Author Archives: sferguson1024

July 16 – 21, 2014

Things are winding down at the Institute and a lot of time is spent now on working on our projects.  Wednesday the 16th we talked about John Phillip Sousa and created our own anthems.  This would be a fun idea in the classroom.  Give the kids a tune and have them come up with a new poem/song/anthem to that tune.  Would challenge their writing abilities and give them a musical format.

Thursday we had a great lecture with Maureen Mahon about African American spirituals and associations with the anthem.  Learned a lot about the “Black National Anthem” called LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING.  I’d heard the song, but didn’t know the political connotations of it.  Here’s a stirring version from the Kennedy Center.

And then, of course, as with all anthems there is controversy.  Rene Marie sang LIFT EVERY VOICE to the Star Spangled Banner tune in this clip.  Notice how everyone around her is not quite sure what to do OR what’s happening.

Friday was our last day with David Prather who did a great bit on Yankee Doodle poetry designed for young school children, so naturally, I could identify with that.

Saturday and Sunday at brother Andrew’s and Ann’s house, where we took off on some more Civil War adventures.    To Manassas,  Arlington and Fort Washington traipsing around in the battlefields and over the fort ramparts.

Dinner in Alexandria

Dinner in Alexandria

Stonewall Jackson and Manassas Battlefield - It was the 153rd anniversary while we were there.

Stonewall Jackson and Manassas Battlefield – It was the 153rd anniversary while we were there.


Fort Washington overlooking the Potomac

Fort Washington overlooking the Potomac

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July 14 & 15, 2014

Monday was a classroom day and out early to work on curriculum projects.  I’m designing a week of activities so that our school can celebrate Friday September 2014, the 200th birthday of the Star Spangled Banner.  I found out the our wonderful PTO will donate the money to pay for the fabric we need to make our 30′ by 42′ life-size flag.  This is great news, since our awesome art teacher has gotten as excited about it as I am!  I know the students will love this project also. What a great way to kick off our school year.

Our Institute was joined by actor David Prather, who did a fun poetry interpretation of Patriotism.  He will be involved in the workshops this week with more poetry and ideas on how to integrate theatre in the class.

David Prather

David Prather


Tuesday was our last official field trip into Washington, DC with a trip to the Naval Yard.  I’d never been to this side of the capital.  It’s the home of the President’s Own US Marine Corp Band.  This sounds like the perfect job if you are musician.  They apply in a blind audition and if accepted they become Marines without going through boot camp.  They practice several hours a day and play several times a week in official functions.  They have an 80% retention rate.  Once most land this gig, they retire from the Marine Corp here.  They are at the beck and call of the President.  Our guide said that there have been many instances of letters (in the old days) arriving from the White House saying “The President requests you perform TONIGHT.”  Someone in our group asked a “what if the President asked you to….” question.  She said the answer to any question from the White House is ALWAYS “Yes, Sir!”

There is a library that houses all the historical music scores, many from John Phillip Sousa.  Sousa’s father enlisted him in the Marine band when he was 13 after he had tried to run away and join a circus band.  He was in the Marine band from 1867 – 1875, when he was discharged and formed his own band.  He returned in 1880 to direct the band and left again in 1892.

Today we were treated to a rehearsal of the Marine Band as they prepared for a concert on the steps of the Capital on Wednesday evening, as part of the Capital summer series.

The commandant's house, Sousa and the US Marine Band

The commandant’s house, Sousa and the US Marine Band

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A couple of us had a decent lunch at The Matchbox on 8th Street.  I was determined to enjoy a nice restaurant, since College Park is not a destination for gourmands.  I’d say it’s beneath my standards…and mine aren’t THAT high.  Lovely meal…after we had ordered and were waiting on our food, the hostess came and apologized and asked us if we would mind moving because she had a large party that needed the corner we were in.  She assured us that if we agreed that we would enjoy a free dessert.  So after the table of six new moms and their SIX newborns sat down across from us, I was wondering about how sane we were to be so nice and move for them.  Until I was served this…..then all was good.

Deep dish Pecan Pie with Bourbon sauce......omg!

Deep dish Pecan Pie with vanilla gelato and Bourbon sauce……omg!

July 11, 12 & 13, 2014

Friday the 11th was an in-house morning for class.  We spent time on “observation deck” doing our morning music mayhem.  At least that’s the way it feels to me, since I still don’t have a clue what I’m doing.  We worked with gourds making African music.  I can get the basic ta-da, but as soon as he adds dum-de-dum, I’m lost and feeling dumb.   The afternoon we were free to work on our projects and do what we wanted.  I rode the train all the way to Old Towne, which is the exact opposite on the map from where I am.  I met up with an old friend from WDBJ days and had dinner.  Then rode the train back to College Park.

