Fort McHenry, where the rockets’ red glare inspired attorney and amateur poet Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics (the “Defence of Fort M’Henry”) to The Star Spangled Banner during the War of 1812. The battle took place over September 13-14, 1814, and the song, despite it’s octave-and-a-half range that makes it difficult for many people to sing, was adopted as our National Anthem in 1931.
The fort itself, located on a peninsula, is shaped like a five-pointed star. It was built in 1798 and was in use through World War II. It is just perfect for spending a few hours in the Visitor and Education Center then wandering through the fort and learning about the end of the War of 1812. Or, you can spend the day on the grounds, enjoying a picnic, and watching the river traffic go by. Occasionally, the Pride of Baltimore is docked at the pier and you can walk on board.
So, the fort is known for the flag. It is huge. As in, HUGE, measuring 30′ x 42′ and heavy (about 80 pounds). Mary Pickersgill (not Betsy Ross) and friends made the flag and a smaller storm flag (17′ x 25′). If you’re there at 10:15 a.m. or 5 p.m.., you can help raise or lower the flag. Occasionally, the flag is lowered in salute to boats or ships that sail by the port.
If you have a National Parks pass, use it here. Otherwise, there’s a small fee to tour the fort. Watch the short 10-minute movie (shown twice an hour) about the war and the fort (surprise ending), learn that Key was not being held prisoner on a British ship, listen to a Ranger and ask questions, then tour the buildings. Oh, and stop by the gift shop for some special souvenirs.
Check the calendar for the annual night-time tours, War of 1812 Fife and Drum music camp, National Junior Ranger Day, twilight tattoo ceremonies, National Flag Day; concerts, Civil War Weekend, Defenders’ Day, and other special events.
The flag, with its 15 stars and 15 stripes, underwent a massive restoration a few years ago. The flag is on display at the National Museum of American History, a Smithsonian Institution Museum, in Washington, D.C.
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