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Our 2017 Road Trip, Part 12: Broad Stripes and Bright Stars

Cannons!

An unlucky Redcoat’s view of the ramparts o’er which we watched the perilous fight.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…

When we plan our road trips, great moments in American history are a high priority on Anne’s brainstorming lists. As one of the thirteen original colonies, Maryland in general has its noteworthy historical moments to share, one of which takes up a large plot of Baltimore real estate — Fort McHenry, one of our many strongholds built after the American Revolution. During the War of 1812 it was the site of the Battle of Baltimore and, more importantly, the place where Francis Scott Key wrote our National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Fort McHenry was the most obvious place to kick off our Baltimore sightseeing for that significance alone, particularly for Anne, one of the five known Americans who’s ever memorized all four stanzas. Yes, four.

Also, it’s one of the few Baltimore attractions open on Mondays. We were surprised how many local businesses assume tourists hate Mondays. Not this couple when we’re not at work.


Fort McHenry sign!

Fort McHenry on a happy Monday. SUCK IT, GARFIELD.

The water taxi dropped us off on the southeastern corner of the Inner Harbor’s south shore, the farthest stop on that side. A pathway leads uphill toward the visitors’ center, where a series of displays provide context before you enter the fort itself.

Francis Scott Key!

Francis Scott Key was a Washington lawyer who’d come to the fort to seek freedom on behalf of one of their prisoners, only to find himself detained when they realized the Redcoats were coming. He wasn’t even supposed to be there that day.

Cannonballs!

Souvenir cannonballs, good for reminding the British their red coats don’t count as armor.

Flag Brochure!

The back of our guide brochure was a mini-poster of the flag that flew over McHenry during that battle. The giant-sized original is now kept at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum in DC.

McHenry itself is shaped like a massive sheriff’s badge, which looks fascinating in the aerial photos we’ve seen. Anne looked in vain for higher ground to obtain a similar shot of our own, but to no avail. The visitors’ center has a second-story deck, but admission appeared to be for authorized personnel only. At ground level all you can see are walls, no way to discern the cool layout that someone went to a lot of trouble to design.

Fort McHenry!

Even some of those walls were obscured. Much of the front facade was covered with scaffolding for renovation.

Coat of Arms!

One plaque tracks milestones in McHenry’s post-War of 1812 continuation.

Beyond the walls are a series of buildings much as you’d see at other military forts nationwide. The center of McHenry’s star is a courtyard leading to each of them, which can be walked through in any order.

McHenry courtyard!

Most of these buildings are not air conditioned, making our July visit a bit taxing at times.

Cannons inside!

Spare cannons inside, in case those lining the ramparts need backup.

Artifacts!

Selection of artifacts discovered over the course of various archaeological digs around the grounds.

Gunpowder magazine!

Gunpowder barrels in the magazine, a word which once meant “room full of explosives”, much like you’d see in the occasional Looney Tunes cartoon.

Bomb Shelter entrance!

One of the more unusual areas, the entrance to a troop bomb shelter.

Bomb Shelter!

A safe place to wait out the rockets and bombs, and all that bursting and glaring.

Shelter vent!

Bomb shelter air vent leading up to the courtyard lawn.

During that battle on September 13-14, 1814, in charge of McHenry was Major George Armistead, a Virginian who had been in the military and risen through the ranks since age 19. Under his command McHenry withstood a 26-hour bombardment, and as a value-added bonus gave Key the inspiration and writing time he needed. Despite victory, or at least survival, the encounter took a toll on Armistead, who died three years later at age 38.

Armistead outside!

The Armistead statue out by the parking lot. Yes, we could’ve driven here from the hotel and parked for free, but then we wouldn’t have had the water taxi experience.

I was excited to see the fort’s monument to him — not because I’m a devoted Armistead researcher, but because my sources reminded me an Armistead statue made a cameo in The Wire — season 5, episode 6, “The Dickensian Aspect”. Around the 38-minute mark, our man Detective McNulty has a one-sided drunken argument with Armistead and lies to him about the whole “serial killer” charade because that’s how far McNulty has fallen by this point. He can’t even be straight with inanimate objects.

McNulty + Armistead!

Screen shot from the scene through the magic of not-remastered DVD.

After the fact I was severely irked to realize the statue in that scene wasn’t the statue we saw.

Armistead Wire closeup!

Closeup of McNulty’s silent debate opponent.

Armistead!

Closeup of the Armistead statue we saw. Not the same stones.

After examining this evidence, I can only conclude Fort McHenry has two statues of Armistead outside. I suppose it’s possible that’s just how much they love him. Based on the park benches situated throughout McNulty’s scene, I’m guessing the larger bronze Armistead statue is further southeast along a walkway that we declined to check out because it led down the shoreline and away from the fort rather than toward it. Two-century-old war hero or not, I’m not sure why they need two statues of the same guy on the same property.

Wait, check that: three statues of the same guy. We found Armistead inside the fort, too.

Major George Armistead!

The master planner at work, grateful that he’s a statue and therefore wasn’t sweating half as much as we were thanks to that bright star in the summer sky.

To be continued!

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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