- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

SHARPSBURG, Md. — A brown paper bag, a cup of sand and a candle make a luminaire. Twenty-three thousand of them make a statement.

The candles, illuminating the nighttime landscape of Antietam National Battlefield in row upon glowing row, offer enlightenment about the vast toll of the bloodiest one-day battle on U.S. soil.

The annual event will be repeated for the 15th time Saturday, when an estimated 20,000 people in as many as 7,000 vehicles will drive slowly through the rolling fields outside the rural hamlet of Sharpsburg. The 23,110 candles will be arranged along a winding, 4.5-mile route through the park.

“It’s been a very humbling experience. You know that each candle represents one person who was killed, wounded or missing that day,” said Lee Graff, of Williamsport, Md., who, along with her entire immediate family, has been a volunteer helper at every Antietam illumination.

This year, Miss Graff, 21, will work as a ranger at the event. The Shepherd University environmental science major was hired as a seasonal employee last year.

“As the event grows older and I’ve grown older, I appreciate it more,” she said. “I’m still in awe at the end of the night.”

Long past midnight, when the last car is admitted, the flames keep burning. Park Superintendent John Howard credits the candle, a 15-hour white wax votive model made by the A.I. Root Co., of Medina, Ohio.

“They light the candles at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and they consistently last until sunrise,” he said.

John Hulodnak, national sales manager for Root’s church candles, said the company created the candle specially for Antietam. It has an extra 1 inches of braided wick that is easier for volunteers to light and harder for the elements to extinguish than the inch-long wick on the company’s other votives.

“The makeup is such that the flame is larger than normal, and it helps brave the wind, the rain and cold,” Mr. Hulodnak said. “We did a lot of experimentation and tried to simulate some of the environments that they would be facing in their illumination and tried to perfect it as best we could.”

He said the same candle has been requested and used at other large illuminations, including one held Nov. 15 at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. Gettysburg park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said luminaires were placed on each of the more than 3,500 graves at Soldiers National Cemetery.

It was a moving display but “I don’t think anybody’s got one quite like Antietam,” she said.

Mr. Howard said the event commemorating the Battle of Antietam — also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg — was established in 1989 under Superintendent Richard Rambur.

Volunteer coordinator Georgene Charles, of Clear Spring, Md., said the volunteer work force has ballooned from 300 in 1989 to 1,300 people who come from as far away as Florida to lend a hand. The number was capped at 1,300 several years ago, forcing organizers to turn away 500 to 600 people a year, she said.

“We have the North groups working with the South groups, Catholics with Lutherans — it’s just people who want to understand and honor the soldiers there at Antietam,” Miss Charles said.

On Sept. 17, 1862, invading Confederate soldiers clashed with Union troops along the banks of Antietam Creek. The battle halted the first Confederate invasion of the North.

Historians say the lack of a decisive Confederate victory dissuaded Britain and France from recognizing Southern independence, and gave President Lincoln the political strength to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.


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