Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Details, details

Little things that can catch your eye.

Just about every weekend this summer has seen living history folks at the park. Sometimes amid all the hubbub of the marching and firing demonstrations the little stuff gets lost in the shuffle.

While a recent group was relaxing between demonstrations of loading and shooting, I went over to their Dunker Church encampment and did a little shootin' of my own.

Clearly these guys understand the art of the vignette.

There's still some summer left...

just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Art is Where You Find it.

In an earlier post I noted how much I like old iron. Here are some shots of incidential/accidental sculpture captured at the Roulette barn at Antietam National Battlefield this very hot and sticky afternoon.

I don't know what this particular rig is, but I do remember that my parents used the same fitting as an expedient latch for the big door on our old barn back in Saginaw County Michigan.

Although American artist, Alexander Calder invented the idea of the mobile as an expression of dynamic art, this impromptu balancing act captures the animation of mutually dependent moving objects, in weathered iron, no less (for a Youtube of my wife and I creating a poster saluting Alexander Calder, please go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G28dyw_-VX8 or simply click on the title of this post).

Something about the weathered wood, the railroad spikes, and the heavy hinge suggests the word "robust" don't you think?

Finally, my favorite. The hook is hand forged, the eyebolt has no threads left and the "U" is of unknown origin. This almost suggests a monogram or logo of some sort.

Isn't it interesting how the wood and the iron become the same color?

Stay tuned for more art, and old iron...

Just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reality Check: Why I'm Here

I got word that a full-time ranger job has opened at Monocacy Battlefield, just 25 miles from my home (35 from Antietam).

Ranger colleagues suggested that I apply for it. I looked it up at usajobs.gov and, sure enough there it was:

a full-time position as an interpretive Ranger, with a salary and benefits package nearly what I left behind in Grand Rapids Michigan. The posting noted that eligibilty was restricted to "career and career-conditional" candidates.

I started framing a strategy in my mind...get the Monocacy job, do great work, bide my time, and one fine day end up back at Antietam ; a happy ending.

Hmmm...I put in a call to our HR person for clarification.

"Am I eligible for this job?" (add upbeat optimisim here)

She responded:

"Oh no, you're a temporary employee".

And that was that.

At first it felt like she was saying: "Oh no, you're just a wad of gum stuck to the underside of my chair" or "oh no, you're just a single use paper towel". Initially this was disheartening (read: I was bummed),

but, as Ranger Mike always says: "it is what it is".

I reminded myself of this simple, and important fact. My wife and I relocated to Western Maryland not to land a permanent job as a Park Ranger, we moved here to be close to Antietam National Battlefield. My "temporary" job as a seasonal Ranger is a rich, delicious, and unexpected gravy, something I cherish and plan to hold on to.

And that's a fact.

Though, from time to time, I'll need to be reminded of that.

Yours, in optimisim,

Ranger Mannie

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Confederates, and the Attic

Weekends have been action-packed at Antietam National Battlefield this summer. Last weekend we had Living historians portraying the 27 Virginia at the park, here looking pretty fierce during a bayonet charge.

We also had the Union gun detatchment from South Mountain Battlefield, set up at the Pry House providing loading and firing demonstrations. These guys, under the direction of Maryland State Parks Ranger Al Preston, are as professional as they get.

(watch for the Youtube soon).

This weekend found the 9th LA infantry Regiment just West of the Cornfield...

and, no less a celebrity than James Longstreet himself, camped out at the Pry House.

As for me I took the opportunity to tiptoe up the Pry House staircase into the attic...

pop through the trap door in the roof,

and get a breathtaking view...

clear back to 1862!

The evening ended with an even better view, from my deck, nestled on the shoulder of beautiful South Mountain.

Have I mentioned how good life is?

Sweet dreams,

Ranger Mannie

Where past and future intersect

In the field across the road from the Samuel Poffenberger Farm up on the north end of the Battlefield, I encountered this view.

In the background is the majestic black gum tree, considered to be from the time of the battle and the only remaining "witness tree" from the original North Woods. In the foreground stands one of the many new trees planted within the last five years in a long-term effort to, one day, restore the North Woods to its former appearance.

At Antietam things are constantly changing...over the long-haul.

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

CWTI; I dip my paddle

As a kid, I was a lucky little duck. My folks didn't have much extra money, but they did get me a subscription to Civil War Times Illustrated when I was ten years old. That started a long journey.

I'm pleased to hear that Dana Shoaf will be at the helm of this esteemed magazine.

May he capture the fancy of many more ten-year-olds who will become lifelong learners, and rangers, and bloggers, and authors, and historians, and...

Best wishies Dana, I'm very confident that everything's cool.


My 200th post...with movies!

Here is the URL for all of my Youtube movies, many of which relate to the Civil War in general and Antietam in particular. One which does not is "The Peanut" which nonetheless is grounded in solid scholarship.

View them at:


Or just click on the title of this post.

