In September 1814, 1,000 soldiers at this star-shaped fort on the edge of Baltimore's harbor faced the world's most formidable Navy. Through a cold rainy night, they stood firm, bravely fending off the British attack. Their courage and their success led a young Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that became our national anthem. A flag as big as that original Star Spangled Banner still flies here and up to 20 visitors are called upon to raise and lower the 30-by-42–foot standard every day at 9:20am and 4:20pm. The story of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the national anthem are only part of the fort's story. It served as a POW camp during the Civil War, a hospital during World War I, and a training camp in World War II. Don't miss the orientation film at the Visitor and Education Center. If the dramatic re-telling of the battle doesn’t bring a lump to your throat, you just might get teary-eyed when the screen rises to reveal the old fort and famous flag. The visitor center has some terrific displays about the battle and the national anthem, including various interpretations of the famous song. Views of the working harbor make the fort a wonderful place for a picnic, too. Visits to the park outside the fort are free and picnicking is permitted. Saturday evening tattoos are offered in warm weather. These traditional programs of martial music feature the Fort McHenry Guard dressed in their 19th-Century uniforms and begin about 6 pm.
Exhibits recall Baltimore under siege during the War of 1812 and the fort's service during the Civil War and as a World War I army hospital. Allow at least 90 minutes for a visit. The 15-minute film shown every 20 minutes is a good introduction to the fort. A new visitor center, with updated exhibits and high-tech displays, will open by early 2011. Fort McHenry sits on a point in the harbor from which visitors can see the Inner Harbor, the Patapsco River, and down to the Chesapeake Bay. Visits to the park outside the fort are free, and picnicking is allowed.
The Star-Spangled Banner Weekend, held in mid-September, recalls the British attack on the fort. Flags are everywhere here on Flag Day, June 14. On select Sundays from 6 to 8pm, military bands perform with a color guard, drill teams, and the Fort McHenry Guard dressed in 19th-century uniforms, a ceremony that began in 1803. Admission to this ceremony is free; call or visit the website for a schedule.