Wednesday, December 23, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | George Washington will have a tourist along for the ride on Christmas Day this year.

Homebuilder Thomas Fischer won a fundraiser auction for the right to don period garb and take a seat in the lead boat for the annual re-enactment of Washington’s 1776 crossing of the Delaware River, the trek that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War.

“I’m thrilled. I’m very excited to be going,” said Mr. Fischer, 54, of Newtown, who is paying $3,500 for the berth. “I’ve told a couple of friends, if they take any pictures, ‘The guy sitting next to George is me.’ ”

The fundraiser is part of a campaign by the new nonprofit Friends of Washington Crossing to ensure that the annual re-enactment survives budget cuts that have closed Washington Crossing Historic Park visitor center on the Pennsylvania side of the river.

“It’s a family tradition,” said Michelle Greco of the Bucks County Conference & Visitors Bureau, which formed the nonprofit. “People come from all over, and it says a lot about how important this is to the community, but it’s also an important part of our nation’s history.”

Thousands of spectators turn out each year to hear Washington’s stand-in deliver stirring words to the troops and watch three boats make the crossing from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

Officials, businesses and residents have been scrambling since they found out that state budget cuts imperiled the annual event, said Bill Haas, who heads the nonprofit.

Downpours did not deter more than 400 residents from showing up for a dress rehearsal for the 57th annual event. A hastily arranged $100-per-ticket fundraiser Sunday night drew 200 people and raised an estimated $25,000, including the auction of the re-enactment berth and other prizes.

The goal, Mr. Haas said, is to put the event and the nonprofit on sound financial ground “so we can ultimately reopen the park and staff it with interpretive tours and have it available for schoolchildren to tour again, like they have for many, many years.”

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