Fort McHenry

Today my brother and I both had the day off (he had the day off, I’m unemployed) so we decided to go to Fort McHenry. Fort McHenry is famous as the target of all those rockets and bombs and red glare in the Star Spangled Banner. Despite living all of 10 miles away, before today neither of us had visited before.

The day was running a bit haze gray when the brother and I pulled up to the visitor’s center. The park part of the park is free, but inside the visitor’s center you pay $10 per adult to visit the actual fort. We arrived just in time to catch movie relaying the story of Francis Scott Key writing the Star Spangled Banner. The story, of course, begins with that whole War of 1812 thing. Ole’ Francis comes in when he sails down the Chesapeake to free his buddy, who was being held as a POW. Picking up your friend from jail after a wild night out was a lot harder back in the day. The British fed Francis dinner but kept him overnight, where he had a somewhat safer view of the bombardment than the denizens of the fort itself. Without much else to do, he penned a few lines and also managed to get his friend out of hock.

The video ends with the screen rising up to the ceiling, revealing a view of the fort. The rest of the museum is pretty nice, with a wide variety of cannonballs dredged up from the river and other artifacts that weren’t dredged up from a river. It provides a pretty good context for the War of 1812 and the significance of Fort McHenry in fending off the British attack on Baltimore. Afterwards it struck me that if Battle: LA had been set in Baltimore it would have been a way different movie. But while the visitor’s center is nice, the real attraction is, of course, the fort itself.

The fort is, as forts are wont to do, at the end of a peninsula with a commanding view of Baltimore harbor. From the displays I learned that the fort and surrounding land had a century and a half-long history; it was built in 1800 and used until after WWII. These days, however, the grounds are largely just park. The only structures remaining are the visitor’s center, a Civil War powder magazine, and the fort itself. I always forget that historic forts tended to keep on being forts after whatever historic event happened there, so reading about the long history of the fort in the various displays was fairly informative. The star-shaped structure as it stands was preserved during the New Deal, when the brick pathways were added and structures restored.

The fort is not too big and can be thoroughly explored in an hour or two. We started off by tromping over (o’er) every available rampart and checking out the Civil War-era cannon installed around the perimeter. I was particularly proud of myself for identifying the cannon that dot the fort as Civil War-era before I read any of the plaques; quite the cannon aficionado over here. But around the fort you can duck a little ways into some storage facilities built into the walls and it’s easy to see the place was very well built and would have been very defensible. By this time the sun had started to come out and burn off the fog, so we got a great view of the harbor extending out into the Chesapeake. Inside the fort there are three different barracks buildings that contain the bulk of displays concerning the post-1812 history of Fort McHenry. These were interesting and well-done. They also have wood from the original flag pole that supported the eponymous Star-Spangled Banner, which is cool I guess.

The fort (very) thoroughly explored, my brother and I explored the rest of the grounds by walking the path that hugs the seawall. Dogs, joggers, and jogging dogs were out en masse enjoying the now lovely day and beautiful views. The other things to admire on the grounds were the powder magazine I mentioned and a rather large statue of Orpheus (hero of music & poetry). Our circumnavigation complete we stopped back by the gift shop to pick up a lapel pin and headed out. All in all it was a lovely day and if find yourself with an afternoon to kill in Baltimore I recommend a visit.