It was clear to me in order to finish my hours required for history 398 I was going to have to make up for lost time during the government shutdown. Trying to balance being a full-time firefighter and father along with the 120 hours was beginning to take its toll. With less then a month left in the semester I still needed to do more than half of my service hours. I laid out my fire department work calendar and calculated how many days I would need to do working at Fort McHenry in order to complete my time with a buffer in case of an emergency. I had also received a jury summons from the city of Baltimore which fell during my calculated time. I knew if I was selected for jury duty it would derail my ability to complete my hours. Fortunately the city decided they did not need my services on a jury trial and I was able to continue my relentless schedule of working either my 24 hour firefighter suppression shifts or 8 1/2 hour Fort McHenry shifts. I began what turned into 20 straight days of working between my full-time job and volunteering at the Fort. During these full days of working at Fort McHenry I continued to hone my ability to connect with visitors. My general interest for the War of 1812 and Fort McHenry also developed into a thirst for knowledge and understanding beyond what was required for the internship. After completing the book “Through the Perilous Fight”, I immediately began reading “Six Frigates”. The book explored the early history of the United States Navy and how it came to age during the War of 1812. After completing that book I began reading “Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron” which was a more in-depth look at the War of 1812 naval warfare. These books have offered me the ability to recall names important to the War of 1812 at the drop of a hat and to convey relevant information in what has become my favorite program to be assigned at the Fort. Once a day, one of the programs offered by the Park Service is called “The Bombardment of Baltimore”. The tour and talk consists of one of the volunteer staff giving what I would consider a crash course in what caused the war, what effects it had in the Chesapeake region and ultimately the British failed attempt to capture and burn Baltimore. This program generally takes 45 minutes to an hour to do. Generally the groups that take advantage of this program offered at the fort are smaller than those of the flag talk. I’ve had group sizes ranging from 5 to 25. What is amazing to me is how most of the people who choose to participate in this program at the Fort really have a craving to understand the war that is often breezed over in the history books but played an important role in the shaping of our young nation at the time. Around the time of the centennial of the War of 1812 it was considered an important part of our American history, but by the time of its bicentennial many Americans didn’t know that the war lasted longer than one year. Most of those who participate in the program have very little knowledge of the conflict, and find themselves thrown into a discussion that intrigues their intelligence and understanding of what caused the war. History 398 has given me the passion for a topic in history that I did not know I had. And more importantly, a potential job opportunity to continue doing historical interpretation at the National Monument in a part-time capacity. As I was completing my second to last day at Fort McHenry, I was approached about the opportunity to continue doing historical interpretation for a private entity that contracts with the National Park. A position had just become vacant and because of my dedicated continuous service over several weeks the staff at the Fort had taken notice.
By: Chris Gilfillan, spring 2019