Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Washington DC; Lincoln's Fortress City (click here to see the excerpts)

By the way, I also enjoy shooting and editing video. I worked for 4 years at the public access television station in Grand Rapids Michigan (GRTV) I was the project manager for the MoLLIE program. My team and I travelled to area schools and taught kids grades 3-12 how to write, shoot, perform, and edit their own curriculum-linked (history, math, science, etc.) videos for cablecast. We worked with thousands of kids and they came up with some great videos.

Along the way I became interested in doing my own stuff and under the masthead of my consulting company "Museum of America", I produced three short documentaries. The one linked to this YouTube URL is the latest, though far from finished; "Washington D.C.: Lincoln's Fortress City".

Please note that the compression rate really has a negative impact on the resolution of what you'll be viewing

After reading the Margaret Leech Classic "Reville in Washington" as well as the more recent "Freedom Rising" by Ernest B. Furgurson I was prompted to do a 29 minute piece regarding the history of those Civil War era forts that ring the least those that are still preserved.

I'm starting the piece with a comparison between the post 9-11 frenzy of today with that of the post First Manassas hysteria of 1861. I'm working on it in fits and starts and hope to have it done by spring.

Do let me know what you think.


Antietam Morning

My favorite time of day at the battlefield is early morning. The visitors are still having breakfast back at their motels, rangers are still on their first cup of coffee or starting the long commute, and the farmers who lease acreage on the battlefield have already been at it for three hours or so, their tractors and wagons chugging and lumbering down the roads and lanes.
When the sun comes over the mountain, at least this time of year, you'll see a park truck making the rounds to unlock the observation tower gate, open Dunker Church, empty trash bins and start the daily routine of keeping the park looking beautiful.
Some mornings we have living history groups who have been invited to spend the night on the field to provide a weekend of programming for park visitors. Those are the mornings when you can smell breakfast fires, coffee, and sizzling ham (which they always offer).

In the cool air the earlybirds of the neighborhood can be seen walking or jogging the park roads. Everybody waves.

The roulette farm pond turns all gold.

To look at this field today one can hardly believe what happened here not all that long ago.

Good morning.

Ranger Mannie

Friday, August 25, 2006

Small Tributes: how people connect with Antietam National Battlefield

One of the jobs of a Park Ranger is to make the Antietam Battlefield relevant to each visitor. Often the visitors are way ahead of us. We find evidence of the meaning the park has for people everyday in the little tributes that they leave behind.

For reasons that are, I'm sure, as varied as the people who leave them behind, we daily find at the park small reminders of how important the park is to our visitors. Early on, I found a valentine heart made of pebbles on Burnsides Bridge. Perhaps this was a tribute to the men of the Union Ninth Corps...or maybe between two sweethearts. The cool thing is that we'll never know.

These little tributes are always ephemeral and subject to the weather, curious children, or marauding crows and woodchucks.

Sometimes they are predictable and storebought like funerary wreaths and miniature flags. Sometimes they are fragile little pebble sculptures.

And sometimes they are the coins left atop the headstone of the last person interred at Antietam National Cemetery, an American destroyerman killed aboard the U.S.S. Cole, Patrick Howard Roy of nearby Keedysville. I'm assuming the coins are left by his high school buddies and the empty rifle shell perhaps by someone he used to go hunting with.

Antietam National Battlefield is a beautiful and evocative place that seems to naturally resonate with thoughtful people. Do come visit sometime. You just may leave something small, but important, behind.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

the 27th Virginia returns to

Here's my latest YouTube movie. I put it together from footage I shot this last weekend at the Park. We had a living history group portraying the 27th Virginia infantry (of which the original fought at Antietam).

After the smoke cleared I went home and started editing.

I hope you like it. The link is:

Keep your powder dry!

Ranger Mannie

Monday, August 21, 2006

I saw myself today, 45 years Antietam

Today I met a little boy tricked out in a homemade Union uniform. He had a nice, though weatherbeaten, storebought kepi, a wooden musket, a homemade sackcoat with corporal's stripes and a large black, boxy, woman's handbag as a cartridge box.

This was the image of me 45 years ago with the cheap felt kepi I'd bought at Gettysburg, the cotton sack coat that my mom sewed for me (with corporal's stripes) and the cardboard cartridge box that I had designed.

I met this boy in the parking lot of Antietam National Battlefield's visitor center today and asked him how old he was. "Ten" was his reply. I pointed to my ranger hat and badge and said "I started out just like you when I was ten." He smiled.

It was kind of a transporting experience.

Later, as I was eating my lunch at the Smith house, I saw the same kid, gamboling over the rocks, shooting down innumerable rebels as he charged his way to his parent's waiting car, and drove off to his own future.

I wish him well.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Technology of War Weekend 2006 (youtube movie #2)

Aug 12 and 13 saw three great visitor experiences at Antietam National Battlefield. This was "Technology of War' weekend. In addition to the very full and rich slate of regular Ranger programming, visitors were able to participate in a variety of living history programs at the park.

