BALTIMORE -- The flag is flying high over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, just as it did nearly two centuries ago during the War of 1812. It was here in 1814 that a tattered battle flag was lowered and a giant battle flag proudly raised aloft after a bruising bombardment. That triumphant act proclaimed that, against all odds, the fort and the city had survived the mighty British fleet. Seeing the stars and stripes emerge from the smoke and fog at dawn is what inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner.
Anniversary observances at the historic fort are among many good reasons to plan a trip to Baltimore this summer. Every weekend, the Fort McHenry Guard will be on hand, dressed in replicas of early 19th-century uniforms and conducting drills, barracks activities and artillery and musket firing demonstrations as well as children’s programs.
A special Defenders Day weekend is scheduled for Sept. 7-9, a three-day encampment and extravaganza with over 100 War of 1812 reenactors, parades, military bands, fireworks and a symbolic ship-to-shore bombardment. Many more observances will be on the calendar between now and Sept. 14, 2014, the 200th anniversary of the end of momentous Battle of Baltimore, when a giant celebration is planned.
The best time to visit the fort on any day is at 9:30 a.m. or 4:20 p.m. when the flag is changed and visitors are invited to help unfurl and hoist the new flag, a replica of the 15 stars and stripes banner of 1812.
The fort is just the start of the enticements of Baltimore. The Inner Harbor development, the urban miracle that put the city firmly on the tourist map in the 1980s, has continued to spread and change the face of downtown. Among recent developments, the growing Harbor East complex boasts a host of new hotels and dining places, including a luxurious Four Seasons Hotel that opened this year.
Those who explore beyond the Inner Harbor will discover a big, warm mix of neighborhoods, from ethnic to elegant to Colonial charm, plus an impressive arts scene that catches many visitors by surprise.
The Cone Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art is world famous for its 500 works by Matisse, considered the largest and most significant in the world. The Cone sisters also acquired masterpieces by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.
The Walters Art Museum is a miniature palace filled with treasures, from mummies, medieval art and old master paintings to Art Nouveau jewelry and an outstanding collection of Oriental Art.
Baltimore is a great destination for families, beginning with the Inner Harbor, where crowds line up to gawk and grin at the 10,000 species of fish and mammals at the National Aquarium, to learn about everything from Earth to outer space at the Maryland Science Center, to board a historic, tall ship like the USS Constellation, take a ride on the “pirate ship” Fearless or a glide around the harbor in a family-size “Nessie” dragon boat.
Beyond the harbor, Port Discovery is an excellent and imaginative children’s museum and the American Visionary Art Museum will delight all ages with its whimsical creations by talented artists without formal training. Who can resist the Cabaret Mechanical Theater, with dozens of wooden creations that move with the touch of a button or exhibits such as a giant sailing ship built of thousands of toothpicks?