Fort McHenry rangers and re-enactors welcomed French tall ship Hermione to Baltimore Friday morning with a fife and drum salute, led by rangers Tim Ertel, of Catonsville, and Jim Bailey, of Arbutus.
When kids from around the region descend on Fort McHenry this weekend to learn how to act and sound as Baltimoreans did during the Civil War, it will mark the twelfth year the Ertel family has participated in the fort's living history programming.
The Ertel family — dad Tim, son Seamus and, until recently, daughter Molly — has been working at the fort since the children were in elementary school. Beginning as volunteer re-enactors and eventually moving into roles as park rangers and park service musicians, the Ertel family has made the park part of family life.
But the path to the fort was far from smooth. While working in advertising, and later, in litigation, Tim volunteered on the side as a re-enactor.
When his children were small, he said, he would take them on the road with him to participate in days-long reenactments, often camping out on old battlegrounds overnight.
He had always had an interest in music and, after he and some other re-enactors decided that they wanted to include a musical component to their reenactments, he helped form a fife and drum corps to add to the reenactment experience. Soon, he had his son in on the act as well.
Working at the Ellicott City B&O Railroad Museum, he would host rehearsals for a team of young fife and drum players.
After a time, he said, Jim Bailey, a guard at Fort McHenry and part-time worker at the Ellicott City museum, approached him about a job at Baltimore's iconic fort.
"I said, 'Certainly,'" he said. "It's the ideal venue."
Today, Tim works at the fort both as a ranger and as the National Park Service's only music coordinator, a full-time position he has held for four years. He leads the Fort McHenry Guard, the junior fife and drum corps and runs a city schools music outreach program.
Between training new drummers and fife players, Tim also helps direct park visitors through the park, updates the park's website and occasionally runs after kids trying to climb on the fort's cannons and walls.
But the desire to work at a historic landmark didn't end with Tim. For years, Tim, Seamus and Molly would travel together up Interstate 95 to spend their summer working at the fort and rangers and re-enactors.
Molly, a student at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville, will not be working at the fort this summer. But Seamus works as both a park ranger and a member of the fife and drum corps.
"He has grown up with this whole experience," said Tim of Seamus.
"Basically, I got involved because of my dad," said Seamus, 21, who started playing drum in the corps at the age of 8.
Dressing up in period clothes and marching around in the summer heat, he admits, was not always his favorite way to spend his time as a kid, but it grew on him over time.
"I really wanted to play travel sports," he said. "I didn't want to spend my weekends dressed in hot wool uniforms."
By high school though, he said he found an appreciation for the fife and drum corps. He quickly learned that all of his hours spent doing re-enactments at the fort and at other sites around the region counted as service hours, he said, and colleges began to take note of the uniqueness his work gave his application.
At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where Seamus majors in media and communications studies, admissions office staff told him that they especially liked his volunteer work. That gave him a unique way to see the work he had spent so much of his childhood doing.
Over the years playing with the group, he said, the members of the corps formed a bond. Today, they hang out together outside of scheduled practices and events on a regular basis.
"As we grew up together, we literally grew up together," he said. "You really create — we call it fife and drum corps telepathy."
A member of the Johns Hopkins ROTC through school, he will spend a large portion of this summer at leadership training in Tennessee and South Carolina.
But he's spending the time before and after his trip at the fort, working as a ranger. Unlike other years, when he spent most of the day either working as a re-enactor or as a guide for visitors, he has devoted this summer to leading the park's social media team. Coupled with a fall course, the experience will count as an internship, he said.
Despite the source of contention the corps was when he was younger, Seamus said he is happy his parents got him into history and parks at such a young age. Although he likely won't follow in his father's career path, choosing, instead, to go into the military, the experience at Fort McHenry has been great, he said.
"I really could never ever picture myself sitting behind a desk all day every day," he said, adding that some of his favorite experiences have been with visitors discovering the fort for the first time.
The other day, he said, he met a group of exchange students from a number of different countries who visited the fort excited to learn more about the history. "You get stuff like that every day," he said.
The interest in Civil War- and War of 1812-era music playing, Tim said, is growing.
One example is the National Civil War Field Music School at Fort McHenry June 27 and 28. During the weekend the ramparts of Fort McHenry will resound with the sounds of drums, fifes, bugles and marching feet as students from the National Civil War Field School learn to play drum, fife and march as Civil War soldiers. Dressed in Civil War reproduction uniforms, and coming from across America, over 100 re-enactors will breathe life into the old fort once again.
This is the first time Fort McHenry will host the National Civil War Field Music School, according to a release.
Events like this weekend's, in addition to his own camp he will offer simultaneously, help feed his program, he said. Kids attend a camp and decide they want to stick with the corps, so they join the junior corps.
In time, when they are ready, they move up to the senior corps, he said, where the instrumentalists get to travel and meet all kinds of dignitaries as they perform the iconic military music.
Mike Otto works as co-director of the corps' city schools program, which performs outreach for the park by engaging Baltimore City school students in the history of their city.
A music teacher at Patterson Park Public Charter School, Otto and his students have teamed with the fort for three years now. Some of his students have gone on to join the park's junior corps. "It's been great," he said, adding that the partnership with the park has been invaluable. "I never would have been able to do it on my own."
When the program was first introduced at the school, about 30 students tried out for the school's Defenders Fife and Drum Corps, Otto said. Although today's troupe consists of about seven members, the group is enthusiastic about the chances they've had to perform all over the city, he said. Some will even be at the park's camp this weekend.
Fellow park ranger and volunteer organizer Bailey met the Ertel family while working part time at the B&O museum in Ellicott City and was instrumental in bringing the corps to Fort McHenry.
"He's indispensable to what we do," Bailey said of Tim. "He brings the history to life in a way that I can't,"
Before the corps found its home at the park, Fort McHenry relied largely on one volunteer who knew how to play the drum in the fashion it was played in the nineteenth century, Bailey said.
The addition of the corps' music to regular fort programs, he said, has been a huge gain for the fort.
Between the junior corps and the city schools program and the senior corps, Fort McHenry's music program stands out on a national level, he said.