Civil War era comes alive at the B&O Railroad Station Museum

June 27, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Dressed in blue cotton shirts and wool pants, Carmelo and Brian Cali seem heedless of the summer heat as they haul water from the Patapsco River and collect firewood for the "soldiers" stationed at the B&O Railroad Station Museum in historic Ellicott City.

"I love it here," said 14-year-old Carmelo, who plays a Civil War-era clerk at the museum's living history exhibition. "You get to feel how people in the Civil War lived and acted."

The two brothers, who live in Laurel, have more to do these days at the expanded exhibit, which is intended to show visitors how people lived during the Civil War in historic Ellicott City, with actors portraying residents, merchants and soldiers.

The five-month exhibit is a continuation of last year's successful Civil War exhibit, which featured candlelight tours of the historic railroad station, lectures and military drills by historians.

The popularity of last year's exhibit, interest from the Howard County school system and a wealth of local history prompted Ed Williams, museum director, to expand the exhibit this year.

In addition to tours of the station, the expanded exhibit includes tours of the historic district and free musical concerts held every month in front of the museum, located on Maryland Avenue.

Five musicians from Maryland and Pennsylvania, known as the Victorian Parlor Ensemble, play instruments that were popular during the Civil War and Victorian period, including a hammer dulcimer, banjo, guitar, tin whistle and harmonica.

The tours feature stops at historic buildings along Main Street, such as Town Hall, now the Forget-Me-Not-Factory, a gift shop.

At each stop, tour participants meet historians playing residents who lived in the neighborhood at the time.

"We thoroughly researched for almost a year, through historical society and business records," Mr. Williams said.

"We've re-created actual people who lived in historical Ellicott City at the time," he added.

The former Town Hall building also served as a garrison and headquarters for the provost marshal, who supervised the military police. In 1854, an opera house was built on the top floor, and John Wilkes Booth's family performed there, Mr. Williams said.

Brian and Carmelo are among the dozens of living historians at the museum.

Brian, 11, plays the son of the station's freight agent.

"I sweep, churn butter, throw trash away, polish brass, shine soldiers' shoes and sell newspapers," he said.

Rather than seeing his chores as drudgery, Brian looks upon his work as a chance to learn more about daily life during the Civil War in historic Ellicott City.

"I have fun and learn at the same time," he said. "It's wonderful."

While Brian runs errands for the freight agent, Carmelo works upstairs in the museum, "monitoring" the telegraph for news bulletins or operating educational movies for museum visitors.

"You wouldn't get this in school," Carmelo said of his experience.

When they're not busy, the boys practice military drills using broomsticks fashioned from tree branches and twigs -- much as youngsters did a century ago.

"Instead of muskets they used brooms," Carmelo said.

The historians who play soldiers at the train station say they are happy to work alongside the boys and other young living historians.

"I try to teach the basics of what they need to know . . . the basic setup of a regiment, uniforms of war, different buttons and patches," saidLouis Skienderis of Rockville, who plays a Union Army corporal. "Kids just under the age limit [of 16] would have been very interested in the Patapsco Guard, which required recruits to be at least 16 years old to join."

The next Victorian Parlor Ensemble concert is July 8 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The next candlelight tour is scheduled for July 16, starting at 8 p.m. and repeated every 20 minutes.

The next town tour is scheduled for July 29, starting at 8 p.m. and repeated every 20 minutes.

Reservations must be made for tours, which are restricted to participants 12 years and older.

Further information is available by calling 461-1944.

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