Fort McHenry

Historic Site
Fort McHenry photo
Courtesy of National Park Service
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Editorial Review

While it lacks the sprawling, anachronistic funk of Fort Washington, Fort McHenry packs the most narrative punch of any nearby fort. During the War of 1812 -- September 13 to 14, 1814 -- a group of British ships bombarded Fort McHenry for 25 hours in an attempt to take Baltimore. But the defenders held. When 35-year-old lawyer Francis Scott Key saw the flag flying the next day, he penned "The Star-Spangled Banner" to the tune of an English drinking song; in 1931 it became our national anthem. Kids love walking the ramparts of the star-shaped fort (it's easy to imagine the British fleet in the Patapsco River), and a good, 16-minute (captioned) movie in the visitors center recounts the fort's history (in the Civil War, for instance, it turned its guns at Baltimore, to menace the city's many Southern sympathizers). Kids also get a bang out of an electrical light-up map illustrating the bombardment. In summer, costumed interpreters add to the festive air. As for that flag, the huge original is kept in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The fort today usually flies a smaller but still remarkable version, measuring 25 by 17 feet.

-- John Kelly and Craig Stoltz
Words to the wise: Don't expect to walk to or from the Inner Harbor. It's three miles away.