Like a space tourist hitching a ride on the shuttle, Thomas Fischer has paid $3,600 for a berth on Gen. George Washington's rowboat for the annual reenactment of the famous 1776 Delaware River crossing.
Fisher won a fund-raiser auction Sunday for the right to don a Continental Army uniform and sit alongside Washington, a.k.a. John Godzieba, in a replica of the Durham boat that crossed from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and carried the general who turned the tide of the Revolutionary War.
"I'm thrilled. I'm very excited to be going," said Fischer, 54, a home builder from Newtown. "I've told a couple of friends, if they take any pictures, 'The guy sitting next to George is me.' "
The auction was part of a campaign by the new nonprofit Friends of Washington Crossing, formed after state budget cuts closed the Pennsylvania side of the park's visitors center and threatened the annual reenactment.
Michelle Greco, of the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau, said the reenactment costs $20,000 to $30,000. About $25,000 was raised at the $100-per-ticket fund-raiser at the park.
"The prize of crossing the Delaware with George Washington on Christmas Day is a great honor," Greco said. "This event is such a significant part of our nation's history, and an annual tradition held close by so many families on Christmas Day."
She said officials, businesses, and individuals had stepped up to support the park. Donations may be made at www.friendsofwashingtoncrossingpark.com
Other prizes were auctioned, including a spot in another boat that went for $1,000.
The park's visitor center has been closed to the public since the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission cut staffing in mid-November because of budgetary shortfalls. The fund-raiser was scheduled for Saturday but was postponed a day because of the snowstorm.
After a stirring speech by Washington's stand-in - this is Godzieba's first year as the general after 17 years of playing other parts - to the troops, three boats will cross from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. The rainy forecast is not expected to lessen enthusiasm for the event. More than 400 people turned out for a dress rehearsal of the 57th annual crossing two weeks ago in a downpour.
Greco said that after the reenactment, the organization will focus on raising money to reopen the visitor center.
During the crossing 233 years ago, boatmen ferried about 2,400 soldiers, 200 horses, and 18 cannon across the river, and the troops marched eight miles downriver before encountering Hessian mercenaries in the streets of Trenton. Thirty Hessians were killed. Two Continental soldiers froze to death on the march, but none died in the battle.
The victory emboldened the struggling Continental Army and led to further military successes in Trenton and Princeton.