Posted by: Kirsten | Wednesday, 21 November 2007

23,000 Candles: Antietam’s Memorial Illumination

One Candle for Each Soldier Killed, Wounded or Missing at the Battle of Antietam

Last year I had the opportunity to attend the Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination.  At the site of this country’s worst single-day casualty count during the Civil War, it’s hard to imagine what actually went on that day without the tens of thousands of soldiers who swarmed up and down the hillsides fighting for God and Country, but the sight of 23,000 candles representing those who fell that day, over acres and acres of farms and fields, does a pretty good job of bringing the vast scale of that day’s events into perspective.

So, you could of course simply look at the instructions on the Antietam website regarding the times the illumination route will be open and show up like everyone else… OR… as homeschoolers, we sometimes like to think in non-traditional ways to educate our kids, right? — so here’s what we did.  I knew from visiting so many National Park Service units that every visitor center has a flag out front.  From having raised and lowered the flag at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center many times when I worked there, I knew that this task was assigned to someone each morning and each evening, and on very busy visitation days, it sometimes meant you stayed a little late until that flag was lowered, folded, and put away.

I wrote to the Superintendent of Antietam NB asking if there was any way the Webelos scouts of our Cub Scout pack could participate in the events of that evening, and offered our services to lower the flag in front of the visitor center at the end of the day.  Fully expecting there might already be some sort of official ceremony for the lowering of the flag that day, I was pleasantly surprised when he wrote back saying what a great idea it was, and the park management went out of their way to make this a memorable experience for our 14 scouts and scout leaders in attendance.

But not only did we have the privilege of lowering, folding, and presenting the American flag to the chief ranger that day… we also attended the ceremonies at the Maryland Memorial where Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne gave a speech to the crowds huddled around on that cold December evening. Amazingly, Kempthorne had an ancestor who fought at Antietam, so it was a very personal experience that he shared with everyone and really helped connect the battle of so long ago with those of us there on that day.  

At the very beginning of his talk, the sound system went out and he had to continue without the benefit of any amplification whatsoever.  Afterward I thought this must’ve been what it was like at Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — a crowd gathered around, listening intently to hear what was being said by the man in the center of the gathering.  And how nice it was to attend an event where the usual chatter that goes on in the margins of any gathering was this time — totally silent.  You could have heard a pin drop.

To cap off our day, having volunteered to be a part of the event, we were also permitted to be one of the first group of vehicles to drive the Memorial Illumination route when it opened at 6:00pm.  What a day! 

So, I encourage anyone within driving distance to consider volunteering for this and other events like it at our National Parks. As we know, by becoming an actual participant rather than simply an observer (to DO instead of VIEW), both you and your kids will be much more likely to learn something and retain that memory for the rest of your days.

— Jon

Antietam Memorial Illumination

From the NPS website:

On Saturday evening December 1, 2007, Antietam National Battlefield, in cooperation with the American Business Women’s Association, will host the Nineteenth Annual Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination in honor of those soldiers who fell during the Battle of Antietam. In the event of poor weather, the Illumination will be rescheduled for Saturday, December 8, 2007.

The Illumination opens to the public at 6:00 p.m. The main entrance to the event is Richardson Avenue off Maryland Route 34. From Boonsboro, travel west on Route 34 and a line will form on the westbound shoulder for entrance to the Illumination. From Hagerstown or West Virginia, travel to Sharpsburg and head east on Maryland Route 34 and make an appropriate turnaround at some point to access the line on the westbound shoulder of Route 34.

The driving tour through the park is approximately 5 miles long. Vehicles are to use parking lights only, to the extent technology permits this, and continue through the event without stopping. People on foot are highly discouraged from walking the tour route. Event brochures will be distributed at the event entrance and contributions will also be accepted.



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