Many of those who traditionally have made a day of it for the Salute to Independence decided to make an evening of it instead.
The temperature was 99 degrees — down a few degrees — and the relative humidity was 44 percent on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg Area EMS Chief Lester Bussard said. With a heat advisory in effect, the crowd at that time was sparse compared to more comfortable years, when the concert and fireworks have drawn upwards of 30,000 people.
“This is a relatively light year so far,” park Superintendent Susan Trail said. “We’ll see what happens in the next hour.”
Trail said she shortened work shifts so that rangers and other staff members got out of the heat more frequently, and the visitor center’s air-conditioned theater was opened so people could cool off.
Despite the heat, Theda Dofflemyer, first-aid commander for Sharpsburg EMS, said only one child had been treated for heat problems. The treatment was Gatorade and some quiet time in an air-conditioned tent provided by Washington County’s Special Operations Division, said her daughter, Keli Smith, a paramedic.
A huge American flag did have a light breeze to wave in as the Maryland Symphony Orchestra played “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the temperature fell to tolerable as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley joined Music Director Elizabeth Schulze on stage to narrate Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” a composition that incorporates selections of Lincoln’s speeches and writings.
“I’m actually glad we came ... I was dreading it a little bit,” said John Kraynak of Myersville, Md. Kraynak, his wife, Karen, and stepson, Joshua Davis, had been to the salute before, but “we’ve never sat this close before.”
They came at about 7 p.m. and filled in one of the vacant spaces between families and groups that had staked out their turf hours earlier. Others still were filtering in after the concert began at 7:30 p.m.
Rena Hoffmann of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said her husband came to the park at about 6 a.m. to claim a spot, but their group of 15 didn’t arrive until midafternoon.
Her group brought dinner and plenty of cold drinks to stave off the heat, Hoffmann said. One girl sat under their canopy with a bag of ice on her head, while a woman used a spray bottle of water to cool down.
“We love snow cones,” friend Katie Kennedy said. Just about everywhere one looked, people were chilling out on the $2 snow cones.
Collapsible canopies were canted against a cruel sun.
Under one sat Bill Wasson of Martinsburg, W.Va., and his son, Alex, playing chess on a board set atop a cooler. They came at 6 p.m., about three hours later than usual.
Bill Wasson said they usually come with a group of five to eight people, but the heat changed some minds this year.