It’s 2pm, and I’m sitting atop a steep set of stone steps that lead to Academy Hill Cemetery. Below me is the 4 th Annual Anthracite Arts & Heritage Festival in downtown Shamokin, Pa. Above me is a hazy, darkly overcast sky with thick ominous clouds looming in the distance threatening to burst at the slightest provocation.
I look around as the guide waits to begin our tour. There are about 10-15 people milling about the apex of the hill, and not a single Goth among them. Our guide, former Shamokin mayor Frederick “Fritz” Reed, comes around to collect the tickets, and then we’re off.
Nothing really exciting happened until we come to the “Soldiers’ Circle,” a ring of tombstones with a large monument at the center. Four of those stones are marked “unknown,” but that’s not what’s special about the circle.
“This is the only soldiers’ circle to have a base made from actual rock taken from the battle of Gettysburg,” Reed explained.
We walk around to the front of the 15 acre cemetery stopping just a few feet from my grandfather’s grave, and Reed regales us (in a bucket hat and fake mustache that kept falling off his face) with the story of how the town was founded and how Cleaver (Reed’s character), reluctantly ran for state office, invented various mining equipment and died tragically at a “relatively young age” (he was 44 yrs old).
Next up was some costumed re-enactors (4 in all, mainly teachers from the local high school). One was a doctor-pharmacy tycoon, one was a congressman-city founder (Reed’s character), one was the wife of a local landowner and one was a famous civil war hero turned Sheriff-Mayor.
“In 1864,” Henry “Snapper” Reese (Dave Kopitski Jr.) said of his adopted hometown. “You had as good a chance of getting shot in Shamokin as in the Wild West.”
Reed soon lets us go to explore the rest of the cemetery on our own, but I head back to the festival.
The duck business was doing extremely well with about a third of the ducks we brought gone, nearly all of the candy as was a sizable amount of small prizes. The line, however, remained relatively strong.
“We had some slow times, but it was pretty steady all day with the ducks,” Barb Silliman reported. “We kind of just improvised as we go along.”
I go off in search of the funnel cake stand and find it near the end of the vending area. There is no line, but the woman in the trailer refuses to give me change instead opting to try and stare me down. I wondered if that actually works on people or if she just thought I was stupid enough to fall for that.
“You want something else?” She said icily before finally retrieving a dollar from her cashbox.
Its 4pm as I finish my cake and head back to the duck booth – which was being disassembled before my eyes along with every vending area along Market Street. I arrived in time to tear down the very tent I helped set up and reload the car I helped unpack (this time the ducks, candy and prizes all fit into the same plastic box making the process a whole lot easier).
Next we drove up to the church to pick up my dad and whatever work he was doing between the 7 visitors the church received during the festival (up from 2 when I checked in around 1:30pm), and we still got home by 4:30pm.