Thursday, November 7, 2013

One Candle Lit for Every Casualty

The 25th Annual Antietam Illumination is scheduled to take place on December 7, with a rain date of December 14. The pictures do not do this event justice. It is something everyone should see at least once, because only when you see the candles glowing in the darkness do you get a true appreciation of "America's Bloodiest Day." 

23,110 candles glowing in bags are evenly spaced throughout the fields where the fighting happened and the casualties were made. It begins at 6pm and officially ends when the last cars are let onto the route at 9pm, though many thousands of candles burn long into the wee hours of the morning. Hundreds of volunteers begin spacing out the luminaries early in the day and later lighting them. It is a well-coordinated endeavor. I can only imagine the complexities of not only organizing and planning such a task, but of actually pulling it off and making it a success. Big kudos go out to all involved.

The traffic line begins on MD Rte 34, with some people lining up many hours in advance. The two times I have gone have consisted of almost three hours waiting in line, and of a half-hour drive through the park. This is by no means a complaint, however. In this case, the ends truly justify the means. There is no way to drive thru this thing without coming away with a sense of sadness and of awe. 

I've read Google reviews and reviews on Yelp bashing this event as a waste of time, "a logistical nightmare", being unorganized, and so forth. My only question is if these people went to the same event that I did? It's hard to believe that they did. The traffic line is long, and it does take awhile to get through it and into the park, but you're warned of that ahead of time. Any such event that draws a large crowd requires patience.

Turning into the battlefield is an experience all its own. Drivers are advised to turn off their headlights, leave only parking lights on, and follow the vehicle in front. This is good advice, and it allows a better viewing for all involved. The route of the illumination is opposite the normal flow of traffic on park roads, but I feel it creates a more dramatic effect. The visitor's center and the Dunker Church are now near the end and are quite impressive when flanked by thousands of luminaries, as are the various cannons and monuments on the field.

I could ramble on for hours about this event; it's that good! I'll close here by saying that if given the chance, by all means go. As said before, I've been there twice. I also am planning, along with my good friend Jim Coyle, to go again this year. Let's hope for good weather!

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