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2400 East Fort Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 962-4290 x250

Summary of activities:

Short documentary style video

Self guided tour of Fort McHenry

The park entrance sign
Approaching the fort on foot
The entrance to the fort
The living quarters for the officers
The living quarters for the prisoners
The magazine where all the explosives are stored
An interior secure passageway
Cannons ready for battle
Cannons on the opposite end of the fort
Even more cannons outside of the fort walls
This modern day bridge is 4 miles away - The British Navy was 2 miles away when they began their assault

The official title of this park is the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. Located at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, Fort McHenry played an important role in the defense of Baltimore during The War of 1812 against the British. In September of 1814, just before the Battle of Baltimore, a young lawyer sailed a ship out to the British fleet located just outside of the harbor, to try and negotiate the release of a captured U.S. soldier. Unfortunately for him the British had plans to begin their assault on Fort McHenry that same night, so he was forced to watch the battle from the odd vantage point of a British war ship. The battle raged on all night and into the early morning before all the cannon firing stopped. It was onboard this British ship that he peered though his telescope that morning and saw what condition Fort McHenry was in. What he saw that morning inspired him to write a poem that we are all familiar with:

"Defence of Fort M'Henry"
written by Francis Scott Key
(a 35 year old Baltimore attorney and amateur poet)

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Ironically, Key's poem was later set to the tune of a popular British song and renamed "The Star Spangled Banner". One thing that I didn't know, and I'll bet most of you don't either, is that there are three more stanzas to this poem. It is only the first stanza we all are familiar with.

Although the poem was written in 1814 and quickly set to music, it wasn't until 1889 (85 years later) that it would receive any official recognition by a U.S. federal agency. In 1916 it was used at some Presidential ceremonies but it would not become our Official National Anthem until 1931, some 117 years after it was written. There were other patriot songs during this 117 year time frame, some familiar, some not so familiar. The short list includes Hail, Columbia - My Country, 'Tis of Thee - America the Beautiful. They all got honorable mentions when it came to selecting our National Anthem. I'm glad we selected the right one, in my humble opinion.

One thing I must mention is that the short 9 minute introductory video they presented to us in the visitor center was the most informative and inspirational video we have seen yet, at any of the National Park properties we have visited. In many ways, it made us feel like we were there during the battle and it has a surprise ending.

So if you plan on visiting here someday

But the surprise ending is, you are watching this video on a 40 foot wide-format screen, in a semi darkened room and at the end they start playing "The Star Spangled Banner" at a very low volume at first, as the song continues the volume increases and you realize the screen is retracting into the ceiling. Behind the screen is revealed a wall of windows that directly faces the flag flying over the inside of the fort.

Now I have been to many Miami Dolphin football games and heard them playing the song before the game starts. I know you are ASKED to "stand, remove your hat and face the flag for the playing of our National Anthem". Today, with the volume steadily increasing, they were well into the third line of the song before I felt myself COMPELLED to rise out of my chair and remove the ball cap I was wearing and place it over my heart. For what felt like the first time, I was actually listening to the words being sung and understanding how powerful the emotions behind them are. By the last line I looked over at my wife and we were both standing, with tears in our eyes, after watching this short 9 minute video. It has changed the way I'll listen to the National Anthem from now on and at that moment I was most proud to be an American.

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Until next time

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