It’s a cold December morning at Hampton National Historic Site in Towson. As she shows us the grounds and escorts us to one of the side doors at the mansion house, keys jingle in Abbi Wicklein-Bayne’s pocket. She lets us into the office and pulls out two cell phones — one government-issued and one personal. With two boys in high school and her husband at work teaching, she wants to be sure she is accessible.
Balancing work and family is something Abbi has been managed since her first year at the Star Spangled Banner Flag House when her boss encouraged her to bring her new baby to work. There were a handful of desks in the office space alongside a crib.
While Abbi has held a variety of positions in Baltimore area museums and programs throughout her career, her dream was to work for the National Park Service. When a position opened up in 2009, she went for it. Last year she became Chief of Interpretation for Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Hampton National Historic Site and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.
So what does being “Chief of Interpretation” entail? Everything and anything related to the guest experience. From living history to school tours to volunteer management, Abbi oversees it all. She credits a lean, dedicated and talented team to helping her keep both parks and the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail running smoothly. While managing a team isn’t new, one of the greatest challenges that she has encountered is mastering the historical knowledge of each of the sites. For example, understanding cannon restoration and preservation.
But the position has opened up the possibility of reimagining how the parks are experienced by the public. One thing that Abbi would like to see during her tenure is more school students visiting, particularly at Hampton. The programming is available to students, but there is one major obstacle in the way…
“Funding transportation isn’t necessarily the sexy thing to do,” said Abbi. “People and organizations want to fund the program, but not necessarily getting the students there. But without transportation, we have no one to learn from the program.” This academic year, the parks used funding from Every Kid in a Park to bring every 4th grade Baltimore city school students to Hampton or Fort McHenry.
Why should kids visit? Hampton National Historic Site provides a unique educational experience to visitors (and it’s FREE). As the northern most slave owning plantation, the site provides a complete snapshot into history at the preserved 18th Century Mansion and grounds, including a mansion, farm house, granary, dairy, mule barn, slave quarters, greenhouse, smokehouse, orangery, and more. During the holidays, rooms are decorated to match decor and traditions of a specific era. Local garden clubs help out by providing flower arrangements.
Working for the National Park Service has been a great honor for Abbi. Many might think that the park service is dedicated to preserving monuments, but for Abbi it’s about preserving stories. The his and herstories. The uniform took a little getting used to, especially the hats. (Did you know that NPS rangers have winter and summer hats?) Also required a hair style change. Because, well, hats.
(PS – although she kindly posed with a mug from the museum shop since this is a ‘coffee with’ article, Abbi isn’t much of a coffee drinker. Her preferred method of caffeination? Diet coke.)
Tucked into her pocket is her Western Maryland College lanyard, which carries her keys. She credits her experiences achieving a history degree at Western Maryland (now McDaniel College) for part of her professional success.
“I’m doing what I love, in my field,” said Abbi. Her son is looking to follow in mom’s footsteps a bit. He was accepted to McDaniel and plans to pursue history as well.
As part of McDaniel College’s 150th anniversary celebration, we’ll be profiling local moms doing (cool) things that are also McDaniel alumna. (cool) progeny is a proud media sponsor of the college’s 150th Celebration. Photos by Laura Black.