- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2014

BALTIMORE — On a pleasant, windy day, Elizabeth White sits next to Fort McHenry’s flagpole, closes her eyes and listens to the flag move in the wind.

“It’s like the flag is speaking to you in a sense,” she said.

The 20-year-old Fort McHenry park ranger said the sound doesn’t change over time, making it the same flapping noise American soldiers heard in 1814 when the British navy sailed up the Patapsco River to bomb Baltimore.

It’s also the same fluttering flag that Francis Scott Key would immortalize in his four-stanza poem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which would later be set to music and become America’s national anthem.

In honor of the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Battle of Baltimore, Fort McHenry has prepared a robust calendar of events and plenty of patriotism to go around.

Ms. White said the visits to the park have increased by 30 percent since 2012. On a yearly basis, they expect 600,000 visitors, but with the bicentennial, they have seen about 800,000.

Some come with some knowledge of the War of 1812 and desperate battle for control of the fort, but many need to be filled in on the details, Fort McHenry Park Ranger Paul Plamann said.

“Some people don’t even place the Star-Spangled Banner in that time period,” he said. “They think it may be [from the] Revolutionary War or perhaps the Civil War.”

Mr. Plamann, who has been a ranger at Fort McHenry for 47 years, is happy to fill in the details in talks with visitors.

In a program called “Broad Stripes and Bright Stars,” Mr. Plamann draws a crowd together to open a full-sized flag. As toddlers, teenagers and adults grip the flag, he recounts the history of the flag and its maker, Mary Pickersgill, who made two flags for the fort.

“Now don’t get Mary mixed up with that gal in Philadelphia,” he said. “Betsy, she’s working on banners up there.”

In 1948, President Truman ordered Fort McHenry to fly the flag around the clock as a “perpetual symbol of our patriotism.”

It’s something that Ms. White said they are proud to do, in part in response to the famous question that ends the first stanza of Key’s poem.

“We’re answering that question he asks,” she said. “Today, yes the flag still waves over Fort McHenry.”

Fort McHenry hosts a wealth of information about the War of 1812 and the roles of the Battle of Baltimore and Key.

The visitors center includes a museum that gives a look into the events leading up to the War of 1812 and the British’s Chesapeake campaign. At the end of the re-enactment video, the national anthem is played and the video screen rises to unveil the flag over the fort, placing you in the shoes of Key himself after the battle.

Walking through the star-shaped fort that guarded the entrance to Baltimore, visitors can explore the fort’s bomb shelters, sit in bunk beds from the 1800s and imagine soldiers in small Civil War jail cells. In an ironic twist, Key’s grandson was detained there in 1861 for being a Confederate sympathizer.

Writing from his cell, Frank Key Howard said, “I could not but contrast my position with his, 47 years before. The flag which he had then so proudly hailed, I saw waving, at the same place, over the victims of as vulgar and brutal a despotism as modern times have witnessed.”

After touring the fort, visitors can climb up and stand on the “ramparts” looking out over the Patapsco River and see Francis Scott Key Bridge. In September 1814, 15 British ships were 2 miles out in the water, ready to bomb the fort. To their left, 4 miles out, Key sat on a ship, watching the bombardment through the night.

Leading up to September, Fort McHenry will celebrate the anthem’s bicentennial through boat tours, visitors being “drafted” into the militia and concerts from the fort’s fife-and-drum corps.

This July Fourth weekend, visitors will see flag talks, cannon-firing and a parade through Federal Hill.

The “O Say Can You See! Star-Spangled Spectacular!” festival will start Sept. 6, with Navy ships in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Blue Angels air shows. History demonstrations, a family fun-zone and live music will lead up to Sept. 13 with a patriotic concert and fireworks display.

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