The opening famous words to our national anthem, written over two hundred years ago by Baltimore native Francis Scott Key, are a proud part of Maryland’s history. Written from the middle of the harbor as the British held Francis Scott Key captive, they describe the patriotism and bravery of the men who defended the city of Baltimore and Fort McHenry.
The fort stands on the outskirts of the city, jutting out into the harbor, its star-shaped defense, visible from the sea. Built in 1789 and still containing its original masonry work, visitors from all across the country come to witness and experience this battle from the War of 1812.
One of the various activities that the park offers is visiting the fort itself. After purchasing entrance tickets, visitors gain access to the inside of the fort, seeing living quarters of the soldiers, the storage compartments, and even various reenactments such as a Patriot marching band and live cannon fire. The worn, red brick pathways that lead through the fort fascinates many visitors, particularly Finton Thompson, a Philadelphia native. “For me, the most interesting aspect of Fort McHenry is learning about the living and working conditions of the men and women,” he states. “It is awe-inspiring to be inside those walls, trying to comprehend what it must have been like firing our cannons at the British fleet while huddling down like sitting ducks against the incoming cannon fire.” In addition, Mr. Thompson also marvels at the size of the beds and the height of the doorways, “Because very few Americans 200 years ago claimed to be six feet tall as I am!” he explained, laughing.
Other than touring the fort and seeing the reenactments, visitors enjoy the lush, green park that surrounds the fort. Baltimore native Rachael Thompson says, “Fort McHenry holds a very special place to my family. It is a tradition for my brother, cousins, my grandparents and I to go over the summer. We either explore the fort or have lunch on the lawn and watch the ships pass.” Her grandmother, another Baltimore native, agrees with her stating, “It is a special place that I share each summer with my grandchildren.” On bright sunny days of summer, both women recollect watching the parade of miscellaneous ships and tankers sailing up and down the harbor past the glorious fort.
But the fort is not just enjoyed by Maryland residents or for those who enjoy history. Ohio native Sara Peters, who is the first in her family to visit the fort, describes her favorite activity at the park was “simply to explore. I love trying to figure out what is in the tunnels that are closed off. I tend to have a vivid imagination and old buildings with the wide open spaces just make my stories more intricate.” She describes how Fort McHenry is a peaceful place, surrounded by the noises of children laughing and the boats from the harbor, making it a perfect place for every adventurer. Although the fort does not hold a special place in her heart, Miss Peters remarks how “the memories of my friend, who is doing this interview, and her family are what was special [about that day]. I had a great day and I can still remember the wind blowing on my face and the many splinters I got. Also jumping off the top of the fort and making it look like the cannon was shooting me was an artistic plus for the day.”
This historic land of Maryland continues to draw many visitors from around the world, the epitome of this rise in tourism shortly after its two-hundredth anniversary, attracting explorers, families, and history lovers alike.
-Kelly Szalankiewicz ’17