Saturday we went to the Smithsonian American History Museum and saw THE Star Spangled Banner. The actual flag that was flying over Fort McHenry back in 1814. Today we started the day by driving to Baltimore to visit the fort. The new visitors’ center at the fort opened in early March and is very nice and informative. There is a movie about the battle for Baltimore and the writing of the song along with what the song means to the nation now. At the end of the movie with the Star Spangled Banner playing the screen raised and through a wall of windows there was Fort McHenry with the Flag over the fort waving in the wind.
It is really amazing. We have toured a number of forts over the past few months although there are many similarities between a number of them, they are each so different. Fort McHenry is a star fort that was built after the United States won its independence to protect Baltimore Harbor. During the war of 1812 the British attempted to take control of Baltimore Harbor. On September 13, 1814 a British fleet of 19 warships started bombarding the fort. The pounding of the fort continued all day and through the night. After 25 hours the British gave up and retreated.
Francis Scott Key, a Washington lawyer and amateur poet, was on a ship in Baltimore Harbor attempting to negotiate the release of a civilian prisoner of war that was being held by the British during the bombardment. When the battle ended and Francis Scott Key looked to see whose flag was being raised over the fort, he was so moved to see the Stars and Strips of the American flag he wrote a poem titled “The Defence of Fort McHenry”. In the years following the battle the poem would be put to the music of a British drinking song, renamed “The Star Spangled Banner” and would eventually become the national anthem by a resolution of Congress in 1931.
After exploring the Fort for a while we drove out to visit the Hampton National Historic Site. Hampton is a plantation in Maryland that was owned by the Ridgely family. Over the years a mansion of about 25,000 square feet was constructed and passed down thru a few generations of the family. As the years progressed and times changed the family was no longer in a position to maintain the property. Through a lucky turn of events the core property was acquired by the Avalon Foundation (now part of the Andrew Mellon Foundation). In 1948 the estate including the Hampton Mansion and remaining acres were designated a National Historic Site based on its architectural significance as the finest example of Georgian architecture in the United States. Today the mansion, its furnishings, slave quarters, and other out building provide insight into the life of wealthy landowning aristocracy of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
After our visit to Hampton we ran some errands which included picking our bicycles up, picking up a few tour books for upcoming stops, got some dinner and then returned to our 400 square foot home on wheels.
Today and for the past few months – I have seen and continue to see what an amazing country we live in.