Cheers from Boonsboro,

Ranger Mannie

Saturday, August 11, 2007

August 11 at Antietam National Battlefield

For the last three weeks it has been so hot, humid, and hazy that the sky has been a dull, moist gray. No clouds, no color, no blue...South Mountain had vanished in the haze.

Today the temps finally dropped and we were treated to a beautiful blue sky with billowy clouds. It was altogether a beautiful and pleasant day which I'd like to share with you in pictures.

Here, then, Is Saturday August 11, at Antietam National Battlefield. I wish you could have been there with me.

Finally a blue, non-hazy sky for the tower to rest against.

The Last of the mimosas on the Hagerstown Pike. Like little tufts of cotton candy they have weathered the drought and brought color, butterflies, and hummingbirds to our valley.

Living History at Antietam. The 27th Virginia infantry Regiment is on hand this weekend. Click on the title of this post to view a Youtube movie of them in action, or go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hco4WWfjVyA.

The 27th VA is looking good as they prepare to march over to the visitor's center for a demonstration of infantry tactics.

All of us who were once little boys can relate to this.
For those of us who are veterans... it gives us pause.

CHARGE BAYONETS! I don't know about you, but this here yankee is ready to skedaddle!

I got Ranger Hoptak to reveal his Lincolnesque side.

Someone spotted me taking pictures.

Say it ain't so! It appears that Capt. Tomkins battery has been taken by the rebs.

Late summer's got this little dude pretty jaded. He quickly sized me up as a non-threat and refused to budge. This is called "merely annoying a grasshopper".

The late summer cosmos tower over the gun (and Ranger Mannie).

A day of shooting means an evening of cleaning. Our friends from the 27th Virginia clean up before supper...

...as I take down and fold up the flag, at the end of yet one more, of the best days of my life.

Just north of Sharpsburg

Ranger Mannie

Friday, August 10, 2007

Attention Ponderosa diners...

"Number 5031, your steak is ready".

Just a scene on the Piper Farm today.

Ranger Mannie

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Angry skies over the Pry House

Had I not paused on the way home this evening to take these photos, I wouldn't be soaking wet right now.

Man, did I get caught in a deluge, but we sure needed this rain.

Gotta go towel off.

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Monocacy: The battlefield that saved itself from Washington

Last Friday I took a trip to Monocacy National Battlefield to check out their brand new Visitor's Center.

My first visit to Monocacy was when I was fifteen. My father and I took a week and travelled to Gettysburg, Antietam, and Frederick. Imagine my disapointment that Frederick and Fredericksburg weren't the same place. My dad assured me that Frederick had a battlefield too, it was called Monocacy. I was skeptical.

It took a lot of driving around and asking directions but eventually we found the place, two monuments on the shoulder of the road out in the middle of nowhere. It was such a let down we had to just laugh about it.

Back in 1967 "the battle that saved Washington" had little to show for itself.

All things advanced; my age, my interest in the Civil War, the growth of the National Park system, and the urban sprawl of lovely Frederick Maryland. In recent years I returned to Monocacy and visited the Visitor Center that was, until a couple of months ago in the historic Gambril Mill. I also discovered additional monuments that my father and I had overlooked back in the day.

The two things that I found most notable then (this was about eight years ago) were the forehead-level high water mark on the walls of the center (which was on a flood plain) and the steady growth of the commerical strip of Frederick. The pressure of encroaching development on the battlefield was palpable.

At that point it appeared to me that Monocacy was on the verge of being lost, paved over like so many other battlefields have become. The development pressures on what has become a bedroom community of both Baltimore and Washington DC have spurred rapid, rampant, and thoughtless development and sprawl throughout Frederick County.

The field of "the battle that saved Washington" seemed about to become engulfed by the very city it had saved.

With that as prologue, let me describe my visit last Thursday to Monocacy National Battlefield.

I have come to associate our National Parks visitor centers with magnificient architecture however, at Monocacy I was greeted by a particularly modest structure, somewhat resemblening a tidy concrete barn with a decidedly green roof. Although the building is altogether pleasant, I was expecting something more compelling in design.

Upon entering the main reception area, which is large, airy, and cool, I was greeted by a Ranger and a Volunteer, both of whom were cheery and informative, another hallmark of the Park Service. The ranger was on a temporary assignment from Ford's Theater so he wasn't hip to alot of the thought and planning that went in to the design of the structure, but he and the volunteer were very welcoming, and hospitable...nice guys.

The Main floor is dominated by the reception area (and a particularly deep counter), administrative offices, rest rooms, and well appointed bookstore area.

The main exhibit/interpretive area is up the stairs (or elevator if you so desire).

It was with some anticipation that I mounted those stairs. I have always enjoyed the story of this battle and the heroic though doomed stand made by the outnumbered yankees under writer/general Lew Wallace against the rebel hosts of Jubal Early in his sweep toward the defenseless Washington DC in July of 1864.

The main take-home message of this battlefield has always been "The battle that saved Washington".

