CHAMBERSBURG - In the summer of 1864, General Jubal Early ordered General John McCausland to present the people of Chambersburg with a proclamation demanding $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in greenbacks, for damages done by Union General David Hunter’s federal troops in the Shenandoah Valley.
The residents of Chambersburg were given a choice: comply, or the town would be burned to the ground. It’s been reported that the townsfolk failed to take the threat seriously and that set the stage for what subsequently occurred.
McCausland ordered the ringing of the courthouse bell to summon the residents to the town square to alert them of what would happen next. By 8 a.m. the city was in flames. Houses were ransacked, furniture was smashed and used for kindling. Little was spared, except for the Masonic Temple, when a Confederate officer, who was also a Mason, posted guards at the building to prevent it from being burned.
That was then ...
Today the residents of Chambersburg are once again summoned to the courthouse by bell to relive that fateful time. These days, however, the ending is celebratory as the public reflects back on how the citizens worked together to rebuild the town.
Corey Eslinger, owner of Eslinger Lighting, Inc., is just one of the many individuals who works behind the scenes to bring “The Burning” to life.
When the Franklin County Visitors’ Bureau approached him with the concept six years ago, it seemed a bit daunting, but he was up for the task. “From a technical aspect, it is, by far, the most challenging event that we do,” said the Enola resident.
A technical challenge
Eslinger said that between six and eight technicians spend 12-16 hours to set up the LED lights for the show that will take place at the Franklin County Courthouse around 9 p.m. on July 16. There is no room for error during the event, so the crew always does a run-through on Thursday night. “We use theatrical fog machines to generate the smoke and the first year we did it, someone called in a fire alarm,” he said.
What made the initial setup the most challenging, according to Eslinger, was the location of the buildings. “One building is on the other side of the road and we have to get a signal to all the buildings, so in the beginning we had to invest heavily in high quality, wireless technology.”
The wireless technology isn’t the only expense. “The lighting console alone is about $15,000,” said Eslinger, who estimates that the equipment he uses for the event totals at least $100,000.
Dismantling the equipment takes another four hours. Now that Eslinger has everything down to a science, the only variable is the weather and he’s hoping for a nice weekend. “Weather is always a big factor, so we are hoping for good weather since it’s a rain or shine event,” said Eslinger. “The first year it rained,” he added, with a chuckle.
New every year
Those who haven’t attended the event recently may want to consider visiting again. “Every year it’s a little different because the Visitor’s Bureau comes up with other elements,” said Eslinger.
Janet Pollard, executive director of the Franklin County Visitor’s Bureau, said the crowd grows larger each year and it’s gratifying to be part of the celebration.
“Franklin County is an amazing piece of American history. The county seat was burned and 2,000 people lost their homes. More than 500 properties and buildings were destroyed, yet the residents persevered.”
Pollard said that the story, although a sad one, is, in the end, uplifting. “The residents of that day used their energy to rebuild the town and that can be such a positive motivator. It’s a celebration of the human spirit that allowed Chambersburg to grow.”
WHEN YOU GO:
1864: The Burning
A ChambersFest event
Outdoors, on the Square (U.S. Routes 11 and 30)