Over the weekend, my husband asked if I wanted to drive to Fort McHenry in Baltimore to visit the place where the Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. When we moved to Maryland, the state was celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812. There were many activities taking place in the Baltimore area and ships from around the world docked over the summer to commemorate the event. Even our license plates celebrated the event with a colorful array of fireworks and the flag. Two years later, in 2014, the celebrations began again to celebrate the end of the war.
We headed out early on Saturday while it was still cool outside and cloudy since they were calling for rain later in the afternoon. I made sure to bring a hat in case the sun came out and of course it did. First, I was surprised at how small the fort actually was. The photo above is from the National Parks Service and gives a good aerial view of the fort which is somewhat star-shaped. When you look out over Baltimore Harbor, it seems small and very close to the fort. The area surrounding the fort has been well cared for and the grounds provide plenty of benches if you just want to sit and enjoy the view. Several times a day, the Park Rangers will lower and raise the flag, and if boy or girl scouts or military veterans are present, they will ask them to help. If you want to bring a picnic lunch, there is plenty of open space to do so. The Rangers also give tours and throughout the year special events are held at the fort. There were plenty of Park Rangers throughout the area and all were willing to answer questions that anyone might have. The one Park Ranger I didn’t see was Ranger Vince, who has become something of a local celebrity thanks to his quirky personality that comes through during his frequent appearances on local television. It was just announced that he will be leaving Fort McHenry after being promoted and taking a new position in Washington, D.C. Many visitors to the fort will be saddened by this news.
Nearby is the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House that tells the story of the woman who made the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the battle. The actual flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814 was flown again in 2014 for the 200th Anniversary. Touring both places can take as little as two hours or longer if you want to go at your own pace. If you are near Baltimore, you might want to stop and take a quick tour. The links below will give you more information.
Living on the east coast, we are surrounded by places that played an important role in the history of the U.S. My husband and I were looking for places to visit that would be day trips and we came upon Valley Forge National Park in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. It is where General George Washington and his troops camped for the winter. The park is less than 90 minutes away, which was surprising because both of us swear that when we were in school we were taught that Valley Forge was in New York. Hmm…were our history books wrong? Probably.
Anyway, we decided to drive up on a Saturday. The weather was nice as was the drive. We stopped at a Welcome Center in Pennsylvania and let me tell you if you are looking for a restroom, Pennsylvania is the place to stop. I have never seen such clean restrooms. They were absolutely spotless. (A close second would have to be the rest areas in South Dakota.) It is clear that Pennsylvania keeps everything clean because Valley Forge National Park was neat and tidy as well. The park has rather wide walking and biking trails and is also pet friendly. I have never seen so many dogs in a national park before. The museum has a large display of items from the Revolutionary War that were used by the troops in the area. One of the more interesting displays was of medical tools that would have been used at the time.
The park has a self-guided driving tour that you can take using your cell phone to guide you. Dial the number and it will tell you about the landmark that you are stopped at. Depending on how much exploring you do, the tour can take 2-4 hours. The only real draw back to the visit was that so many of the joggers and bike riders didn’t use the path that was for them. Instead they ran or road their bikes on the road, which was narrower than the trail for them. This meant that the road was rather clogged and because there is always someone behind you that is in a hurry, we ended up missing a few stops because we couldn’t pull off and had to keep going. It is close enough that we can always stop back the next time we are in the area.
The Pennsylvania Columns are mainly decorative and have no real meaning. The National Memorial Arch is in memory of all who camped out during a very harsh winter where they did not have enough food and many were without the proper clothes or shoes. The photos were taken by us on the trip through the park.