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.
As the staff at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine get ready for its busiest time of year, two Arbutus residents are among the rangers scrambling to get Baltimore's national park in shape for the summer.
Jim Bailey and Catherine Holden have a combined 31 years of experience working at the fort, which celebrated the culmination of the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner last fall.
Although the bicentennial is over, as students leave school for break, staff at the fort are expecting as busy a summer as ever.
This weekend, for example, the fort will host the National Civil War Field Music School. On June 27 and 28, the ramparts of Fort McHenry will resound with the sounds of musical instruments 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.
Twenty years ago, Bailey would never have imagined that he would be spending his career in a park ranger uniform welcoming visitors to Fort McHenry. Today, he says he can't imagine doing anything else.
In 1998, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, history major signed up to be a volunteer re-enactor at the fort after a park representative made a pitch to university students to spend their summer as a volunteer.
The opportunity sparked in him a passion he had had since childhood.
At the age of 7, he said, his father began to take him to battlefield reenactments commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Civil War. Although he personally never participated in the reenactments, he said he was drawn to the ability they had to really personify historical events and figures.
Later in life, his father went back to school and took a job working in preservation for the National Park Service. His younger brother also works in the parks, restoring and maintaining bits of the country's history, he said.
"History came alive for me at that young age," he said. "It was a great way to grow up."
Prior to signing up as a volunteer, his experience with the fort didn't extend much beyond having seen the fort from the seat of his UMBC crew team boat, he said. But when he heard about the opportunity to participate in reenactments at the fort and guide visitors through the area's history, he knew he had to sign up.
"It was a really neat way to put my studies into action," he said. "I got hooked right away."
Just a few years later, he was hired as a seasonal employee while still in school. He worked in the position throughout graduate school until eventually being offered a full-time job as ranger.
"They haven't been able to get rid of me since," he jokes.
Today, Bailey is volunteer coordinator at the park and also at the Hampton historic site in Towson, meaning he supervises from 400 to 600 volunteers each year, many of whom come to the park during the summer months as re-enactors.
Bailey himself still participates in the reenactments, donning the heavy wool and period boots throughout the hottest days of the summer. He even met President Barack Obama last year when the president visited the fort for the bicentennial party. Devoted to his craft, Bailey had grown out his hair in a style that was fashionable at the time of the battle in Baltimore. The president, he said, asked him about his exaggerated sideburns.
Although a good portion of his day-to-day job as volunteer manager involves paperwork and emails, Bailey said he takes every chance he gets to go outside and interact with park visitors. The landmark has come to be so important to him that he even named his son after the commander of the fort. His wife vetoed naming their only child George Armistead Bailey a few months ago, but Bailey said he was able to secure Armistead for the middle name in honor of the 19th-century lieutenant colonel.
Even after 17 years, he said the job never gets old, and neither does watching the faces of park visitors as they watch the history of the city and of the country played out in front of them in the fort's many summer events and reenactments.
"History is not something that's in a dusty old book," he said. "It's all about bringing it alive."
But Bailey is not the only ranger at Fort McHenry who makes the daily summer commute from Arbutus.
Holden has spent her summers at the fort since 2001, when the then-college-student took a summer internship at the park. She loved it so much she has returned to the job every summer since, even carpooling for a time with Bailey.
"You can truly see the history there emerging," she said. "It's just a really fun, awesome work environment."
Holden grew up in Catonsville but has lived in Arbutus for 10 years. When not at the park, she works during the rest of the year as a history teacher at Franklin High School, in Reisterstown. In many ways, she said, the jobs complement each other. Having started teaching in 2004, she said her experience leading park visitors made her more ready to lead a classroom.
"It's made me a better teacher because it's made me a better public speaker," Holden said. "I can read an audience and I can read a classroom."
In both jobs, she said she finds herself doing a lot of teaching of the basics of American history.
"I'm amazed at how little people remember from good old elementary school," she said.
Teaching high schoolers in the fall through spring and adults in the summer at the park, she said, it is sometimes ironic how disinterested people are in history when they're students compared to how badly they want to know every detail about Baltimore's history when they're older.
Vincent Vaise, head storyteller at the fort, said both Bailey and Holden are invaluable assets to the park.
"John Bailey is a phenomenal historian," Vaise said. By taking a lead role in the park's re-enactments, Bailey helps bring the story of the fort to life, he said.
Holden's personal experience as a teacher has also been vital to the park, Vaise said.
"She really has helped out with the development of our curriculum-based educational programs," he said.
Like Bailey, Holden said her favorite part of the job is watching visitors raise and lower the fort's flag, which takes place twice every day. Some of the visitors are even her own students.
"Every time that happens, I still am in awe of their excitement," she said.
With last week's end of the school year, she began her season at the fort this week. Usually, she works the ranger job right up until a few days before the start of the new school year in the fall, she said. Every year, she returns to Franklin happy she spent her summer at Fort McHenry.