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An estimated 20,000 spectators enjoy Maryland Symphony Orchestra's 26th annual Salute to Independence

July 02, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Maryland Symphony Orchestra Music Director Elizabeth Schulze directs during the annual Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

The rolling green hills of Antietam National Battlefield slowly morphed into a patriotic sea of red, white and blue on Saturday as thousands of people staked claims like prospectors for a spot to watch Salute to Independence.

Earlier in the day, parents waited under the shade of tents and umbrellas in 90-plus degree heat while their children played badminton, croquet and other lawn games. After three rain delays, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra took the stage about 8:20 p.m. to provide music for the night's festivities, which included a massive fireworks display.

Ed Wenschhof, acting superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield, said the free event has been held for the past 26 years to celebrate the nation's birthday. He estimated that Saturday's crowd numbered about 20,000 spectators.

"I really enjoy this event," said Wenschhof, adding park rangers started setting up on Monday. "Once everything kicks off and everything is in place, it's really satisfying."

But this year's Salute to Independence nearly didn't happen.

In March, organizers announced the event was in jeopardy because funding had fallen about $50,000 short. As a result, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra started a campaign to raise the money.

On May 2, MSO officials held a press conference at the battlefield, saying donors had stepped up to allow the show to go on. MSO Interim Executive Director April Dowler said at the time that the event costs about $229,000 to stage.

Several people said Saturday that they were glad organizers raised the money, including Chris Mullendore, deputy chief of the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Co.

Mullendore said firefighters generate about $10,000 each year at the event by selling food and drinks.

"This is our primary fundraiser," Mullendore said. "We do small things throughout the year, but nothing like this."

Bonnie Haynes said she drove from Allegany County, Md., to listen to the orchestra and watch the fireworks.

"I think it's a really nice park to come to," said Haynes, who has been attending Salute to Independence for the last 15 years. "I've never seen any problems. It's a great event to bring your family."

Haynes said Salute to Independence has been more significant to her over the past decade because of the U.S. military's involvement in the Middle East.

"It just makes you feel patriotic," she said.

Cumberland, Md., resident Daryl McCarty said he agreed.

McCarty, who attended Salute to Independence with his family and future in-laws, said he stopped soldiers who were at the battlefield to thank them for their service.

The soldiers were there to fire cannons while the MSO performed the "1812 Overture."

"It's something that everybody should observe," said McCarty, a U.S. Army veteran. "There's a lot of people who gave their lives for freedom."

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