"A calliope. C-A-L-L-I-O-P-E," the bedraggled father responded in answer to the continuous questions from the youngster at his side.
"Oh, I thought it was a piano."
That it was. A giant steam-run piano, standard fare of many a country carnival, proudly blasting Sousa marches at the 10,000 revellers at the 13th annual Clifton Day Celebration.
By noon, the 12-paces wide Main Street swelled with city folks come to sample small town living. Peeking and gawking, eating and buying, they roamed the seven streets of Clifton, a quarter-mile-square town of 200 residents tucked away in a southwest corner of Fairfax County.
Late in the afternoon, the harvest celebration was marred by a train accident in which two persons were injured. The accident occurred about 5 p.m., and hour before the festivities were to end.
Brian Jans, a 23-year-old Fairfax County resident, lost both feet in the accident and is listed in critical condition at Commonwealth Doctors Hospital. The other person injured, 14-year-old Asil W. Burbulis of Burke, suffered head cuts. He was released from the hospital this week. Police said Jans apparently was sucked under the train as he attempted to board it. Burbulis, police said, apparently was standing in the path of the train, and did not move quickly enough to avoid being struck.
The injuries occurred as a result of the first train accident in the history of the celebration, according to Clifton officials. Community planners said a meeting will be held next month to determine if additional precautions should be taken for next year's celebration. This year, police were posted at the tracks to warn pedestrians, train speeds were reduced from 30 mph to 5 mph, and flashing lights and a bar crossing were erected.
"It was a very unfortunate incident, but I'm not sure anything else can be done," said civic association President Mack Arnold. "The trains probably cannot be stopped, but we will look into seeing what else can be done."
While the accident clouded the celebration's closing, most of the 10,000 celebrants apparently were unaware of it since it occurred as the crowds were thinning out and heading for home.
For most visitors, the day was an affair of fun and discovery. Families downed glasses of ice-cold apple cider, chomped nut-covered caramel apples, weaved through rows and rows of back-yard antique shops, enjoyed brief pony rides and branded their initials in blocks of wood. Copies of a recently published town history, "Clifton: Brigadoon in Virginia," sold briskly.
It's like no town I have ever seen before and the celebration was marvelous," said 65-year-old Stephani Budarz, from Hartford, Conn. "I felt like a child again, seeing all the concessions and sitting down at the large out-door chicken dinner.
"I just marvel at the people in this town. They take such a interest in their historic community. It seems that this should be a town forgotten by all mankind, but all these interesting people have bought homes here and restored them."
To many of the out-of-towners, it was a chance to visit an enclave of turn-of-the-century-living. Few of the 65 Victorian homes in Clifton were built after the early 1900s.A pastel general store serves the town's needs. To enter the town, one must cross over a narrow bridge, arched by maples.
It is a town where "home" slips unconsciously from the tongue.
"Gina and I licked around for 15 years without having a place to call home. Clifton is that place. It was one of the best moves we have ever made," said former Fairfax County attorney Lee Ruck. Ruck was in the thick of things, manning the barbeque pits where 1,000 chickens were on the grill.
Ruck says Clifton is an island of peace for him, a refuge from the bustle of his law practice in Fairfax. "When I come down Clifton Hill on Friday after a week of hassles and see the roofs in town, the spire of the Baptist Church, I leave everything behind," Ruck said. "I am home."
Barry and Jan Schneiderman, who recently moved to Clifton from the District, agree with Ruck.
"We're really living the country life. We go to potluck dinners, 4-H dances and town meetings," said Barry Schneiderman, a former attorney with the Justice Department. "If you had said to me 10, 12 years ago that I would find myself here, I would have laughed. But now I would never leave." w