Highlights of Fort McHenry, Birthplace of the Star-Spangled Banner
Visiting Fort McHenry, the Site of the Battle That Inspired America's National Anthem!
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is a great place to visit, full of inspiring history, lovely grounds and cool views. It's also a place to learn more about the birth of the National Anthem and the War of 1812 -- a conflict that is one of the lesser-known in U.S. history. Run by the National Park Service, Fort McHenry is the only place in the U.S. that is both a national monument and historic shrine.
Fort McHenry: the Movie!
A Great Film Detailing the Battle!
The tour begins in the visitor center, with a movie detailing the events leading up to the Sept. 13-14, 1814 battle at the fort. The movie explains why the fort was so important: The British couldn't take Baltimore only by land, they needed naval muscle. While British soldiers on the mainland struggled against American earthworks, the British planned on floating up the Patapsco River to attack the city from the inner harbor.
The men in the fort held out under intense shelling and bad weather, and when the morning came and the British withdrew Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the Star-Spangled Banner. The live-action movie really does a good job of showing the fear of the Baltimore residents and the horrible weather conditions of the night.
At the end, the movie screen scrolls up and there's a beautiful view through a large window of the magnificent flag waving over the fort. (HINT-- click on the map!).
It's such a great climax that it's hard not to feel that the flag should hold a special place in every American's heart!
Touring the Visitor Center's Museum
See an Early Draft of the Star Spangled Banner!
After the movie, there's a small museum that does a good job explaining the history of the American flag, the national anthem and the War of 1812, with several interactive computer displays to keep the kids interested. One highlight is a video with people across the country explaining what the anthem means to them.
Another highlight -- and my favorite -- is the earliest known copy of the song in Francis Scott key's handwriting, with revisions and scribbles in the margin. The museum says this is likely the first draft, although there's no way to know for sure.
In addition to displaying historical relics from the era, such as musket balls and a powder keg, the museum takes you through the War of 1812 year by year. The timeline puts the conflict in context and talks about the aftermath in a clear, concise manner. It's well worth spending the time to read before heading out to the fort.
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What About You? - What are your plans?
I wrote this lens after a visit to the fort. Have you ever visited the fort, or do you plan to? If yes, what did you think? If no, why not?
Have You Ever Been to Fort McHenry?
The Park's Grounds
A Pleasant Stroll
The fort sits in beautiful parkland that is well worth the stroll. You can see the working waterfront across the river, and the Francis Scott Key bridge in the distance.
On the grounds is a statue of Major George Armistead, commander of the fort during the battle. Also in the park is a much-larger statue of Orpheus, the mythological Greek hero of music and poetry, which was erected in 1922 to honor Francis Scott Key and the men who fought in the battle.
Outside the fort are some 15-inch Rodman guns and batteries from the 1840s that replaced the ones that were present during the War of 1812. After walking along the fort's bastions, you can enter the fort proper.
Inside the Fort
Oddly enough, the first room we came across wasn't actually from the War of 1812. It was actually a guard house from the Civil War. Confederate soldiers were held at the fort, along with members of the Maryland legislature accused of southern sympathies.
We then went into the regular soldiers' barracks and marveled at how tight the bunks and rooms seemed to be. Another section of the barracks gives a complete history of the fort through its life as a military hospital in World War I and it being turned over to the park service.
The junior officers' quarters were closed for renovation, but a peek through the window revealed the officers lived in much better rooms than the enlisted men. A period dinner table was set up and looked like it belonged in a fancy restaurant. UPDATE 8/8/2011: My wife took some friends to Fort McHenry this week and the junior officers' quarters are now open! The dinner table is still set, and the beds the officers slept in were much nicer than the enlisted mens', as would be expected!
I really enjoyed the commanding officer's quarters, mainly because Major George Armstead was a true hero. Showing courage leading up and through the battle, the war took its toll on his health and he died in 1818 at age 38. Very sad. On the grounds is one of the bombs that hit the fort during the battle but didn't explode.
Folding the Star-Spangled Banner! - A Group Effort Helps Out The Park Rangers
At the end of the day the park rangers recruit the visitors to help fold the Star Spangled Banner. At 17 feet by 25 feet, it takes more than a couple of people to do it properly. This isn't the largest flag that Fort McHenry flies -- there's an even larger one that gets flown during the summer when the weather is good and there is no wind. The 17X25-foot flag that was flying the day we visited is the same size as the one that flew over Fort McHenry on the night of the historic battle..
What should be the National Anthem? - What do you think?
Some people say the Star-Spangled Banner is very fitting as the national anthem. Others would like the anthem to be ''America the Beautiful.'' Which side of the song controversy are you on?
Which side of the song controversy are you on?
The Star-Spangled Banner Over Fort McHenry - May the flag forever wave!
This is a very short video that my daughter shot of the flag flying over Fort McHenry on the day we were there.
Getting Ready to Fold the Flag!
Tourists Ready to Lend a Hand at National Park
Here's another photo of the flag-folding at Fort McHenry, where everybody gets a chance to help the park rangers!
Ford's Theatre, National Portrait and the National Zoo!
Reviews of Nearby Washington, D.C.
If you are planning on going to Baltimore you might want to combine it with a trip to Washington, D.C., which is only about an hour's drive away.
We took a family trip to the nation's capital earlier this year and wrote reviews of many places that we visited. Check these out as they will help you plan your trip!
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