A “quick” visit to Fort McHenry National Monument near Baltimore, Maryland turned out to be an experience that touched my heart in a profound way. It made me feel extremely patriotic, happy and proud to be an American! I was never much of a history fan in school, but since we have been traveling I have a great appreciation and a desire to see and learn more. Therefore I went along with Gene because he likes forts and it was a free day, August 2009, so I thought why not? I am so glad I did.
For those of you who may not know, Fort McHenry was the fort that successfully defended the Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy in the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812 on September 13th & 14th in 1814. It was here that a large Garrison Flag (Star Spangled Banner) was raised early on the morning of September 14, 1814, to signal American victory over the British. However, the most notable thing that happened here was the birth of our National Anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner!
Originally it was a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry as a “guest” on the British ship HMS Tonnant in the Baltimore Harbor. At dawn the next day, Key was able to see an American flag still waving and wrote a poem about his experience, “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Years later it was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song written by John Stafford Smith. What I didn’t know, was that there are actually 4 stanzas to the song, but most of us are only familiar with the first stanza which eventually became our National Anthem.
We walked into the visitor center and looked at all the exhibits while waiting for the next theatre show. This is where I found out that there are 4 stanzas to the poem that Keys wrote. We didn’t have to wait too long for the film which was really well done and entertaining. The end is what really touched me and still has an effect on me. If you haven’t been to Fort McHenry before, and don’t want it spoiled, scroll down a bit.
Toward end of the film they quietly started playing the Star-Spangled Banner, but I wasn’t really sure if it was just my imagination or not. Soon it got louder and the whole room stood up, took off our hats, and covered our hearts. However, the most impressive thing was that as the song became louder, a thick black curtain in the room opened slowly. As it did, it revealed the flagpole with a large American Flag waving in the wind. I literally had tears in my eyes and still get choked up today when I think about it. I know it’s probably silly, but it really touched me.
After the movie we made our way back outside and into the main area of the fort. It is surprisingly beautiful, especially looking out into the harbor. After walking around a while we ended up in the barracks which contain several exhibits: The Enlistmen’s Quarters; an Electronic Map; uniform and weapons displays; videos; Junior Officers’ Quarters; powder magazine; Commanding Officer’s Quarters; and the 1814 Guard House. It was interesting and the Rangers were extremely knowledgeable and helpful.
There are about 3 or 4 places we’ve been to that have made me really step back and muse over what it means to be a citizen of this great country, and this place is one of them. If you haven’t been here, YOU MUST someday. It is incredible, and hard for me to think that I almost missed this historical place because I only tagged along to be with Gene. Amazing. Below isa link to their website and visitor information.
Fort McHenry Visitor Information
2400 East Fort Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21230
Park Grounds and Parking Lot
9:00 am – 5:00 pm
9:00 am – 4:45 pm
9:00 am – 4:45 pm
(Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day)
Park Grounds and Parking Lot
9:00 am – 6:00 pm
9:00 am – 5:45 pm
9:00 am – 5:45 pm
General Admission Fees
The entrance fee to the historic area of the park is $15.00 for adults 16 years of age and older; children 15 and younger are free. This fee provides the visitor with a 7-day entrance permit to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. You must keep your entrance
receipt to re-enter the park in the 7-day time period. ‘America the Beautiful’ or the Fort McHenry annual passes are alternatives to the above fees. All passes can be purchased or obtained at the Visitor Center Information Desk during normal operating hours.
Fort McHenry Annual Pass
Frequent visitors to Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine may want to purchase a Fort McHenry Annual Pass. This $45 pass provides entrance to the pass owner and three (3) additional adults.
The pass is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.
‘America the Beautiful’ Passes
Valid ‘America the Beautiful’ National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes can be used to cover the cost of admission for the pass holder and up to three adult guests. Passes may be purchased at Fort McHenry, online (USGS website), or at any of the following parks that charge an admission fee.
The park is three miles southeast of the Baltimore Inner Harbor and just off I-95. Follow the brown Fort McHenry directional signs along all major routes to the park. From I-95 northbound, take Exit 55 to Key Highway and follow Fort McHenry signs. From I-95 southbound, as you approach the Fort McHenry Tunnel, move to the toll booths on the far right as you will be exiting immediately after emerging from the tunnel. Take Exit 55 to Key Highway and follow the Fort McHenry signs using Lawrence Street and not Woodall, as your GPS might indicate.
From the Inner Harbor, take Light Street south to Key Highway. Turn left and follow the Fort McHenry signs to Lawrence Street. Turn right on Lawrence Street and then left on Fort Avenue to the park.
The most direct route to Fort McHenry is I-95. Take Exit 55 and drive to the light at Key Highway. Follow the signs to the fort.
At the third light on Key Highway, turn left onto Lawrence Street. Turn left at the next light and Fort Avenue will bring you to Fort McHenry.
A bus stop is located outside of the park main gate. From there, visitors can board Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) buses or the Charm City Circulator. Please note that fare is required to ride MTA buses. The Charm City Circulator is free of charge.
The Baltimore Water Taxi Water transportation is provided to Fort McHenry from various locations around the Inner Harbor. Schedules vary depending on the season. Tickets for the Water Taxi may not be purchased at Fort McHenry. Those arriving by boat may depart by boat – visitors must board
Free parking is available at the park. Bus parking is also available.
At Fort McHenry, park buildings, exhibits, restrooms, trails, and parking lots are accessible by a variety of means, including ramps and open captioning.
Service animals are permitted in all park buildings. For a definition of a service animal, please see the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition. Please note that pets whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA and are not permitted inside park buildings.
A Braille introductory pamphlet is available at the Visitor and Education Center.
American Sign Language interpretation is available by request. This service is free of charge. Please call 410-962-4290 or email us to make arrangements for an interpreter. Requests must be received no less than 14 days prior to your visit
The main and overflow parking lots are ADA accessible. Reserved ADA parking is available on a first come, first served basis. Parking at Fort McHenry is free.
Visitor Center, Orientation Film, and Exhibit
The Visitor and Education Center is ADA accessible. Seating is available inside the exhibit and film area. The museum exhibit area features a closed captioned orientation film that shows every 30 minutes. Interactive exhibits feature open captioning and audio narration.
Star Fort and Exhibit Areas
The Star Fort is accessible from the Visitor Contact Station via a paved pathway. Entrance to the Star Fort and buildings are ADA accessible. The interior of the Star Fort is mostly accessible. Some interior exhibits are voice narrated and activated by motion detectors.
Restrooms inside the Visitor and Education Center and Star Fort are ADA accessible. Family style restrooms are located inside the Visitor and Education Center.
Seawall Trail and Picnic Areas
The Seawall Trail is paved and ADA accessible. The lawns and picnic areas are also accessible.
National Parks: Accessible to Everyone
National Parks: Accessible to Everyone is the National Park Service’s official page where visitors can find information, services, and resources available at national parks around the country.
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