follow

Where: Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg

Cost: Free

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