George Best ’12 brings history to life at Harpers Ferry
Cannon fire booms while men in wool uniforms load muskets and rifles. What may sound like a scene from the Civil War is just another day on the job for George Best ’12.
Best is spending his summer as a park ranger at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in Harpers Ferry, W. Va. After doing an internship with the park last summer, Best is now working with the living history branch of the interpretive division.
“That means that I dress up in nineteenth century clothing — civilian and military — and share the history of the town of Harpers Ferry through staffing period exhibits, leading formal programs and tours based mostly on personal research, giving weapons demonstrations on muskets, rifles and cannons, and assisting visitors with any problems they might have,” Best explains.
Besides these other responsibilities, for two days a week Best plays a major role in putting on theatrical productions about the history of Harpers Ferry and its role in the early Civil War.
“I work with a group of other rangers and some volunteers to put together these productions every week, in which I serve as the primary screenwriter,” Best says. “I feel that my job is extremely unique in the amount of research I am required to do — all while dressed as a person from the 1850s-60s.”
Best learned of the opportunity to work at Harpers Ferry through Centre’s Career Services staff, who helped him put together his resumé and cover letter. His job as a seasonal park ranger came, subsequently, through the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP).
“Living history is a very unique opportunity. Very few parks have programs like this, and Harpers Ferry has one of the largest and best living history programs in the country,” he says. “I’ve been given a unique insight into how the National Park Service operates, and my job allows me to share my love of history while literally living it!”
Immersion into living history at Harpers Ferry suits Best, who has long been interested in historical reenactment.
“I have always loved history. As a kid I would act out Gettysburg in my backyard, waving around wooden swords and guns my dad had made me,” he says. “When the park asked me to come back as a ranger, I was ecstatic. The park service is very difficult to get into these days, with several thousand applicants per position, so coming back for a second year is a huge step toward the possibility of making a career out of the park service.”
Although his passion for history made Best prime for working at Harpers Ferry, he also credits Centre for preparing him well for his job as a park ranger.
“Centre’s high academic and personal standards have helped me to do well with my job, in terms of the research that is required of me and in working with visitors and my colleagues,” Best says. “As a history major, I have to tip my hat to the history department, especially for keeping my interest in history alive and for preparing me to do well at a job like this.”
Overall, Best has found that working as a park ranger has given him an opportunity to help other people identify with history more personally.
“The whole experience has been an absolute blast. Knowing that I have made history relevant to the people listening to me is probably the best part,” he says. “When I make those connections with the visitors and see their eyes light up, not only do I know that I’ve done my job, but I get this great feeling that I’ve been able to make someone else care about history.”