Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Keeping a keen edge

Last fall I became one of Antietam's official private guides working through the Western Maryland Interpretive Association (click for link).

I've been enjoying it very much, giving a private tour about every other week. It's been a great way to stay in interpretive shape during the off (no Ranger-led tours) season and it provides another (small) income source in my patchwork career - and every little bit helps.

I went through the examination process two years ago shortly after becoming a Volunteer at Antietam. After passing the test I was then waiting around for one of two events to occur. One would be the sample tour with Ted Alexander and other guides, the other was becoming a seasonal Ranger at the park. Guess which one came first! Upon putting on the Ranger Stetson I no longer felt such a pressing need to be a civilian guide.

One of the really cool things about giving these tours is meeting people from all over (like these two gentlemen from Boston) many of whom have very focused and specialized areas of interest that we can explore together.

As I completed my first Rangering year I then went into the regular seasonal rotation, meaning the long winter and spring of only working Sundays with no opportunities to give the battlefield tour. Suddenly the tour guide idea began to have a lot of appeal again.

So I took the plunge. It has been a very gratifying and enjoyable experience. I've been able to hone my interpretive skills all the while staying active at this wonderful battlefield.

Giving the two-hour Ranger led tour is still my favorite, and they'll be starting up again any day at the park.
But these private gigs have been a great way to stay connected.

Things are always getting better,

Just north of Sharpsburg,


Monday, April 28, 2008

Blogger mystery

Where did my links go?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Blogger's gun: update

Today Jack Dempsey of that fine wolverine-state blog "Michigan in the Civil War" dropped by.

He couldn't stay long but we had a nice chat and took the obligatory photo in front of the Blogger's Gun outside of the Visitors Center.

Yours truly on the left, Jack Dempsey center, John Hoptak right.

You can link to Jack's blog here

And the redoubtable Ranger Hoptak's can be linked to here

Here's my earlier post covering other Blogger's gun luminaries.

I'll save a spot for you in the center.


Is it just me...

...or are the conscripts getting younger with each campaign?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

One of our turnpikes is missing!

Click here to view my latest Youtube video about the "Lost" stretch of the PA turnpike.

Do let me know what you think.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Who says kids aren't learning history?

As I was driving past the Cornfield this caught my eye:

Holy Moley, young rebels too!

This middle school class came from Colorado to learn about the battle of Antietam with what must be a very innovative teacher (not to mention supportive parents and principal).

Come for the history, stay for the spring flowers.

Ranger Mannie

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Harvest of Antietam Barns: part four

The Joseph Poffenberger Barn

On the far Northern end of the battlefield sits a cluster of original buildings known as the Joseph Poffenberger Farm. Headquarters to General Joe Hooker, overnight bivouac area and jumping off point for the First Corps, and hospital for Clara Barton, this group of structures is a valuable historical resource and a wonderful time capsule for the park visitor.

In earlier posts this blog has covered the restoration of the Poffenberger wash house and wagon barn. Now the really big project is underway, the stabilization and conservation of the enormous and majestic bank barn.

This project is slated to take five years to complete and just got underway this past October. I swing by the farm every Sunday when I'm Rangering to look at the progress, which has been steady and impressive.

The Park's maintainence division is heading up this massive effort. When they are done the barn should be good for another 145 years or so.

Though we seldom think of it, a barn has a skeleton nearly as complex as ours.

The barnyard is surrounded by this unique round stone wall. Two thirds of the wall is missing, the stones are heaped near by in a grass covered mound. The wall will be rebuilt to its original splendor.

This weathered southeast corner of the barn shows the age and deterioration of the structure. This was the kind of place many of us would have learned to smoke cigarettes.

A graphic look at work needing to be done. Over the years the entire roof has become askew from the walls. Note how out of alignment the notches of the trusses are from the header of the wall.

Heavy steel cable is being used throughout the structure to pull it back into plumb and square.

New materials are being stockpiled all over the barnyard. As these old timbers are carefully removed (before they fall apart)...

they get replaced with these. Note subtle differences.

Elaborate systems of jacks and cribbing hold the structure in place as timbers are removed and replaced. Thats the same southeastern corner as in the earlier picture, quite a difference eh?

New materials are skillfully married to old in a demonstration of an art that is kept alive in this region and at this National Park.

The work continues apace, and I'll provide more coverage as things continue to develop. I hope to get some video footage as well.

Stay tuned!

Ranger Mannie

Simple things

I found strings of diamonds on the battlefield:

Sometimes the best way to locate Antietam Creek is by looking above it:

Come take a look, just north of Sharpsburg.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Old School

Here is the stately facade of good old Rhino virus Elementary School, where I spend most of my non-rangering workdays. Built in 1930 this elegant structure served as a Junior High School and now, as an elementary school (grades pre K through 5).