Saturday I made it into the city to see the Newseum.  This is my favorite place to visit in DC and since it’s always changing a bit, I enjoy stopping here each time.  The museum is all about the Fourth Estate, all things journalistic, from 15th century news outlets to Twitter.  Fascinating stuff.

September 1814 paper with Francis Scott Key's lyrics printed on the front page

September 1814 paper with Francis Scott Key’s lyrics printed on the front page

Mangled antennae from the World Trade Center.

Mangled antennae from the World Trade Center.


Fun Anchorman Exhibit

Fun Anchorman Exhibit

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Scenic DC from the observation deck

Scenic DC from the observation deck

Sunday I spent south of the Potomac at Arlington Cemetery and at the Pentagon Memorial… the blazing heat.  Barely escaped without heat stroke I think.

Visited Uncle Hank

Visited Uncle Hank

Paid for the tram to try and avoid the heat by walking all over creation.  That’s worth the $9.  It stops at Kennedy’s site, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington House, home of Robert E Lee.

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I prowled Arlington House for a while.  Lee left his home once the Civil War started and the Union took it over for a while.  They began burying the dead soldiers on the grounds and eventually became Arlington Cemetery.   You can get the whole scoop at the NPS website.

The house is not air-conditioned and it’s full of original art.  I couldn’t believe they had all the stuff in an un-controlled climate.  When I asked the ranger about it, she said, “well it was hot then, too.” say what?!

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I left Arlington and headed to the Pentagon.  I wanted to see the 9/11 Memorial there.  The website said there was easy access.  Just get off the Metro and make a right, “it’s right there.” Failing to mention that you have to walk half-way around the world’s largest office building to get there!  This was about the point where I felt I might be succumbing to heat stroke.  Glad I made the effort, however.  It’s a beautiful and serene sight.


Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial




July 10, 2014 NEH

Spent an exciting day at the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.  This is my all-time favorite free museum!

American History

American History

They let us in before the museum opened and we were allowed in the basement to see the textile conservation lab.  This was hugely cool!  Lots of mannequin forms, fabrics, costume fabrics, and machinery here. The head conservator on the Star Spangled Banner project explained the process of the 10 year restoration on the flag.  So much of the flag was cut away by souvenir seekers that it has lost 8 feet from it’s original size of 30′ x 42′.  She said that she tells everyone who comes through to be sure and go back to inspect their attic, because there are many pieces still missing, including one of the 15 stars that was removed.  The Museum still receives bits and pieces of the flag, which they collect and conserve, but have no plans to completely rebuild the flag.


Conservation lab and exhibit featuring pieces of the Banner

Conservation lab and exhibit featuring pieces of the Banner

We then had an up close look at the SSB exhibit itself.  I’d been here before immediately after the restoration and renovation at the museum was complete.  It’s an incredible experience to stand in front of that flag and think about the history that it has lived through.  No photographs are allowed in the room due to the rules of conservation.  After our informative tour/talk, all 30 NEH attendees stood in front of the flag and sang the Star Spangled Banner.  The tourists just quietly walked around us.



They told us about all the discussion leading up to the design of the Banner’s home.  Some felt that the flag from 9/11 should hang here in this entrance spot, but then they realized that would lead a false message, and that people might think that WAS the Banner.

This site tells you about how they preserved the banner.

We got a lot of background on the specially designed room to house the banner, climate controlled and outfitted with gantries so that conservationists can hang over the banner and inspect it every now and then.

The climate controlled display

The climate controlled display

This is an interactive flag on the Smithsonian website.  It has a lot of the same information featured at the exhibit’s touch table.

Several other things that are in the Banner exhibit are equally impressive.  They had the original canvas bag in which the Banner was stored after General Armistead left Ft McHenry.

Banner bag

Banner bag

We had a conference room for our NEH crowd where we met with the master teachers and worked on our curriculum projects.  After that everyone kind of split and went their separate ways to research and enjoy the museum.  I prowled American History and watched the US Air Force band play a concert in the museum’s Warner Theatre.


Obama's dress from the President's Wives hall and the USAF sextet.

Obama’s dress from the President’s Wives hall and the USAF sextet.

