Editor's Note: Alsatia Club representatives and Hagerstown officials are scheduled to meet Saturday morning to decide whether the Mummers Parade will be held in the evening despite a forecasted snowstorm.
Although the weather has a will of its own and the choicest spots might go to those who stake claims early, thousands of people are expected to line the streets of Hagerstown Saturday night to enjoy the 87th annual Alsatia Mummers Parade.
It's an autumn event that's rich in tradition, with marching bands, floats and baton-twirling majorettes.
But for the past 29 years, Chas H. Rittenhouse has added his own stamp to the parade. He offers a bit of a history lesson.
Dressed in a military uniform right out of the pages of a text book, Rittenhouse portrays Little Heiskell — the pre-Revolutionary War Hessian soldier that has become the symbol of Hagerstown.
It's a natural fit for the local resident, who has a love of acting and American history.
If the character generates questions from the young people along the parade route, then he feels he's doing his job.
Rittenhouse has been portraying Little Heiskell since 1981.
"I developed, prepared and delivered a Hessian soldier characterization known as Little Heiskell for the City of Hagerstown and Washington County, Md.," he said.
Over the years, he has been responsible for greeting visitors to the area, as well as teaching Washington County third-graders about local history.
"It (Little Heiskell) has been recognized by the Washington County Arts Council and the Maryland States Arts Council as worthy of consideration for funding in their Artists in Education Program," Rittenhouse said. "Unfortunately, it has never received funding."
Rittenhouse, who grew up in Bridgeville, Pa., south of Pittsburgh, attended the University of Virginia, where he majored in drama. He later attended Pace University in New York City, where he studied accounting and business law.
But acting was always first in his heart.
"I've been an actor, singer and dancer since 1970," he said.
He appeared in films, including "Sweet Dreams" with Jessica Lange, as well as on the New York stage in "Purification" by Tennessee Williams, "House of the Atreidae" and "St. Hugo of Central Park." He had roles in PBS documentaries on Dolly Madison, Alexander Hamilton and the 1777 Battle of Brandywine, and appeared on the NBC show "Ed" and the soap opera "Edge of Night."
After moving to Hagerstown, Rittenhouse remained active in theater, he said.
In 1982, he founded a nonprofit organization known as The Western Maryland Shakespeare Company and acted as its artistic director. He also was the founder and director in 1993-94 of the Deep Creek Dinner Theatre in McHenry, Md.
In addition, he has acted and directed plays with the Washington County Playhouse and Children's Theater.
Rittenhouse said Little Heiskell isn't the only character he has portrayed over the years.
"In 1987, I was contacted by Harvey's Tours in Wheeling, W.Va., to develop and deliver the character John Brown," he said. "And in 1995, I was contacted by the Bicentennial Committee of Somerset County, Pa., to present a characterization of Harmon Husband, the first white settler in Somerset County and a leader of the Whiskey Rebellion."
Husband is his favorite character, he said, "and may be found wandering Washington County, Md."
Rittenhouse also has worked as a costumed tour guide in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties and developed and presented murder mysteries on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad running from Cumberland to Frostburg.
He enjoys participating in living history demonstrations throughout the area.
Rittenhouse's accounting studies came in handy when, from 2000 to 2005, he acted as president of The Friends of Fort Frederick State Park, Inc., where he developed a $250,000 capital campaign to aid the park in its efforts to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the building of the fort.
When he's not acting, Rittenhouse has a real estate business associated with Keller Williams.
Next year will mark Rittenhouses's 30th year of marching in the Mummers Parade.
If you go ...
What: Alsatia Mummers Parade
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29
Where: North and South Potomac streets, Hagerstown
COST: Reserved seating on Potomac Street and the Public Square costs $8, bleacher seating at Bester Elementary School costs $5.
CONTACT: To purchase tickets, contact The Maryland Theatre box office at 301-790-3500 or go to www.mdtheatre.org.
MORE: Grand marshals for the 2011 Alsatia Mummers Parade are Tim Foltz of Foltz Manufacturing Co. and Max Krumpe of Krumpe's Do-Nuts.