I have a whole new appreciation for our national anthem when I sing along at a baseball game since visiting Fort McHenry a year ago. Not wanting to miss a history lesson opportunity, I took my son and his friend to Fort McHenry when we had visited Baltimore for an Oriole and Yankee game.
When we arrived at this large five-pointed star shape Fort, our first stop, of course, was the visitor’s center where there was an exhibit and a short film, The Defense of Fort McHenry. We learned about the Battle of 1812, why the flag was so large and the song which became our nation’s anthem. We discovered the reason for the size of the flag was because Major George Armistead, who was a commanding officer in the War of 1812 wanted the flag to be “so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.” The flag was 30′ x 42′! Typically a replica of the oversized flag is flown at Fort McHenry (we saw the original in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.), but the day we were there, the flag was flown half-staff for the civil rights activist, Dorothy Height. The giant flag couldn’t be flown at half-staff because it would have touched the ground.
We soon learned it was the 30′ x 42′ flag that Francis Scott Key witnessed in the “dawn’s early light” by the sight of September 14, 1814. By sight and was inspired to compose “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
After learning about the flag, we had fun taking in everything from the tunnels to the cannons in the fort. There were exhibits in the barracks that gave us the history outside of the War of 1812. We were surprised to find out that Francis Scott Key’s grandson, Francis Key Howard was arrested and imprisoned at Fort McHenry during the civil war.
I love visiting historic landmarks that are run by the National Park Service. We spent hours on a beautiful day that offered an educational experience. Like many of the National Park Services, we visit, the entrance fee was inexpensive, $7.00 for adults and free for 15 and younger. Of course, a junior ranger program is also available for the kids but plan on allowing two hours to complete the program. I also recommend going early or late, so you can witness the change of the flag at either 9:30 a.m. or 4:20 p.m. Another tip is to check the calendar at www.nps.gov/fomc/index.htm for events, especially in the summer. There are usually events where you can experience the daily life of a War of 1812 soldier, sailor or citizen.
The best part of our memorable adventure was that the boys had fun and it didn’t seem like learning. As a Mom, I am excited that I can provide my son with opportunities that allow him to see the bigger picture. In the future, I know when he sings the National Anthem at a school function or a ball game, he will know the true meaning of America’s triumph and endurance.