Fort McHenry National Monument

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“O say can you see by the dawn’s early light…”

Like most decent students of history, I knew generally the origins of the American National Anthem. War of 1812. British attack. Heavy bombardment. Invaders repelled. Flag waving triumphantly in that that early dawn glow. But the anthem which I’ve sung countless times throughout my life garnered a whole new meaning after walking the grounds of Fort McHenry.

Many of you know I’m a NPS geek, and my wife and I have been undergoing an odyssey to visit all 417 sites. This summer we set out on a long road trip to visit as many sites on the east coast as possible prior to our leaving the country for a few years. After a few weeks on the road, we were behind schedule, so we decided to high-tail it from Washington, D.C. to Boston, skipping a few sites we had planned on hitting on the way. But as we passed through Baltimore, I decided to just take a detour to Fort McHenry National Monument and National Historic Site, since it’s so darn easy to get to (if you’re passing through town on I-95, it’s conveniently right off the interstate). And I’m really glad I did.

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For such a small site, the NPS does a fantastic job at Fort McHenry. They have what appears to be a new interpretive center, which plays a very informative, well-produced video on the Battle of Baltimore and the origins of the Star Spangled Banner. Walking out the back of the center, a path takes you up a slight incline to the fort itself. All along the way, I passed a number of Rangers leading guided interpretive tours and activities for both adults and kids. Visitors are provided the opportunity to wander freely through the fort, which contains small interpretive displays of life within the fort and about the famous battle in September 1814. The fort itself is a fairly impressive garrison from the First System of U.S. coastal defenses. While I must admit, once you’ve visited a handful of coastal defense forts, the allure fades a bit. But the clear emphasis the NPS places on Fort McHenry and telling the story of our National Anthem really helps make the site come alive, even for veteran coastal defense visitors such as myself.

I can’t quite call this site a “hidden gem,” per se, as it’s not particularly hidden. But it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re passing through Baltimore on I-95. You won’t be disappointed.

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