Fort McHenry National Monument

So while I’m out here in Maryland, I figure I ought to go see some of the stuff that’s around. This afternoon, I went to Fort McHenry National Monument.

If you’re a history buff, you may know that Fort McHenry defended the waterway leading up to Baltimore from British attack during the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. If you’re not a history buff, you may at least recognize that Francis Scott Key watched and was inspired by to write The Star-Spangled Banner. If you don’t even know that, you may want to avail yourself of the links to Wikipedia in this paragraph. Or go to Fort McHenry yourself, where they’ll be happy to tell you all about it.

OK, technically speaking, the whole National Anthem thing isn’t the only thing Fort McHenry is known for. It was an active military installation for around 100 years, although it only ever played a direct role in battle during the aforementioned Battle of Baltimore. During the Civil War, it was used as a military prison, even holding some members of the state legislature to prevent them from voting to secede. And during World War I it served as a military hospital for soldiers returning from Europe. Well, I guess it’s not really known for those things, but still.

See, I learned something today.

The park is nominally free to visit, though they charge $5 if you want to go and actually see the fort itself. And since you went to go see it in the first place, why wouldn’t you?

A lot of the ancillary buildings around the fort are no longer there, but the main fort itself is still standing and has been restored back largely to a hybrid of its appearance in the 1812 and Civil War eras. (What, did you think they were going to tear down an historic building to make it smaller to undo the Civil War era modifications?) There’s some walking paths in, on, and around the fort with the requisite markers describing what you’re looking at, and the buildings within the star-shaped fort walls are half museums and half reproductions of what they used to look like.

There also seems to be various presentations given at the top of each hour, or at least there were when I was there. One described the cannon used during the Battle of Baltimore, what all the parts are for, how it was operated, etc. Another demonstrated how muskets were used by the military back then, with a group of re-enacters in period uniforms firing several rounds, thus showing just how slow and problematic muskets were.

From standing atop the fort’s fortifications, you can get a pretty good view of the surrounding river. Of course, it looks a lot different these days than it did back then.

Speaking of which, getting to Fort McHenry can be a bit interesting. The area around it seems to have become an industrial and shipping area, so there’s plenty of less-than-attractive buildings along the way. The highways nearby are a almost nightmarish Gordian Knot of concrete overpasses like something you might expect to see in Brazil. After you get off of I-95, you get to drive under I-95 for a little bit. You’ll see a sign right after a left turn that points to the left and says “Fort McHenry”. This is a lie. The sign is actually referring to the following left turn. Taking the decoy turn forces you to make a U-turn, since apparently that’s all it’s for. And following the suggested path to get back to I-95 after leaving Fort McHenry is “fun” as well, as it takes you over seemingly every single railroad track in Maryland and features pavement that must’ve been imported from post-World War I France.

And on a somewhat depressing note, in the park area outside the Visitors’ Center, there are a bunch of “This tree dedicated to $PERSON” plaques on the ground. However, only about 25% of them still have an accompanying tree.

But aside from all that, if you’re at all interested in American history, Fort McHenry is definitely a place you’ll want to check out. I think I’ll leave it at that, lest I risk wearing out the <a> tag any more.

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