Thursday, September 16, 2010

Baltimore Pride

When I found this vintage Fort McHenry sampler, I was over the moon.

The subject matter is all about the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812 which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the National Anthem.

In the War of 1812, the British bombed and burned America's White House and Capitol in Washington, D.C. The British were set to take the port of Baltimore Harbor which was protected by Fort McHenry -- a star-shaped fort that sits at the mouth of Baltimore's harbor.

And it was to Fort McHenry that Jim, Jack and I went on Saturday night to experience the re-enactment of the Battle of Baltimore.

It's an awesome event, it's free and it's rarely crowded.

Re-enactors live in tents on the national park grounds giving live demonstrations and educating kids all weekend long.

On Saturday, volunteers in period costume re-enact a typical battle scene from the war period, firing muskets and cannons and advancing on the enemy across the open fields of Fort McHenry. The Naval Academy band plays patriotic music...and there is a storyteller who narrates the history of the event.

At dark, the battle begins. The Maryland National Guard fires guns from the shore while barges in the harbor set off the "bombs bursting in air" to the sound of the band playing William Tells' overture.

It's loud and creates tons of smoke, re-creating an atmosphere similar to what Francis Scott Key must have witnessed while on board one of the British warships (minus the fireworks).

As the smoke clears, they shine a spotlight on the huge flag -- a full-size replica of the one that Mr. Key saw as the day dawned the night after the battle.

The day when the citizens of Baltimore and the nation were waiting to find out if Baltimore had fallen.

When they all saw the huge flag flying from the Fort, it was a source of tremendous relief and great pride.

And it was this relief and pride that inspired Francis Scott Key to write his famous poem that eventually became the Star Spangled Banner -- our national anthem which is read by an actor.

The re-enactment ends with a fireworks display.

But it's the story of that huge flag that captures my heart.

Major George Armistead who commanded Fort McHenry in 1813, commissioned a Baltimore flag maker, Mary Pickersgill, to make the flag.

It was sewn with over 350,000 stitches by Mary, her daughter and a number of other family members, friends and one slave.

It is HUGE. 30 feet high x 42 feet long -- the height of a three-story building.

It was made from 400 yards of wool bunting and weighed 80 pounds.

The flag had 15 stars and stripes to represent the 15 colonies that existed at the time and Mary was paid a whopping $405.90 to pay for the six weeks of work it took to make the flag (approx. $3,400 US in today's dollars).

You can see what remains of the original flag at the National Museum of American History...
And if you can ever come to Baltimore the second weekend in September, go to Fort McHenry and experience the re-enactment of the Battle that inspired our National Anthem. (And the Star Spangled Banner Flag House...)

It's worth it.


Dolores said...

What a great outing and thanks for the history lesson. Where did the stitchery come from?

Wendy said...

Wow! You made me remember an article i read a couple of weeks ago. I live in NC, and we have a magazine called "Our State" that comes out monthly. In the Sept 2010 issue, there's an article about a teacher who is so inspiring. You should read it!

His name is Eric Marshall, and he's a 5th grade teacher in Walnut Cove, NC. "Each spring, Marshall ... stages a world where the school's fifth graders step right into the shoes of a Civil War soldier."
I would send you the article if i could. I think you'd love it!
It was very inspiring, and made me wish i'd had a teacher who cared as much about my education as this man. The article almost brought me to tears.

Catherine said...

That's a great sampler! I wish I had known about this event - my boys would have loved it! I'll have to try and remember for next year.

Marty52 said...

I'll bet your adrenalin was just pumping, wasn't it?? The 1812 overture always gets me. With the fireworks, the actors, and the reenactment it must have been fabulous!

What's the plan for the needlework you found?

Ingrid Mida said...

What a find - your flag sampler is lovely. I recently saw the original flag in Washington. I had no idea how big it was. My hands cramp up just at the thought of all those stitches!

Carol said...

There is a reenactment of something going on all the time. Seldom crowded. Makes you wonder why more people aren't interested.

Our area is rich in Indian history. I live by a bay in the St. Joseph River. My house sits on the site of a long ago Indian village. Every 1st weekend in May there is a Rendezvous at the county park I live next to. Its all so interesting and the reenactors give so much of themselves. We go every year and enjoy watching all it has to offer.

What will you do with the sampler?
How did you com by it?

Createology said...

Amazing history and thank you so very much for sharing. Happy freedom...

black bear cabin said...

that is awesome! i will have to remember that love to see it! :) thanks again for sharing...loved the pics!

Loralynn said...

Don't you just love the re-enactments! Here in Michigan, we can go to Fort Mackinaw or Fort Michilimackinac and see some wonderful re-enactments. The two forts are both located at the northern tip of the lower peninsula (mitten) of Michigan. One fort on Mackinac Island (where they filmed "Somewhere In Time"), one on the mainland. If you ever get a chance to come here and see it, you won't be disappointed

coral-seas said...

Hi Susan, how interesting to read about the origins of your national anthem and flag. I knew that the stars represent the States and guessed that some must have been added over time and I new that the strips represent the orginal States or colonies.

Reading your account of the re-enactment and reading The Star Spangled Banner gives me a new perspective of the obvious pride and affect Americans have for the Stars and Stripes. How amazing that the original banner still survives.

Also, I love the sampler. It is so simple in its design and stitching but says so much about that national pride.

Great post, I really enjoyed it :-)

Balwearie said...

Waaaaay cool! I decided a very short time ago to design a Baltimore Album quilt as my family is from Baltimore and I have no handwork to commemorate them. I do want to incorporate the Star Spangled Banner so I'm absolutely loving this post!

tattrldy said...

Very nice post! Just last fall we saw the original flag in D.C, which was very inspiring and moving. I didn't know about this re-enactment. If we ever get that way in September we'll have to go. Thanks so much for sharing this experience.

stella maris D said...

muy buena leccion de historia.muchaas gracias!!

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