Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

2400 East Fort Avenue, Baltimore

I-95 Exit 55, Maryland

410- 962-4290

Click on photo to enlarge

When driving through the Fort McHenry Tunnel, you are now driving under the very water that Francis Scott Key was stuck in on September 13 and 14, 1814 during the War of 1812. Visiting Fort McHenry would only take about an hour, and it is worth it - just for the surprise ending of the 10-minute movie about Francis Scott Key and the anthem and flag story.

Key, a lawyer, had boarded the British flagship to secure the release of a friend. He watched a gigantic flag with 15 stars and 15 red and white stripes flutter defiantly on the ramparts of Fort McHenry. Sewn by Mary Young Pickersgill, her daughter Caroline, nieces and servants it was so large(30’x42’)that it could not be stitched in their home, so they had to complete it in a Baltimore brewery. She was paid $574.44 to make it.

Key waited out the 24 hours in “shock and awe”, as the British fired off 200-lb. bombs which often blew up prematurely in mid-air. At night they sent up signal rockets which burned in flaming arcs across the sky. Through all of that, at dawn Key was amazed to see Mary’s flag still waving and the Fort intact. Overcome with emotion, he wrote some phrases on the back of a letter. It was his brother-in-law who suggested singing the poem to the meter of a British drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven”. The song was an instant hit, but it took Congress until 1931 to designate it the US national anthem.

If you want to see the flag, it is still a moving sight; it is displayed in the Smithsonian Institute, which is down I-95 a bit. Inside, there are only a few exhibits, such as Lt John Reese’s clothes from battle, notes about the 80 songs with the same anthem tune, buttons to push to listen to 10 different groups interpreting the Star Spangled Banner (US Marine Corps Band, Whitney Houston) and the flag story. Outside there’s the fort, with ranger talks and living history in the summer months. On the 2nd Saturday in September, there’s a re-enactment of the bombardment of the Fort.

Besides its fame in the War of 1812, the fort held prisoners in the Civil War, and in WWI was a 5,000 bed hospital. There’s a trail for walking, jogging or bicycling, and even dogs on a leash can enjoy part of our nation’s heritage. 

Opened: June-Aug 8-8, Sept-May 8-5.