Visions of yuletide past

Fort McHenry's Yuletide Candlelight Tours re-create period sights and sounds

December 14, 2006|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun Reporter

This time last year, Jim Bailey was dressed in period garb at Fort McHenry's Yuletide Candlelight Tours, preparing to go to an imaginary ball.

Bailey, a park ranger and volunteer coordinator, talked to visitors about what it was like to be at the Battle of Baltimore and invited them to join him later at the make-believe ball. After the tours finished, many of the visitors wished the dance was real, he said.

This year, it will be. The fort hired a trio and Choreographie Antique, a historic dance ensemble from Goucher College, to perform in the visitor center during the candlelight tours Saturday.

"It's a pretty neat way to either start your tour or end it," Bailey said.

Tours of about 35 people will depart the Visitor Center every 15 minutes and head to the first of six stations representing time periods from the War of 1812 to World War II.

One of the first scenarios features the World War II Coast Guard patrolling the fort on Christmas Eve. They talk about what it was like to be on guard duty in 1942 and 1943, when the country was under the threat of invasion. Familiar topics such as homeland and port security come up, Bailey said.

"It's something that visitors can immediately connect with," he said.

Bailey's favorite scenario re-creates a hospital ward during World War I. The staff there is preparing for the holiday season and talking about beating the other wards in a decoration contest.

"I think I enjoy this scenario because it's the easiest one to identify with," Bailey said. "There are holiday decorations and the soldiers in the process of decorating. In the other scenarios, they're talking about how they're on duty celebrating the yuletide season in a way that's different from how we civilians do today."

The other scenarios deal more with soldiers enjoying downtime in their barracks, inspecting an entrance and going through other duties during the holiday season.

"I certainly think these other scenarios are very important and valuable," Bailey said. "It reminds us that even today, in 2006, members of our armed forces, people that we know, are spending the holidays away from us and doing the very same thing: keeping us safe, out on guard duty, out on patrol."

Throughout the course of the night, at least 10 dancers will go through period routines in the Visitor Center. Patrons are invited to join in or just watch, Bailey said.

"It's like a Jane Austen novel," Bailey said. "You'll not only be able to see what it was like to be at a period ball, but you'll be able to hear what it's like as well."

Fort McHenry's Yuletide Candlelight Tours are 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday at the fort, 2400 E. Fort Ave. Free. Wear warm clothes - the tour is half indoors and half outdoors. Each tour lasts about 45 minutes. First come, first served. Call 410-962-4290 or go to nps.gov/fomc.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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