It's an up and down evening for the Glen Rock Carolers
It has been 75 years now that P. W. Shepperd, Jr. first began singing with the Glen Rock Carolers. He's seen snow, cold, rain, wind and general bitterness. But Saturday evening/Sunday morning was none of that. The weather was perfect for the mobile holiday concert, with temperatures hovering just above the freezing mark, no precipitation and no wind. Perfect-- after all, it IS late December.
Celebrating the group's 170th year, the Glen Rock Carolers were joined on another Christmas Eve/Morning by hundreds of fans, family members and singers for their annual seven-hour tour through the town. The crowd was exceptionally large, although not as big as last year when temps soared to nearly T-shirt weather.
After a warm indoor concert at Zion Lutheran Church, the crowd filed outside to the town's only traffic light and listened to a few more selections. From there, it was all uphill. Really.
The nationally-known all-gentleman choir left the square, headed across the Heritage Rail Trail County Park, Main Street and straight up the Church Street hill. Mr. Shepperd would probably agree with everyone else that the hills have become much steeper and a lot longer in recent years.
Keep in mind that one Glen Rock Mile is equal to about five or six Kansas miles. That is, the only flat spots in Glen Rock are the two blocks of Main Street or the tables at the Glen Rock Mill Inn or Mignano's Restaurant. Apparently, the organizers plan this beginning as a warm-up walk before the dreaded Church Street Climb. The carolers rounded the curve, sped to the base of the hill, took a collective deep breath and charged-- for a few steps. Fortunately for both them and the massive crowd that trailed behind, they stopped a few times to sing carols before planting a flag at the top.
And that is how these evenings are planned. Along the route, the choir stops for a minute or two at every caroler's home and a few others and sing their favorite tune for the family. And, they head off for the next hill. Garry Ferree leads the parade as the official peanut man, who hands out handfuls of peanuts (50 pounds every year) to those folks who stay awake listening for the golden voices.
It's surprising how many people are awake at 3:30 Christmas morning.
Now, keep in mind too, that many of these men can only remember their youth, teenagers they aren't. And that's including a certain photographer.
The Carolers use four different routes for their town tour depending on the year, but every one of them attacks Church Street (or vice versa, I'm not sure which). One couple asked if this was the steepest hill in York County. Probably not (Pleasureville Hill or Windsor Road?), but people don't generally climb those minor mountains while belting out an old English Christmas carol. While walkers might gripe about the hiking possibilities here (it's the rail trail), the hills make this small town special. It's pretty. And it's isolated.
It's been thought for a while now that the carolers hit The Hill first to thin out the crowd. The hundreds of fans that trail along beside the singers usually make it to the top, but most leave the party there. Most can be seen rolling down the hill in half-dozen packs, apparently happy that they've accomplished their Christmas task. Some folks see the opening act and return for the closing curtain seven hours later.
One I-phone's health meter showed the entire route was about 4.3 miles.
By the time the carolers reach their first extended stop (there are a couple water/bathroom breaks throughout the night), the crowd can be described as friends and family of the singers supporting Dad, brother or son, a few hangers on who have already begun celebrating Christmas with some bottled cheer, or those who simply enjoy hearing the old English songs over and over and over and over again.
The men do a superb job, and 'Hosanna' is a rousing carol-- even beyond the first six or seven times.
The carolers take a break at a private home after the first hour or so, then head downhill toward the square.
If you have driven into Glen Rock by Church Street, you've seen the tiny white, lighted star on the ridge opposite. On this night, the carolers' route took them over Church Street hill, through the woods, past Grandma's house and then to the star. Well, that 'tiny' star is as big as a small house. The star is apparently a tease, a rabbit's carrot. ...MUST go there...
Lewis and Clark challenged the raging rivers, and the Sooners braved the prairie fires, but didn't walk the Glen Rock hills. Here, being a kid with a bicycle must be a frustrating experience. On the other hand, winter sledding must be great fun. Sled to school, the store, gas station, library.
Jokes were made-- one assume's they were jokes-- about renting segways or hoverboards for the next excursion. Or, a few young carolers could be made to throw down a rope and pull the veterans up the sides of these miniature mountains as part of their initiation.
At the bottom of the hill, the fire department laid out a huge assortment of cookies, snacks and drinks. That was enough to get everyone (the non-singing crowd getting ever smaller now), over the next ridge and into the American Legion for a breakfast that would make Cracker Barrel jealous.
Once exiting the Legion, the singers and a few hangers-on wandered to the town tree where 50 people or so were waiting. Director Darryl J. Engler thanked fire police and police for their traffic control, the Legion and fire department for their help (he says all the right things), directed a few last songs, and said goodbye for another year.
He's probably out searching for more hills today, humming 'Glory to God'. It's hard to get it out of your head.