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Thousands celebrate freedom at Salute to Independence

July 04, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

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    Plastic tarps were the tool of choice Saturday to reserve spots at the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's annual Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield.

    Park visitors came to the park as early as sunrise to reserve a spot for the evening's performance by the MSO, followed by a fireworks display.

    Some people came to the park early, reserved a spot, then returned later.

    By midafternoon Saturday, the hillside in front of the symphony's stage largely was filled with plastic tarps.

    One of the early arrivals was Ronnie Bolyard of Boonsboro, who arrived at the park about 6 a.m. to pick a spot.

    Bolyard sat under a shade tent and was watching the crowd streaming into the park as he recalled his years attending the show.

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Bolyard said he has been to see July Fourth fireworks in Washington, D.C., but he likes the local show better.

"You don't have the crazy people," said Bolyard, who has his annual Salute to Independence plan down to a science.

Bolyard said he usually starts packing up his belongings before the end of the show so he can make a clean getaway from the park.

"I have a flashlight so I can find all my tent pegs and get them out of the ground," Bolyard said.

About 20 people were expected to show up at a spot where two shade tents were pulled together.

Several families picked out the spot and the early arrivals were munching on fried chicken and salads.

They asked a reporter if he wanted something to eat.

"Trust me, we have enough," said Neil Becker of Hagerstown. "We're not going to run out of food."

Jerry Kendle of Hagerstown got his spot about noon.

He was relaxing under his shade tent later in the afternoon, monitoring the action below him as spectators were streaming into the park.

"I look forward to it every year," said Kendle, who often mixes his visit with a stroll through the park and usually helps pick up trash after the show.

Fred Keilholtz of Myersville, Md., stood looking over a field and was sketching a picture of a farmhouse on a large paper pad. Keilholtz, who does artworks in oil, pencil and ink, was struck by the surroundings.

"It's such a beautiful landscape out here," Keilholtz said. "What an awful place to die."

In September 1862, northern and southern troops clashed on the battlefield during the Civil War, a conflict that resulted in 23,000 casualties.

When the music started about 7:30 p.m., a huge American flag was hoisted in the air behind the stage as "The Star-Spangled Banner" was performed.

There was no rain date for the show, and park officials kept their fingers crossed that rain to the west wouldn't move into the area until after the fireworks.

The event never has been rained out, park officials said.

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