President's Hall

President’s Hall

Tuesday July 8 & Wednesday July 9, 2014

Tuesday and Wednesday were mostly lecture days.  Lots of great resources, websites, video links, etc. to incorporate our topics into the classroom.  Plenty of delicious history with Anne Rubin again on the Compromise of 1850, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Bleeding Kansas and John Brown.  I love it when historians give you the down and dirty every day life stories along with the “book facts.”  I would have enjoyed history a lot more in high school with some enthusiastic teachers like I have the pleasure of listening to at the NEH Institutes.  I guess the main difference is that they all are passionate about their topic.  Lesson taken:  Keep your passion for your class subject….somehow.

Hearing Rubin’s take on John Brown was especially enlightening, given that we had just been through Harper’s Ferry on our way here.  On Tuesday we talked about the tune “John Brown’s Body” that my sister kept singing, making it the trip ear-worm.  The song, in it’s time, was very controversial, which is really no surprise, given that John Brown himself was controversial.  He was an example of you’re “either for him or ag’in him.”  Typically, hated by the South and admired by the North.  The tune became the Union theme song.  Northerners would sing the song because they KNEW it made the southerners mad.

Our SKYPEd conversation today with Christian McWhirter of the Lincoln Library and author of “Battle Hymns,” revealed something I’d never heard of.  Since music played such a large part of the recreational time of ALL people, north and south (think no TV, no radio, no iPods kids), the soldiers were known to have “play offs.”  Southerners on one side of the river and the Northerners on the other side.  One side would play a tune and the other side would answer (remember the banjos in Deliverance?).  They might have been mostly “friendly” musical dialogues before they started shooting at each other again the next day.  But according to McWhirter there were known instances of sides deliberately antagonizing each other.  The Southerners would play a tune and then the Yanks would play “John Brown’s Body,” which is SO offensive to the Rebels that they opened fire!  Can we say the lesson stands to this day – Don’t piss off a southerner?

John Brown’s Body

Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,

While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;

But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,

His soul is marching on.


John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true and brave,

And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save;

Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave,

His soul is marching on.


He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few,

And frightened “Old Virginny” till she trembled thru and thru;

They hung him for a traitor, they themselves the traitor crew,

But his soul is marching on.


John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see,

Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be,

And soon thruout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free,

For his soul is marching on.


The conflict that he heralded he looks from heaven to view,

On the army of the Union with its flag red, white and blue.

And heaven shall ring with anthems o’er the deed they mean to do,

For his soul is marching on.


Ye soldiers of Freedom, then strike, while strike ye may,

The death blow of oppression in a better time and way,

For the dawn of old John Brown has brightened into day,

And his soul is marching on.


Great musical version, with old photographs.

Wednesday we also were treated to a concert from the Federal City Brass Band.  These guys looked great replete with period costumes and instruments.  Today they were a Union band, however, to their credit they also portray Confederates in their gray uniform.  The music was Civil War era, accompanied by the stories that surround each piece.  What I really thought was the most fascinating were that all they guys were playing period instruments.  The drums were all pre-1850.  They said that they scavenged estates and old attics.

Here’s a short performance from this group at Gettysburg in 2012.

While they played, their special guest showed up.  I was very careful to stay in my seat when General Grant appeared.

General Grant, Federal City Brass Band and Band Leaner

General Grant, Federal City Brass Band and Band Leaner

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Monday July 7, 2014

Today was our big field trip to Ft. McHenry in Baltimore.  A fairly easy 45 minutes commute this morning as all the commuter traffic was going in the opposite direction, also to our advantage on the way back to College Park!

Inside Visitor's Center

Inside Visitor’s Center

The 30′ x 42′ banner commissioned from flag maker Mary Pickersgill did not actually fly all night through the battle.  Mrs. Pickersgill was a flag maker by trade and made a living sewing banners for the many ships that came into the port of Baltimore.  Major General George Armistead, the commander of the fort, ordered two flags in 1813.  A small “storm flag” that measured 17′ x 25′ and the majestic 30′ x 42′ banner “so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.” When you visit Ft. McHenry there are four different sizes that they fly depending on the weather.  Today they were flying the 17′ x 25′ replica because of the wind conditions.  They DO, however still fly the 30′ x 42′ replica when the weather permits.  Imagine the weight of the giant flag on a wooden flag pole.  The pole had a cross beam that was buried about six feet deep to help hold it upright.

