- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

Our family has lived in the Washington area since 1983, but we had never visited the major tourist attractions in Baltimore until recently. We bundled seven of our children (three of our 10 are married) into our big green van and headed to Baltimore's Inner Harbor on a hot, hot day.
First stop was the National Aquarium. Here's a tip for large families: It is cheaper to buy a family season pass ($70) than to pay a one-day admission if you have a number of children under 18 living at home. Of course, with a season pass, you can go back again something we decided to do very quickly.
Inside the aquarium, it was a zoo. There were so many people, it was uncomfortable at best and at times intolerable. But it is crowded for a reason. The aquarium is a fascinating place. What we saw was exciting for our children, and we look forward to going again during home-school season in early September. By then, public schools will be open, but it is unlikely there will be many school field trips so early in the school year.
After watching the dolphin show, we circled the Inner Harbor and saw water taxis and paddle boats aplenty on the water. With them plus a tall ship and an anchored submarine, the harbor was quite a sight.
We were walking toward a large hill with a huge flag on top just beyond the harbor. We thought it was Fort McHenry. The free map we had of the area had confusing labels, leading us to believe that Federal Hill was Fort McHenry. But we had a nice walk and an aerobic climb.
On top of the hill, we found kind ladies who explained that we had gone in the right general direction, but that Fort McHenry was several miles away. (We later found at least one other family who had mistaken the same hill, which offers a great view of the Inner Harbor, for the fort.)
I quickly went back to get the big green van, and we made the trip to the fort that was the inspiration for "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was well worth the effort.
Fort McHenry has beautiful grounds and would make a great site for a family picnic. The grounds lie at the edge of the Patapsco River, which leads out to the Chesapeake Bay.
We paid the entrance fee ($5 for adults; children are admitted free) and went to see the movie in the visitors center. Do not miss this movie. It is a well-done documentary about the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.
After a stirring, patriotic presentation, a recording of a male chorus singing all the verses of "The Star-Spangled Banner" (including the verses that mention God) began as the curtains on the right side of the small auditorium were pulled back to reveal the huge flag flying over the fort. It was a moving moment. I was not the only one dabbing my eyes as our national anthem was sung in a manner that can never be achieved in a professional ballpark.
The fort itself is one of the best historical sites we have ever visited in this country or in Europe in terms of its visitor-friendly facility. Most of the major rooms in the fort are not only open to visitors, but have motion detectors that activate recorded narratives about the general uses of the rooms and their particular use during the War of 1812.
After touring the fort, everyone will have a clearer understanding of an important episode in American history, presented in a pleasing manner. Perhaps everyone also will have just a little more appreciation for our country.
That's not a bad result for a day invested in a field trip.
Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

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