Justin Carisio brought his Civil War Signal Corps program to life with an audience participation demonstration of 19th century signaling that is one of the best programs I've ever seen.

Author and collector Vince Armstrong displayed his remarkable collection of Civil War long arms and discussed the tactics of the Civil War.

The real showstopper was provided by living historians of Company C, Berdan's 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters who gave remarkable demonstrations contrasting the loading and firing of muzzleloading and breechloading rifles (no contest!).

As they say, "A good time was had by all!"

Check out my second Youtube movie which shows the weekend highlights at:

Antietam Junior Ranger

No, I'm not talking about me. This refers to one of the coolest programs offered by the National Park Service - the Junior Ranger Program for kids 6 through 12 years of age.

Kids get an age appropriate activity booklet which they complete as they explore the battlefield. Not only are they answering specific questions about features of the battle but they're drawing pictures of fences and monuments, solving simple mathematical calculations, interviewing rangers, and seeking out information from a kid's point of view.

Its more than just a scavenger hunt, its a wonderful way to engage children in the story of the battlefield and their part in its preservation. This simple (and popular) program is often the portal to lifetime learning.

Its a highpoint of every Ranger's day to have kids come back to the counter to have their workbooks inspected and receive their certificates and badges.

Ranger John awards a certificate and badge.

Each park has a unique badge so the opportunity for starting a really cool collection is often a motivator for the kids.

When they get their badges the new junior rangers are pretty proud of themselves, and are always tolerant good sports when one of the rangers, after congratulating them, says something like "O.K. new ranger, you'll be reporting here at 8:30 tomorrow morning to start weeding the front flower bed...and don't forget to bring doughnuts for all the other rangers!"

A proud new Junior Ranger.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Antietam Artillery Weekend 2006: the movie

Here's an imovie I put together with highlights from the Artillery Weekend back in June. The first two thirds are stills and the final third is movie footage of the firings. The last scene is modern 105s at our "Salute to Independence" in July".
The video compression affected the sound quality, especially for the guns firing. Still, I do hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think.

go to:

Ranger Mannie

Ranger day

This is the typical schedule for a GS5 seasonal interpretive Park Ranger at Antietam National Battlefield.

9:15 arrive at Smith house, location of my desk
-check phone messages
-stow lunch in frige
-crank up AC
-shine boots
-crack a Pepsi
-walk across the road to the visitor center

9:45 work day begins
-check roster of rangers and volunteers for the daily schedule (transpose to palm of hand in ink)
-assemble materials for orientation talk
-put on the big hat, announce the orientation, and walk up to the observation room "Good morning everyone..."

10:00 - 10:40
Orientation talk. Thirty (or so) minutes of explaining how the battle of Antietam came to be fought in the peaceful valley, how the battle unfolded over the course of September 17, 1862, and what the lasting legacies of this battle are.
Answer visitor questions. (56 visitors)

11:00 - noon
Visitor Services counter
- greet visitors
- sell tickets
- explain scheduled programs
- explain self guided driving tour
- provide directions to Gettysburg (where?), Harpers Ferry, and other area points of interest.
- start the 26 minute film at 11:00 and 11:30
- answer the telephone
- announce programs
- answer all visitor questions and help them with research
- facilitate the Junior Ranger program for kids 6-12
- at noon change over the film to the one hour documentary


11:00 - noon
Ranger-led Artillery walk
This presentation starts at the 10lb parrot gun in front of the visitors center and walks around the grounds of the VC to the the four-gun battery in front of Dunker Church. Its an exploration of Civil War artillery in general and the artillery employed at Antietam in particular. Always a very popular and well-received talk with lots of questions afterward.
(44 visitors)

Noon hour
Lunch at the Smith house. Shirt and boots come off and lunch gets microwaved. Lunchtime ranger bull-session

1:00 - 3:00
Research. This two hour timeblock (today at least) gives me time to go over to the archives and do research for the "aftermath of the Battle" program that I'm writing. The rangers all write their own programs, which is one of the things that makes this job so enjoyable. The chief of interpretation provides the general themes and subthemes and its up to each ranger to come up with the narrative thread, photos, anecdotes, maps, etc. to make a really compelling presentation for the visitors.

3:15 Prepare for second orientation talk
- shine boots again
- gather materials
- don the big hat

3:30 Second orientation talk (47 visitors)

4:00 - 5:45 Visitor Services Counter (as above)

5:45 - 6:15 Closing
- complete all paperwork
- lock exterior doors
- unplug all appliances
- chat up visitors on the way to the parking lot and head home

The big variable to this schedule is on days when one has the tour. This is the once or twice-daily ranger led tour of the battlefield which takes between two and two-and-one-half hours. The program starts in or out behind the observation room with a general orientation to the battlefield and a discussion of why the armies came here. Then the visitors car-caravan behind the ranger who will provide presentations at three stops: the Cornfield, Sunken Road, and Burnside Bridge, answering a wide-range of visitor questions at each stop. This rain-or shine tour will only be cancelled or shortened due to electrical stroms, otherwise its always a sure-thing and the favorite type of daily program for both visitors and rangers

Preparation includes gassing up the van, filling the water jugs with ice and water, replenishing the paper cups, gathering all program materials, grabbing a walkie-talkie, and generally "getting in the zone". In the heat we've been having for most of this summer, the ranger ends up pretty exhausted at the end of a day that includes the tour (62 visitors, 98 degree heat).

