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A Glowing Christmas Tradition

Eerily chilling when you think about
how many men died here.
Saturday night we attended the 9th annual Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Luminary Celebration. This is only our second year to go, I think we missed the date last year. If you've never attended a ceremony like this, let me explain what it is.

Volunteers stuff little white paper sacks with sand and electric candles, then drop them every ten feet or so on both sides of the road (I think it's about a five mile loop). One for each dead, missing, or wounded soldier at the battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10, 1861. A guy in Confederate dress played 'Taps' on the bugle, they lit the first candle and opened the gate.

Typically the park closes at sundown each day. Few and far between are the opportunities to see it at night. This photo, while eerie, is what it looks like with the lights from the neighboring town of Republic behind a stand of trees. In 1861, it would have been pitch black with the cloud cover, only the lights from the Ray House glowing inside. I believe the lady inside in full period dress said the house was built in 1851.

The luminary path leading up to the Ray House

I believe the Rays were Confederate sympathizers, as they owned slaves. The man of the house, whose name I forget, watched the battle of Bloody Hill from the front porch while his wife, children and the slaves hid in the cellar. When the battle was over, the house served as a Confederate field hospital and General Nathaniel Lyon (although he was a Union solider) died in the master bed. It's the prize piece in the house.

This is one of the lanterns on the path up to the house. They had carolers in costume on the porch singing authentic Christmas carols from the period.

We only saw one guy dressed as a soldier. The year we went before there were Federal "troops" all over the place, even sitting out at the tour stop known as Siegel's Final Position around a camp fire despite the cold. I'm guessing they had a tough time getting volunteers this year.

This is my favorite picture. A field of luminaries around
the orchard at the Ray House. I think that glow in the
background is actually the sunset. The single light in the
background above the others? No idea. Orb! Orb! Ghost!
At first I thought taillights, but there's no road over there.
It was difficult getting into the Ray House with all the other visitors, but I managed to get some shots of what it looked like inside during the times. Here you go:

A bureau inside the master bedroom of the house. Love the
lantern shadow on the wall.
 You start the tour through the master bedroom where that lady is proudly telling you how Nathaniel Lyon died in the bed she's pointing at. His shroud is in the museum, still gross and bloody looking, but they have to keep it locked away in case some sicko wants to steal it.

Desks inside the house.
 You marvel at how spacious the kids' room was, even with two beds in it. I forget how many kids the Rays had, but it was a nice room. Fire place, beds with nice quilts. It was a pretty good sized house for back then. The Rays seem pretty well-to-do.

If you care to squint at the photos, you can see their things are nice. They didn't skimp on their belongings. I was trying to figure out why they needed two desks. Lots of letters to write?
The cellar where the woman hid beneath the house. No thank you.

 This is the kitchen/dining area where the family would ahve sat down to enjoy their Christmas meal. The fireplace is a replica of the original. It's double faced, which meant twice the cooking power--important in feeding a big family. The kitchen is pretty tiny though. They'd have been squished in there.
Looking in from the outside. Those are real people, not ghosts.
A gas lamp inside the house. Doesn't that looks like ever
so much fun to read and do chores by?

 I tried to take pictures of the luminaries from the road, but they didn't come out good. Too many taillights and too much darkness. But it was both cool and a little creepy because you look at all those little white bags with candles inside and realize how many men died there. Late in the evenings during the summer, it gets a little spooky out there if you're on your own. Especially if the wind is blowing and making the trees creak. I swear I've heard horses where there were none (horseback riding is allowed in the park), and one time a bunch of turkey hidden in the brush chased me away from where Lyon was fatally wounded because I thought someone was after me.

I let my membership to the park lapse this year. Walking up to the Ray House reminded me how much I missed hiking out there this summer. Must remember to reapply for membership. Provided it's not a million degrees again like last summer.

Happy Monday, kids!


  1. Nice pictures! Thanks for the tour. It's been a long time since I've been out there.

  2. This is a fantastic post--thank you so much for sharing it with us.
    You have the best and most interesting posts.


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