Brown Sign: Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD

Baltimore Washington International airport is not the closest arrival destination to our home.  But, the prices are usually better and the pick up easier than Dulles or National airports.  Baltimore is not the place we first think of taking guests for sight-seeing, when so many monuments and museums await in Washington, D. C.  However, when Emily and Violet traveled, via BWI, we had several hours between when we picked up Emily and when we would return for Violet.  So, what could we do around Baltimore in a couple of hours.  

The Inner Harbor is the hub for tourist entertainment in Baltimore: shopping, dinning, open markets, tall ships, aquarium, etc.   But, getting there with time to do more than window shop for things to do later is tight.  Camden Yards would be good, if the Orioles played a quick game… and won.  There are a couple of art museums, but these might require more attention and standing tolerance than we might have after sitting in a car or plane for some hours.  Fort McHenry did well.  Some history and a stroll fit well into our time and energy.

Fort McHenry’s fame is the night in 1814 when the rocket’s red glare illuminated the massive USA flag flying in defiance of the British war ships which tried to blast their way toward Baltimore.  By circumstance, Frances Scott Key, a Washington lawyer, had been making his way on a truce ship to negotiate the release of a prison of war.  As night fell, he was among British ships, about 1/4 mile farther away than Fort McHenry’s cannons could reach, watching the bombardment.

From his vantage point he jotted a few notes, and after the event, when safely back on land wrote the rest of the poem, “Defence of Fort McHenry”.  This was published in a local paper, after the British has boarded their land troupes, and sailed away.  Over the subsequent weeks, other papers published the poem, spreading the story of that night across the settled states to the mid-west.  Guess that was going-viral for the early 19th century.

Being enterprising, Key has penned the poem with a popular song in mind for the tune, “To Anacreon in Heaven”.  This was, ironically, a British men’s social club song, well known to the public. So, drink away and sing to the Star Spangled Banner, spreading the idea of defending the young nation and ideals.

While we get antsy for “Play Ball” after one verse, the original poem has four.  In verse three, before the refrain of the home of the free and the brave, is a line about the hireling and slaves manning the cannons.  Hmm.  Nice of them to defend the freedom which they would not begin to have a right to for another half century.  In the forth verse is the phrase, “In God we trust”.  I do not know whether this is origin of this coinage or not.  I did not know there were three additional verses, so I learned something.

In review, we have an Empire bombing a young nation while a lawyer watches from the sidelines and writes an inspiring ditty, which folks sing in pubs, stirring up their national spirit, which someone else champions to be the National Anthem one hundred plus years later.  Guess politics have not changed much.  PLAY BALL!

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About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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4 Responses to Brown Sign: Fort McHenry, Baltimore, MD

  1. The Vicar says:

    Patriotism grows bolder in the presence of alcohol. If there is a fifth verse I imagine it would be sung to the beat of the Celtic punk band Flogging Molly (actual lyrics below)

    Walk away me boy
    Walk away me boys
    And by morning we’ll be free
    Wipe that golden tear
    From your mother dear
    And raise what’s left
    Of the flag for me

    Play Ball!

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Ah, Flogging Molly! There are some hard drinking boys. As the War of 1812 was between the French and British, I’m sure one side or the other had conscripted the Irish to fight with them (ambiguity of the preposition “with” intended). The Irish would certainly factor into our Civil War 50 years later.

  2. Barneysday says:

    Love the video.

    Visited Fort McHenry about 15 years ago. Very moving setting. Spent 3 wks touring DC, VA, and MD.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      When I moved to the east coast, about 24 years ago, I spent about a week in the museums on the Mall (in D. C.). Twenty four years later, I have not run out of things to investigate around here. Lots more Brown Signs to visit & write about. Thanks for reading.

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