25' x 17' still seems pretty large and magnificent

25′ x 17′ still seems pretty large and magnificent


In an extremely small nutshell, this is the fort that protected the city of Baltimore from British Invasion on September 13, 1814.  The next morning Francis Scott Key and others stood on a ship watching and waiting for the sun to rise to catch a glimpse of the Star Spangled Banner.  Once it was spotted Key wrote out the lyrics to the SSB.  It has been stressed and I have learned that Key wrote the piece intending it to be a song.  Gathering in pubs, halls town squares, information was shared in poetic and song form.  People of the era knew tunes by name.  Key wrote the lyrics to the SSB to purposely be sung to the tune of “An Anacreontic Song.”  Mark Clague, musicologist from University of Michigan, did an excellent job of laying out the two songs side by side to show the flat out similarities.  It’s a difficult 9 line rhyme with an extra rhyme in the middle of the fifth line.  No way was it an accident and no way did he write the “poem” and then someone else put it to music, which has been frequently and inaccurately claimed in history.

The folks here at the institute are quick to point out that it was NOT really a drinking song.  Which to some might be a moot point.  In these days young men DID assemble in local clubs to discuss the politics of the day and there WAS drinking.  Here’s a bit on the original song/tune recorded at Ft. McHenry, with a couple of “not quite the truth” points, but entertaining.

More acceptable version from the Star Spangled Music Foundation.

Of course, the SSB has gone through many evolutions and still changes every time it is performed as there is NO official version of our Anthem.

While this fort seems a bit “typical” it certainly has a richer history when you consider the link to our National Symbols.

Cannons aimed at Baltimore Harbor

Cannons aimed at Baltimore Harbor

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July 4, 5 & 6, 2014

The weekend in Washington, DC.  While everyone else here was all excited about spending the 4th on the Mall in Washington, I kept thinking how I’d pretty much break an arm than be forced to do that.  The noise, the crowds and the port-a-potties.  Gives me the willies.

That is what they did and of course not were able to get near any of the stages.  I, on the other hand, went to brother Andrew’s and had a quite lovely and peaceful 4th with him, his wife Ann, and a couple of their friends.  Made a startling discover.  He can cook!  He claims that he never does it at the family gatherings because he doesn’t want to get in our way.  I’m thinking it’s his top secret cover.

Andrew and Andy

Andrew and Andy


We went to a neighborhood picnic where everyone gathered for an old fashioned egg-toss and hot dog kind of celebration.  There was even a “band stand” with a pretty good band.

Neighborhood band

Neighborhood band

I returned to UMD campus early the 5th and ventured into Washington for a long day of exploring.  Pretty sure I walked 10 miles.  Washington Monument to the Smithsonian Folk Art Festival on the Mall in front of the museums.

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This year’s Festival featured China and Kenya.  Stopped for a few minutes to see the Chinese Dancers and had a quick Kenyan snack in the tent where this guy was playing some very cool folk music.

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Then through the Sculpture Garden and to the West Building of the National Gallery of Art. I walked around here for nearly 2 hours and, of course, saw a tenth of the building.  It’s pretty stunning to stand in front of so many familiar works of art.

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National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art

I feel like I’ve seen this piece before, or at least one like it.  But this time, after doing our Civil War visits, it reminded me of cannon balls and the desperate faces of the Civil War soldiers looking from the inside out, as if to say “let me out of this mess.”


From the National Gallery of Art I hoofed it up 7th Street and went to the National Portrait Gallery/American Art Gallery to see the exhibit “American Cool.”  Lots of great old photographs of “cool” Americans.  This exhibit is on display until September 7.

Wandered this entire gallery for a couple hours.  It fascinates me to look at all these faces through the centuries and to imagine what their lives were like.  The eyes say a lot.


Me and Sequoyah and Tecumseh

Me and Sequoyah and Tecumseh

This piece was one of my favorites in the American Art Gallery.  You have to look closely to realize that it is composed of license plates and spells out the Preamble.  It was created by North Carolina artist Mike Wilkins.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The highlight of this day was the visit to Ford’s Theatre.  This is a National Park and is a Washington stop that I have never made.  I met up with some of the other scholars from NEH and we had tickets to the play “One Destiny,” which chronicles the events of April 14, 1865 for the tourist crowd.  The theatre itself is quite lovely and the museum is informative.  It’s one of those “timed” visits, however, and I didn’t feel that we had enough time to absorb all that was in the museum.


Ford's Theatre

Ford’s Theatre

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We exited the theatre at 6:30 and made the long trek back to UMD on the Metro.  Long day as evidenced by the painful feet and legs!

Sunday July 6 is a lazy day in honor of all the walking on Saturday!  I hope to invent a pair of clouds that will massage my feet while I’m walking!