Jim Bailey, park ranger and Volunteer Coordinator at Fort McHenry, has been participating in living history (or re-enactments) at the historic fort since 1999. Bailey is responsible for 60 "soldiers" dressed in replica clothing who conduct drills,barrack activities, and musket-firing demonstrations at events like this month's Fourth of July celebration.
Baltimore: How did you first get involved with this?
Jim Bailey: Growing up my family always went to battlefields for our vacations. When I was about seven, it was the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg so we went to Gettysburg. I saw troops marching, smelled the campfires, touched uniforms, and heard muskets firing. So I went on to major in history at UMBC and a park ranger at Fort McHenry was a guest speaker in one of my classes. I started volunteering there in 1999 and worked as a park ranger in 2000. Now I supervise about 100 volunteers.
B: Why is Fort McHenry so important?
JB: You have to think of the national anthem and Francis Scott Key as a verbal snapshot. Some of the famous photos are the flag being raised in moments of crisis, tragedy, and peace. Key made that first moment, which was a brief interruption in the city of Baltimore. These soldiers were regular people who acted extraordinarily when the time came for them to stand up.
B: What can living history do that a textbook can't?
JB: Our reenactments are not just military-based. We also show the daily lives of the citizens in 1812: their jobs, what they eat, and what music they like. I think it's important to be where the history took place. There's an expression, 'You forget what you hear, you remember what you see, and you understand what you do.' That especially applies to the younger generation because it's so hard to compete with video games and the Internet. But when you walk out on the field in an 1812 uniform, you capture that generation.
B: What's a favorite moment from the job?
JB: There's a young boy who lives right near the fort. For the past couple of summers, he's come in his own homemade defender's uniform. During Defenders Day, he'll march along with us and even hand out business cards for himself. As living history interpreters, we see a little bit of ourselves in him. That's the ultimate gratification—being able to pass that on.