History in their hands

North students' documentary may help save site of makeshift Civil War hospital

North students' documentary may help save site of makeshift Civil War hospital

November 24, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

A mission to make history mean something has led one group of high schoolers and one group of outsiders to rally in support of a local Civil War legacy.

Ann Stickler's North Hagerstown High School Advanced Placement U.S. history class and Forest Glen Commonwealth, a Kensington, Md.-based nonprofit historical preservation and education organization, have their eyes on a piece of land off Gapland Road in southern Washington County where a farmhouse and barn sits that once served as a Civil War field hospital. Forest Glen Commonwealth wants to preserve the site as an educational center where students could come to experience hands-on learning about the history of their county and nation.

Rick Lank, president of Forest Glen Commonwealth, said the farm was owned by doctors for four generations dating back to 1760. He said the organization is partnering with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., on the learning center project. The organization is poised to purchase the 7.5-acre site off Gapland Road and Md. 67 in December.


Stickler said Forest Glen investors approached the Washington County Board of Education to see if it had an interest in developing programs for the proposed center. Stickler, one of only a few teachers in the county who teaches a Civil War history class, was approached by her supervisor, Clyde Harrell, to see if she was interested in involving her students in a related project.

She was.

After nearly three weeks of filming, the Advanced Placement U.S. history class is wrapping up a 10- to 15-minute documentary called "The Gapland Legacy Project," which aims to educate its viewers on how one bullet in one battle can affect so many lives.

"The whole gist is why we should preserve battlefields and not develop them," Stickler said, noting that land near the former field hospital was recently purchased by a developer.

In a recently filmed triage scene, 46 male North High students - stripped to the waist and spattered with dark chocolate to simulate blood spatter - lined up on stacks of hay awaiting medical treatment from a teacher and their fellow students, who were dressed as Civil War-era doctors and nurses.

"It looked so real, I almost got sick," Stickler said as her students, joking behind her, complained that the chocolate used in the scene was sugar-free.

She said the students will be graded as a class on the project, which must be turned in before Thanksgiving break.

Students have pulled in footage of real re-enactments to tie into their sepia film. At the end of it, a boy, filmed in color, finds the bullet, which was pulled from a Silly Putty wound molded onto a students' body during the large triage scene.

"My big thing is to make sure it's historically accurate," said senior A.J. Widmeyer, 17.

Widmeyer, a military history enthusiast, said he's done a lot of research on Civil War history, which was easy to bring to life through his work on the film.

Junior Natalie Allen, 16, said her objectives were similar: She wanted to make sure women's roles in war were represented in the film.

Allen, who played a nurse during the triage scene, said it wasn't until filming that she realized how gory a battlefield could look. More than 23,000 men were killed, wounded or missing in a single day at the Battle of Antietam in Sharpsburg, Md., during the Civil War, according to the National Park Service Web site.

"It almost moved me to tears," she said.

By surveying the scene at the Gapland site and by researching the authenticity of the images the students wanted to represent, senior Whitney Hollins, who helped created the storyboard, said she's learned more through this experience than if she listened to a lecture on Civil War medicine.

Lank said he's seen parts of the North High film and hopes to screen it at the learning center once it's opened.

"Those kids did a remarkable job of interpreting history on their own," he said.

Lank said their work could be a springboard for careers in film, history or research.

On the chalkboard, the class' film storyboard is mapped out. The final scene is blocked out with one quote: "Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them."

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