Generally, after the tour we have an hour to relax in an air-conditioned room in our undershirt, eating a banana, and sipping cold water. This is almost enough time for the sweat to dry out of my shirt.

Every day at Antietam National Battlefield is a good day.

Monday, August 07, 2006

"What if...?"

The "what if" questions are the bane of all rangers:

"What if Reynolds had lived?"
"What if Lee had accepted command of the Union Army?"
"What if Jackson had survived his wound?"
"What if Larry Turtledove had majored in accounting?"

"What if" questions, like speculative history (also known as fiction), just don't interest me.

Except maybe, "What if we all calm down and learn from the history that we actually have?"

Okay, I give in -

"What if A.P. Hill's brigade of giant Japanese horror movie preying mantis monsters had arrived at Sharpsburg sooner?"

I guess that's actually a legitimate question.

Stay cool!

Ranger Mannie

Saturday, August 05, 2006

What a dork!

So, today I'm giving the two hour battlefield tour and it's great because the big heat wave is over and I had about 55 enthusiastic participants.

Everything's going swimmingly through the greeting and the orientation talk. We then caravan to the first stop between the Cornfield and the Westwoods. The group so far has been very receptive and engaged...looking good!

Then, when I'm talking about Clara Barton or something, people in the group begin taking pictures of me...I'm really in the groove and I've definately got them in the palm of my hand with my storytelling!

As more people start taking pictures of me I become even more animated and dynamic in my presentation, and the audience is responding with delighted looks of wonder and more picture taking.

I'm thinking "Am I the bees knees here, or what?"

I conclude that part of the talk and I'm walking back to the van feeling pretty smug about my superior rangering abilities.

One of the visitors, passing me on the way to his car, paused to say;

"Nice job. By the way, a butterfly landed on your hat".


Friday, August 04, 2006

Heat Wave: giving tours in a furnace


This past week, as all headlines have indicated, has been a hot one. The tours at Antietam have been no exception. I now give the two hour ranger-led tours of the battlefield, and this weather has required certain modifications to keep the visitors comfortable and safe.

The ranger-led tour is the most comprehensive way to experience the Antietam Battlefield. And about two weeks ago I graduated to the level of ranger that is authorized to lead such a tour.

Normally the tour begins with a 30- minute presentation in the visitor's center observation room that focuses on the reasons the battle came to the peaceful Antietam Creek valley. Then the ranger leads the visitors in a car caravan around the park, stopping at the Cornfield, Sunken Road, and Burnsides bridge to deliver 20 minute programs at each stop and field visitor questions.

This heat wave required serious modifications to the regular program: an hour-long overview of the battle in the air conditioned comfort of the visitors center followed by a much modified caravan around the battlefield with ten minute presentations.

The visitors where very game and were good sports during the thermal crisis. Everything went well with all hands not only surviving the experience but having a very enjoyable time. As a matter of course the ranger always has two large 3 gallon jugs of ice water and cups in the park van for the visitors. This past week they really took full advantage of that particular amenity.

So all's well that ends well, but man, did I go through a lot of shirts!

Hope things are cool your way,

Ranger Mannie

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hood's Division comes to Antietam

This past weekend was an outstanding opportunity for visitors to enjoy some unusually fine living historians portraying Hood's Texans at Antietam National Battlefield.

We had 85 Confederates, Ironically, mostly from Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana performing tactical manuvering and firing. It was quite a show!

My fellow ranger Christie, asked me to provide our reenactor guests with an after hours orientation presentation. I agreed with a little reluctance. Sometimes living historians can bust your chops about the most arcane details. Nonetheless I expaned my 30 minute orientation into a 50 minute program which was very well received by the living historians. They were very appreciative and gracious, maybe it helped that I had them in the air-conditioned comfort of the visitor center observation room (and am from Michigan).

Only one chose to hang around afterwards and tediously take me to task about the emancipation proclamation "not really freeing anybody". He tried his best to be a real weenie, but I remained cheerful and assertively authoratative, and frankly, I just wasn't in the mood to take the bait. Otherwise, they were a great bunch of guys and provided an outstanding educational opportunity for our visitors for three shows on Saturday and two on sweltering 98 degree heat no less!!

These guys made it very clear just how much they appeciated being allowed to camp on and demonstrate to visitors at such a significant battlefield.

Below are pix of our friends in butternut and gray (most of them Detroit Tiger fans, talk about your "lost cause").