Ellicott City festival planned

July 10, 1995|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,Contributing Writer

Can-can dancers, racing waiters and local merchants are teaming up this weekend to raise money to bring a Civil War-era fife and drum corps to Ellicott City.

PJ's of Ellicott City, Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant and Historic Ellicott City Inc. are sponsoring a festival Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in front of PJ's on Main Street.

It will offer live music, food and games in an effort to raise money for the B&O Railroad Museum's new Patapsco Guard Fife and Drum Corps.

The festival weekend is that of the French Bastille Independence Day, but the cause is for American Civil War history.

Three years ago, museum director Ed Williams organized volunteer re-enactors for the Patapsco Guard, a group of about 100 Ellicott Mills German and Irish immigrants who fought in the Civil War. The most famous battle they were in was Gettysburg -- their assignment was to bury the dead. Understandably, they were heavy drinkers, said Mr. Williams.

Since its re-existence, the Patapsco Guard has been missing something vital -- the teen-agers who issued company commands with their fifes and drums.

"I've always wanted to have a fife and drum corps," said Mr. Williams, director of the museum for three years. "[There's] something about it. . . . It's like a soundtrack to a movie. You don't know it's missing until it is there."

With the help of a $1,650 start-up check from Fernand Tersiguel, owner of Tersiguel's, a down payment on five drums was made. Then, 134 years after the Civil War began, another call for area youths to join the war effort was given.

Pat Patterson, owner of PJ's, and Mr. Tersiguel hope to raise $4,000 to $5,000 this weekend for the new corps.

At the festival, waiters will race an obstacle course through PJ's and Tersiguel's, with the most skillful waiter winning a trip for two to Sonoma Valley vineyards in California. Local dignitaries will sit in a dunking booth, and raffles for overnight accommodations, antique appraisals and dinners at local restaurants will be held.

Fifty percent of the proceeds from food sold outside will go to the corps, in addition to raffle and game money sponsored by other area merchants.

The money will pay for uniforms, music and the hand-made drums, which cost $650 apiece for snare drums and $900 for the bass drum. The rosewood fifes cost $80 each and were donated to the museum by Ellicott City's Mumbles & Squeaks Toy Gallery.

If organizers don't meet their goal this weekend, Mr. Tersiguel said, they'll find another way to raise the money. "It is beautiful for Ellicott City, what he's doing," he said about Mr. Williams' Civil War living history program. "It is so beautiful to see it, to bring us back to how America was."

He and Mr. Patterson said they hope that their involvement with the museum will motivate other Ellicott City merchants to support the museum's living history programs.

The museum is funded solely by Historic Ellicott City Inc. and museum sales and admissions. So it's been an uphill battle finding extra money for the corps, Mr. Williams said.

Now, however, it will only be weeks before tourists and residents will hear the drum and fife corps playing "Yankee Doodle" on its patrols through town.

In the meantime, area youths participating in the corps are getting an education.

"Their horizons just broaden," Mr. Williams said. "Compare them to kids walking around the Columbia Mall with nothing to do, they're just hanging out. These kids are hanging out in the 19th century."

General rules of re-enactment organizations state the youths must be 16 years old before they can enlist as a musket-carrying soldier. But with the drum and fife corps, there is no age limit, so younger children, such as 11-year-old Chris Stanton, can participate on the field.

Before the Patapsco Fife and Drum corps formed, Chris had to make do with the Glenwood Guards he formed with his neighborhood friends. As a member of an official fife and drum corps, he now is a living historian, wearing an authentic uniform and drumming commands.

Already, 12 youths have signed up, ranging in age from 11 to 18. Corps membership will hover around 16, and ideally members should be youths. But age exceptions are made. For instance, one man had his heart set on being a fifer, so the 43-year-old was given special permission to join.

Although all original members of the corps were boys, girls will be accepted. They'll have to do a male impression, though, Mr. Williams said.

The Ellicott City corps is modeled after the one in Williamsburg, Va. Even though corps members have not officially assembled yet, the museum is receiving calls every day for demonstration requests. The corps is wanted for next year's July Fourth parade in Catonsville, Maryland schools want them for demonstrations, and master drumming and fifing classes are being arranged.

Members have started to meet twice a month to learn war songs and commands. Corps members can be seen opening the museum every day at 11 a.m., and soon they will patrol the town six days a week during the summer.

But Jeff Rogers, a current volunteer at the museum who will join the corps as a fifer, points out a potential problem the corps may have. It might be fife-heavy.

"We have some very steep hills in town that we'll be marching up and down," said the 31-year-old Ellicott City resident. "The fife will be much easier to carry."

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