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What a candle signifies

By Staff | Dec 8, 2017

Toni Milbourne For the Chronicle

It wasn’t one single candle, but 23,110 of them, that caused hundreds of cars lined up for miles to enter Antietam National Battlefield last Saturday evening. The wait for many was more than three hours to enter the park and drive the nearly five-mile route of the battlefield to view the 23,1100 luminaries spread throughout the battlefield.

During this annual event, which takes place the first Saturday in December, volunteers spend countless hours placing the candles inside bags and then placing them in lines through the battlefield.

One candle is placed for each soldier killed, wounded or missing at the Battle of Antietam.

The manpower needed to make the event happen each year extends to more than 1,400 volunteers who come from around the United States to place and light the luminaries. For 29 years, the event has seen members of cub scout and boy scout troops who return year after year. Families come, as do individual volunteers. They begin lighting the luminaries in the early afternoon, so that when the public arrives at 6 p.m. it sees the nearly endless sea of candles spread over the battlefield grounds, along the roadways and across bridges.

Scattered throughout the fields, encampments of reenactors could be seen standing or sitting near campfires, observing the endless row of vehicles driving through to witness the lights. Some stood along fence rows, nodding in silence to passersby.

Vehicles drove through the battlefield using parking lights only, unless their vehicles didn’t allow due to new technology. The line moved continuously, snaking through the grounds as visitors leaned out of windows to take pictures of the rows of candles, which gave a visual representation of the magnitude of the battle’s casualties.

Visitors are prohibited from walking the tour route. Event brochures were distributed at the event entrance and contributions were accepted, although there was no set admission price. The founder of the event was Georgene Charles.