I was a museum educator for eighteen years. In that time I helped to design and implement many exhibits both permanent and temporary. While ascending the stairs to the main exhibit area I had to remind my self that those years as a public museum person may have jaded me somewhat. I promised myself to refrain from being overly critical or inordinately nit-picky...you know...a prick.

Upon entering the main gallery at the top of the stairs I was greeted with this:

Take home message: "Uh-oh, there's going to be a lot of reading here"

...and how!

Though this is some people's cup of tea, personally, I'm not an exhibit reader, I'd rather buy the book. Amid the oceans of text my eyes were drawn up toward the honey colored ceiling. Bathed in light, the natural wood and exposed trusses create a beautiful, airy environment, the payoff for the barn shape of the building's roof.

Rather than focusing on any weaknesses of the exhibitry, which in many instances are simply a manifestation of the growing pains that come with any new installation or building, let me instead point out the things that will make a trip to Monocacy quite satisfying.

The electric map. This is some of the most appropriate use of fiber-opotic technology that I've ever seen. The visitor is presented with a well sculpted and painted relief map that utilizes pinpoint fiber optic lights to demonstrate the sequence and dynamism of the battle. Although the narrartive is a little verbose the effect is clear and quite exciting.

Somewhat disorienting is the fact that there is no indication of "You are here" that I could find on the map. Perhaps I missed it. This is altogether an outstanding teaching tool, which I throughly enjoyed. A smaller such map makes use of fiber optics to show the nip-and-tuck race to Washington with the Union forces winning by barely a nose. Although the joystick aspect of this experience was lost on me, the message was very clear that this was a very close thing and that Lew Wallace should be known for much more than just as the author of "Ben Hur, a Story of the Christ" (yeah, that Ben Hur).

(Lew Wallace: soldier, writer, and all-around cool dude)

Another highlight of the new Visitor's Center are the collections of some really outstanding artifacts. Well lit and displayed, several cases provided some really choice objects which will delight the collector, the kid, and the casual visitor.

I sure liked (coveted) what I saw!

The elevation of that second floor provides a fine viewing platform from which the visitor can survey the battlefield. The very pleasant observation deck overlooks the landscape and the hills beyond the river and spotting scopes, along with sinage, provide narrative and orientation. I wish I'd been there on a less hazy day. I could barely make out sugarloaf mountain in the near distance. I'll be sure to return on a crisp autumn day when the view will be improved. I really enjoyed this overlook. The only thing that I would alter is the fixed aspect of the telescopes. The visitor is unable to pivot the scope in any way, thus restricting the view to simply the same one that appears on the sinage.

There are several hands-on experiences targeting especially younger visitors (and me). The one that I particularly liked was elegant and low-tech. Simply a reproduction Confederate uniform and knbapsack that can be tried on. Kids (and camera-toting parents) must love this one.

The only thing that could improve this would be a full-length mirror.

Altogether, the exhibits are bright, colorful, and quite engrossing. I wondered, however, as I decended the stairs back into the lobby if the big picture; that big take-home message, hadn't been somewhat muffled or obscured by all of the text. Will the casual visitor come away from this knowing that Monocacy was the battle that saved Washington? I do hope so, because its such a compelling story.

Whether you love it or merely like it, the new Visitors Center is an emblematic piece of a much larger whole. Exhibits come and go, industry-wide they have a fifteen year lifespan, but battlefields are forever. This tiny and significant battlefield was once in danger of permanent obscurity or loss to over-development. The pressures exerted by the proximity of Monocacy to Washington DC long threatened to swallow whole significant portions of the historic site.

Now however, with the addition of this new Visitor's Center, restored and accessible historic buildings, and new interpretive trails, I believe that Monocacy has come into its own as a National Battlefield Park. It has firmly asserted itself as an equal among its older (and more well-known) sister parks. And this new Visitor's Center stands like a bastion against further sprawl and development.

Quite literally...like a bastion.

This is the view of the center as you approach it. To the right all is emerald green fields under cultivation, woods, and rolling hills.

Here, however, is the view from that same position looking to the left.

That chain link fence is where development came to a shuddering halt. That lumber yard beyond the fence is the limit of the Highway 355 business strip that nearly swallowed up this little, but important battlefield.

The new Visitor's Center issues a defiant statement:

"On ne Passe Pas" They shall not pass!

Pardon the melodrama but I think it is altogether apt.

Lew Wallace made a stand on this ground that saved Washington from Early's Confederates, now this little Visitor's Center has saved the battlefield from the sprawl of Washington.

The irony and symmetry are pretty irresistible.

I salute the vision and determination of the park professionals at Monocacy National Battlefield in bringing this battlefield park into the new century with its own status, distinction, and future. I encourage anyone to make a trip soon to Monocacy National Battlefield, just 25 miles east of Boonsboro.

Next post will be mostly pix taken on the battlefield. The restored buildings, the trails, and the scenery of that jewel of a battlefield park made for a most enjoyable morning.

Ranger Mannie