I really enjoy teaching here. This is one of the two Washington County schools at which I do about 95% of my subbing gigs.

Last week I was at another school, a delightful suburban school, filled with delightful suburban students, and, as it was "grandparents day" it was also filled with many delightful suburban grandparents. When I mentioned to the other teachers there that I did most of my work at R.V.E.S. (go Rhinos!) their faces fell, and they gave me lots of "tsk, tsk, poor dear" comments. See, Rhino virus is an inner-city school, and unlike the school that I was subbing at on the day of my comments, Rhino virus is a microcosm of inner-city elementary school problems including homeless students, fragmented families, poverty, incarcerated parents, etc. However, the circumstances of the community don't have to define the school.

Rhino virus is a wonderful school with an incredibly cohesive and supportive staff of teachers, administrators, lunch ladies, custodians, crossing guards, secretaries, and playground ladies. Everyone there works together to provide the students with hot meals, a safe environment, and an excellent education. The kids seem to shake-off many of their outside woes when they come to this safe, bright, clean place filled with adults who really care about the safety, education, and general well-being of the student population.

The corridors are brimming over with student work.

Some of the best lessons are also the simplest.

This is a school where everyone, even substitute teachers, are keenly aware of the fact that every day they are making a positive impact on the lives of children; children who may "fall through the cracks" in other, bigger, city schools.

The place may give me more colds and sinus infections than I've ever gotten before, but it's a wonderful place to make a difference in a kid's life.

Wash your hands!

Mr. G

Monday, April 14, 2008

Antietam Spring 2008

An afternoon drive to the battlefield provided beautiful light and a range of interesting battlefield views.

The trees are getting that hazy green look.

Fields are being prepared for planting.

Violets are appearing everywhere.

Blossoms fill the trees...

and images familiar to generations return once again.

There might be a place where spring is more beautiful, though I don't know where that could be.

Come see for yourself,

just north of Sharpsburg.

Ranger Mannie

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Details, details

Taking a camera to the Joseph Poffenberger farm is always a good idea. These detail shots are from the barn and outbuildings.

This iron assembly went from being functional to sculptural. I wonder what its original purpose was?

A sheet of weathered tin takes on the appearance of old parchment or hide.

Over time a hand-forged hasp becomes a pendulum.

Barn door track is suspended in time against an Antietam sky.

The delight is in the details.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Time for the electric map to go to the old actors home...with our thanks for many wonderful shows.

Gettysburg, that is.
(this is a longer version of the comment that I posted to Kevin Levin's blog)

I loved the electric map too and part of me is sorry to see it go, the part of me that is forever nine years old and just discovering the Civil War.

But the electric map isn't the battlefield. It's not from the American Civil War. Its most recent significance is as an icon of that most wonderful American past time - tourism. The electric map is an extremely cool example of a tourist attraction that, at one time, was truly educational and "state of the art" in those exciting pre-transistor days.

But the map isn't the battlefield.

As an adult, I like(d) the map mostly for the map room, as a temple to buffed linoleum and "modern" systems furniture of the sort that American Seating, Herman Miller, and Steelcase pumped out of Grand Rapids for so many decades (and still do).

Go to this wonderful film on Youtube "The American Look" It's a classic Jam Handy industrial film, put out by General Motors back in the good old V8 days when gas was 32 cents a gallon and plastic was still a miracle. American disign included Naugahyde, desert linoleum hues, laminates, and rugged but comfortable steel-framed furniture. This is the vintage of the electric map and you'll see a lot of that modernity in the film.

I liked that map room as a model of what the future looked like, at least my image of the future back in 1964. The map room is still a wonderful glimpse back at American design and American product of the early 1960s. I always expected to see Michael Rennie and his robot ascend from a hidden ramp beneath the map.

But that's all just happy memories.

As an educational tool for design students the maproom is wonderful. As an primer for a course in early electronics its outstanding.

But as a tool for teaching large groups of people about the ebb and flow of the battle of Gettysburg, its day, alas, is long past.

Fiber optics will replace clacking relays and hundreds of little tungsten filaments. I'll miss the old one for my own nine-year-old-kid reasons, but, as an educator, I'll welcome an updated replacement.

Beloved tourist attractions, like beloved great-grandparents, at some point need to be guided off center stage. And that's never pretty when so much affection is brought into conflict with the right thing to do.

Grandpa's got to turn over the car keys, and the electric map has to go into storage. And with a run of 50 years, that old trouper deserves a rest.

I'm glad I got to take my wife and daughter to see the electric map some ten years ago. My daughter as I recall was able to be a pretty good sport even while being bored stiff.

Goodbye electric map and gleaming map room... that being said, I've got a hankerin' to lay down some great looking linoleum in my basement this week!