A “quick” visit to Fort McHenry National Monument near Baltimore, Maryland turned out to be an experience that touched my heart in a profound way. It made me feel extremely patriotic, happy and proud to be an American! I was never much of a history fan in school, but since we have been traveling I have a great appreciation and a desire to see and learn more. Therefore I went along with Gene because he likes forts and it was a free day, so I thought why not? I am so glad I did.
For those of you who may not know, Fort McHenry was the fort that successfully defended the Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812 on September 13th & 14th in 1814. It was here that a large Garrison Flag (Star Spangled Banner) was raised early on the morning of September 14, 1814, to signal American victory over the British. However, the most notable thing that happened here was the birth of our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner!
Originally it was a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry as a “guest” on the British ship HMS Tonnant in the Baltimore Harbor. At dawn the next day, Key was able to see an American flag still waving and wrote a poem about his experience, “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Eventually it was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song written by John Stafford Smith. What I didn’t know, was that there are actually 4 stanzas to the song, but most of us are only familiar with the first stanza which eventually became our National Anthem.
We walked into the visitor center and looked at all the exhibits while waiting for the next theatre show. This is where I found out that there are 4 stanzas to the poem that Keys wrote. We didn’t have to wait to long for the film which was really well done and entertaining. The end is what really touched me and still has an effect on me. If you haven’t been to Fort McHenry before, and don’t want it spoiled, scroll down a bit.
At the end of the film they quietly started playing the Star Spangled Banner, but I wasn’t really sure if it’s just my imagination or not. Soon it got louder and the whole room stood up, took off our hats, and covered our hearts. However, the most impressive thing was that as the song became louder, a thick black curtain in the room opened slowly. As it did, it revealed the flagpole with a large American Flag waving in the wind. I literally had tears in my eyes. I still get chocked up today when I think about it. I know it’s probably silly, but it really touched me.
SPOILER ALERTAfter the movie we made our way back outside and into the main area of the fort. It is surprisingly beautiful, especially looking out into the harbor. After walking around a while we ended up in the barracks which contain several exhibits: The Enlistmen’s Quarters; an Electronic Map; uniform and weapons displays; videos; Junior Officers’ Quarters; powder magazine; Commanding Officer’s Quarters; and the 1814 Guard House. It was interesting and the Rangers were extremely knowledgeable and helpful.
There are about 3 or 4 places we’ve been to that have made me really step back and muse over what it means to be a citizen of this great country, and this place is one of them. If you haven’t been here, YOU MUST someday. It is incredible, and hard for me to think that I almost missed this historical place because I only tagged along to be with Gene. Amazing.
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