In these tumultuous times, an event meant to promote understanding among people may be just what your soul needs.
Enter “Candles on the Water,” an annual program that advocates for peace and harmony by commemorating the bombings of the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
This year marks 75 years since the bombings, and a local group plans a program of music, prayer and public proclamations, concluding with a launch of lantern boats into the Susquehanna River at sunset.
On August 6, 1945, a uranium atomic bomb called “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima. About 140,000 people were killed and thousands of others died within months from burns and radiation sickness. Just three days later, a plutonium bomb called “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki, where 70,000 were killed.
As a member of Pax Christi, a Catholic organization that “rejects war, preparation for war and every form of violence and domination,” Ann Marie Judson has been involved with “Candles on the Water” for about 20 years.
Judson explained that the idea began taking shape in 1982 at a session on nuclear disarmament held at the United Nations. At the time, Mayor Araki of Hiroshima proposed a new program to promote the solidarity of cities toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. Harrisburg was one of the first to sign on. Today, the Mayors for Peace movement totals 7,905 cities in 163 countries and regions.
Judson said that Harrisburg peace activists Deborah Davenport and Milton Lowenthal
held the first event in the 1980s.
“Lowenthal was instrumental in Harrisburg becoming a member city of ‘Mayors for Peace,’” she said.
Judson described the event as an ecumenical effort to help unify people and bring attention to the cause.
“It represents solidarity with Hiroshima and Nagasaki and our common desire for the abolition of nuclear weapons,” she said.
Judson said that Bill Dallam of Mechanicsburg will address the crowd during the event. Dallam was on site just three weeks after the bombings, she said. As a member of the military, it was his job to measure radiation.
“He was told it was a classified, secret mission,” she said. “They didn’t want anybody to know all the damage we caused.”
Judson explained that Dallam encouraged his wife, Mary Lou, to paint a depiction of the devastation. The painting reads, “Never Again,” and has been used on the front “Candles on the Water” program schedule.
The Peace Garden is another permanent reminder of the bombings and is located above the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River between Maclay and Emerald streets.
“We brought the idea back from Hiroshima after the international conference,” said retired Harrisburg pediatrician Dr. Jim Jones.
The two-block area includes three large sculptures inspired by the destruction in Hiroshima and the hope that followed. The sculptures are the work of Dr. Frederick Franck, a writer, artist and oral surgeon who once worked with Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa.
Among the sculptures are flowers, trees and plaques containing sayings that promote peace, hope and renewal. A pole among the brightly blooming flowers bears messages of peace written in four languages.
Jones and Judson are thankful that the city provides the water for the Peace Garden and for the hard work of volunteers who are responsible for the upkeep, along with the dedication of organizations like the Physicians for Social Responsibility, which plant 1,200 annuals every spring.
Judson stressed the importance of keeping history in mind as we move forward.
“I’ve been dedicated to the cause of peace and ‘Candles on the Water’ for many years because it reminds us that nuclear weapons should never again be used,” she said. “We are all brothers and sisters on this planet, and the abolition of nuclear weapons is a critical necessity. Never again!”
“Candles on the Water” will take place on Sunday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m., with attendees meeting in Riverfront Park in Harrisburg across from the John Harris Mansion. Please bring lawn chairs or blankets. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.