Hot! A Visit to Fort McHenry


This past Saturday, Marc and I paid a visit to Fort McHenry with our friend Sean (and his girlfriend Lorraine), who worked there as a historical interpreter in the award-winning Fort McHenry Guard for many years. Despite only being an hour away up in Baltimore, Marc and I had never gone to this exceptionally historically important fort before, and it was doubly nice to do so with someone who could give us something of a VIP tour.


Flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814.

Fort McHenry is famous for being the origin of America’s national anthem: the Star Spangled Banner. The fort was heavily bombarded by the British in 1814 as part of the war of 1812. Despite nearly 24 hours of continuous shelling by an entire fleet of British warships, Fort McHenry survived, and an American lawyer being held hostage on one of the ships awoke in the morning to the sight of the American flag still flying over the fort, though considerably worse for wear. The man was so moved by the sight of that American defiance that he put pen to paper and wrote a few poetic lines about what he saw. That man was Francis Scott Key, and the words he wrote became a poem entitled “Defence of Fort McHenry“, which in turn eventually became the Star Spangled Banner, eventually adopted by Congress as the official national anthem in 1931. The fort was used again during the Civil War, and was a formidable defense for the city of Baltimore. During WWI, it was used again as a military hospital, and was instrumental in developing several modern medical treatments. The fort has since been mostly restored back to its structure as it would have appeared in 1814.

Unfortunately, the weather was not the best for our visit, with wind and a slow, steady drizzle. But, given that the original battle occurred during a hurricane(!), I suppose it was rather fitting. We started off in the visitor center, and arrived just in time to catch a showing of a movie dramatizing the original battle. Given that Sean knew most of the folks in the film, it was quite entertaining to watch (then again, as reenactors, all of us are used to seeing friends in movies). The ending was a bit corny, leading into the Star Spangled Banner, but then the screen lifted up to show the flag flying over the fort through giant windows, mirroring what was just shown in the movie. I felt it was a nice touch, and helped the audience to connect the past with the present. Quite well done from a museum point of view.

After the movie, we went and explored the fort, with Sean serving as our tour guide and narrator. It was neat to be able to hear all the nitty gritty details, as well as his own humorous stories from working at the fort (Sean holds the record for having spent the most time in the prisoner’s uniform), and afterward he was able to let us in “behind closed doors” to see the inner workings of the fort and its staff.

Despite the weather, we had a really nice time visiting the fort. Even without Sean as our expert tour guide, I felt that the fort had quite a lot of explanatory material, and there were several staff around to answer questions. If you’re going to Baltimore and enjoy historical sites, I can highly recommend Fort McHenry as a site to see. And as an American, no matter how disillusioned you may be by the current government, it’s really quite stirring to see the place that inspired our national anthem.

Without further ado, here are some of the shots I took. Sadly, I am still without an actual camera, so these snapshots from my iPhone will have to do:

[Photo credit: 1, 2]