Skip to main content

You are here

Fire and Ice

Chambersburg Is Set To Host Two Events That Will Give You The Chills!

by Susan Guynn

Chambersburg will be aglow with two chilling events on opposites ends of the calendar this year. In January, the annual IceFest highlights the blazing zeal of ice sculptures. In July, relive the fury of the Civil War with an in-the-street reenactment of the Burning of Chambersburg, which marks its 150th anniversary in 2014.

Frozen Festivities

IceFest has grown from a handful of ice sculptures to a four-day winter event for the family, where magnificent sculptures number more than 70, and activities include a chili cook-off, a cake decorating contest, a unique party, and a scavenger hunt.

In what will be its 12th year in 2014, IceFest was born from the Council for the Arts’ desire to find a new way to get different types of art accessible to people, according to Festival Chairwoman Penny Shaul, who is also the proprietor of Here’s Looking at You, a downtown business.

The action starts Thursday, Jan. 30, with a ribbon cutting and the scavenger hunt. Sculptors from DiMartino Ice Co., in Jeannette, Pa., will be carving giant works of art — including the popular “Royal Throne” and a 40-foot long ice slide. Visitors can expect more exciting and new things for 2014, including special lighting for all the giant ice sculptures and the fountain. “The square of Chambersburg will be aglow,” says Penny.

Live carving continues Friday evening and the popular Snowfall Ball returns to Central Presbyterian Church, where guests can wear anything from jeans to ball gowns. The dance draws visitors from across the region, Penny says. “It’s got its own following.”

Saturday’s “Icing on the Cake” cake decorating contest takes place in the Wood Center of the Capitol Theatre. The 2014 theme is “A Cake for Any Season.” So bring your favorite season to life by representing it in an edible cake and entering it in the contest.

If you lack a sweet tooth, then perhaps the chili cook-off will be more to your taste. Or take in the hot pepper eating contest under the big tent on North Main Street. Later in the afternoon, the tent will be the site of the 11/30 Block Party, which celebrates Chambersburg as the “Crossroads of the Country,” where two historic highways (Route 11 and Route 30) intersect in the heart of town.

The festival wraps up Sunday, Feb. 2, when the winners of the four-day scavenger hunt will be announced. You can check out a full schedule of events at www.icefestpa.com.

All Fired Up

If you need more chills, then the re-enactment of the Burning of Chambersburg on July 20 is sure to give you goose bumps of excitement. Organizers have plans to ratchet up the experience for the sesquicentennial, which is part of Chambersfest events.

The festival commemorates the rebirth of the town following the burning on July 30, 1864. Confederate Gen. John McCausland, under orders from Gen. Jubal Early, delivered a ransom demand of $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in greenbacks or the town would be burned. The townspeople couldn’t pay, and fires were lit. About 500 structures were destroyed and more than 2,000 people were left homeless. Still, the townspeople rallied to rebuild.

Reenactors recount the events of that morning in the town square in a dramatic one-act play. Special lighting effects and smoke machines give the square a fiery glow. Those portraying Confederate soldiers roam through the audience demanding payments of money, jewelry and other valuable items. “They interact as if they were the townspeople,” says Janet Pollard, director of the Franklin County Visitors Bureau.

The historically accurate script was written using eyewitness accounts, including books by the Rev. B.S. Schneck and merchant Jacob Hoke. Though the actual event occurred in the morning, the re-enactment takes place at night to enhance the impact of the special effects. This year, expect a more exciting experience with the creative placement of more bright white lights and more audience interaction, Janet says.

“It’s good-hearted fun. They really get into it. We find out there are more Southern sympathizers than Northern supporters,” says David Shuey of History Teller Productions in Newville, Pa. He portrays McCausland and gives the order to “Fire the town!” Members of the 1st Maryland and 1st Virginia Cavalry reenactment units will support him. The 4th North Carolina unit has been invited to participate this year, too.

“I’ve really gotten into the role of McCausland. He is a fascinating character,” David says. “He was — as many Confederate soldiers were — more loyal to their state than the Union.” Keven Walker, a historian for the National Park Service who portrays Hoke, co-wrote the script and is the narrator. “Hoke is the perfect character to tell the story,” Keven says. “He wrote extensively about what he saw, so we have his own words to see the event through.” Each year, the script is tweaked “as our scholarship study of this event has grown,” he adds.

Janet says organizers are planning for a grand turnout for the sesquicentennial and the event will feature new elements. “It will be an unbelievably moving experience,” Keven said. Don’t forget to mark your calendars, and for more information, visit www.chambersburg.org.