Tag Archives: Baltimore

The memorials at Mt. Vernon in Baltimore

The Washington Monument on Mt. Vernon in Baltimore; the first memorial built to George Washington

Way back before The Wire, even before the moniker “Mob Town” was bestowed for the city’s contentious election seasons, Baltimore, MD was the “Monumental City.”  The construction of the Washington Monument, the first to the general of the Continental Army, whose battles are listed around the monument’s base, was followed by other monuments, such as the Battle Monument, in honor to the defenders of the 1813 Battle for North Point.  But, this was the monument, at the intersection of North Charles Street and Mount Vernon Place, that started it all.

Mount Vernon Historic District

The Washington Memorial was an important site during political demonstrations, most notably during the election preceding the Civil War and then the period of secession following it.  By the time that war started, the Washington Monument’s square and terrace had set the trend for the prior 30 years of construction, in which squares were established on the tops of Baltimore’s hills, surrounded by the more affluent residences, through the city’s growth and expansion.

The Peabody Institute

Today, the Washington Monument and its parks remain a healthy part of the city landscape, surrounded by intellectual heritage, such as the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, the Maryland Historical Society and the Walter’s Gallery.  People criss-cross the area in getting from home to work, or from work to lunch, or from home to dinner, and dog owners and joggers also make use of the pedestrian-friendly zone.

George Washington, standing atop a classical piller, faces south in the direction of the harbors, the place of industry and wealth for Baltimore, historically.  On each of the four corners surrounding Washington and the cobbled street square, are statues: Order, Force, War and Peace.  All four are comprised of a neo-classic figure, child and animal, designed by the French sculptor, Antoine-Louis Barye.  William Walters, founder of the Walters Gallery, donated them to the city.

Order, southeast of Washington

Force, northeast of the Washington

War, northwest of the Washington

Peace, southwest of the Washington

Mounted on his horse, directly in front and south of Washington, is the Marquis de La Fayette.  The Marquis served as Major General under Washington and his contributions are probably essential to the success of the American Revolution.  His, is actually in memory of the French and American fallen from World War I.

Monument to the Marquis de La Fayette

To Washington’s right are three more statues.  The first of these is of the millionaire, George Peabody, who sits just in front of the Institute he endowed.  He had already made his first million in Baltimore’s industries and shipping, before he built upon that wealth during the Civil War, selling U.S. bonds in England.

George Peabody, wealthy Baltimorean and philanthropist

The next statue is part of a fountain system with American neo-classical design.  In fact, the statue is itself a naiad.  “The Naiad” was a gift of the Baltimore’s Women’s Civic League, Inc.

"The Naiad" (currently drier than usual)

The third statue, behind Peabody, is of Severn Teackle Wallis.  A lawyer, expert on Spain and Spanish literature and Maryland legislator during the Civil War, he is noteworthy for his defense of secession and his reprimand of the federal government for exercising a military option against the Confederate states.  He also served a fourteen month prison sentence with other members of the Legislature and Baltimore residents sympathetic to the southern cause.  At no point was he ever charged with a crime, however, in clear violation of the writ of habeas corpus.  He would serve out an influential career in law Baltimore and Maryland and as provost of the University of Maryland, following the war.

Severn Teackle Wallis

Sitting directly behind Washington, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Most famous for issuing the Supreme Court decision of Dred Scott v. Sanford and calling Abraham Lincoln out for making arrests during the Civil War without the sacred right of habeas corpus.  He was a Baltimore resident and Wallis, mentioned above, would give the dedication speech of Taney’s statue.

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney

Behind Taney, is the dynamic figure of John Eager Howard.  Howard came from a well-established, Maryland planter family.  At the outset of the Revolutionary War, he joined as an officer, earning a silver medal for leading his troops at the Battle of Cowpens.  He would serve in the last session of the Continental Congress.  Howard would serve as a governor of Maryland, a state senator and U.S. senator, but would decline an appointment as the Secretary of War.  During the War of 1812, he commanded the defense of Baltimore.

Howard donated the land for the Washington Monument; he passed away before its completion.  His heirs sold off more allowing for some of the city’s most beautiful homes to be built and for Thomas E. Poppleton’s groundbreaking design for the square on top of the hill.

Maryland Patriot John Eager Howard

To Washington’s left (west of the monument) are two more statues donated by Walters: the Seated Lion, also by Antoine-Louis Barye, and Military Courage, by Paul Dubois.  In between these, is another fountain.

Seated Lion

Military Courage

When you visit:

  1. Bring your appetite, because there are plenty of places to eat in the area.
  2. Bring your historical curiosity, because, in addition, to the Walters Gallery, the Maryland Historical Society and the Peabody Institute, the city buildings and streets are rich with history and a self-guided walking tour can you lead through the neighborhood with sites like the Baltimore Cathedral (America’s first) and the Enoch Pratt Free Library.  Just follow the signs.
  3. Bring your walking shoes, because it is a great neighborhood to explore!


Filed under Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning

Serendipity: A surprise tour of Baltimore’s Basilica

The Baltimore Basilica, America's First Cathedral

We arrived at 9 am, but the library did not open until 10 am.  Across the street from the Enoch Pratt Central Library stands the original Baltimore Basilica, the original Cathedral servicing the entire United States, in 1789.  And, sitting in front of it, chatting in the sun, were three volunteer tour guides.  We were set.

We locked our bikes up and crossed the street.  There we were met by Kathie, our tour guide for the next hour or so, who showed us around and explained to us the Basilica’s origins.

Restored in 2004-2006 to its original colors and state of repair

We were introduced first to John Carroll, from Maryland.  His cousin, Charles Carroll, would be the only Catholic to sign the Constitution.  He was educated by Jesuits in Europe, but returned to the New World as his own man during the period of the Order’s suppression, as ordered by the Pope.

Archbishop John Carroll, first Catholic bishop of America, from his seat in Baltimore

Founded in 1540, arriving in the colony of Maryland in 1634 and being officially reinstated in 1805; this commemorative metal was added later in the Basilica's history

Carroll would be given the reigns for the new Church in the young country.  Here in the U.S., a diocese would be set up for all thirteen states, with its seat in Baltimore.

Pope's decree confirming the creation of Baltimore as the first diocese of the country

Through his connections in Maryland, but more so in the young country’s government, Carroll contracted Benjamin Henry Latrobe, important architect and designer working on the nation’s new capital, to design the Church.  Latrobe provided two drawings, one neo-Gothic and one neo-classical.  Carroll, proud of America’s potential and especially of religious pluralism, chose the latter which was to become emblematic of America’s pursuit of a republic and democracy.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe and his neo-classical design

Latrobe offering his services to Carroll, for the design of the U.S.'s first cathedral

Among the records from the cathedral in its early days are the records of payment for family pews.  In their original state, the pews had doors on them–this was also evident in other colonial churches, such as Anglican/Episcopal church in Williamsburg, VA.

Records of Charles Carroll's annual payments for his family pew

The record of Charles Carroll's death

Kathie also pointed out a statue of Mother Theresa, which was donated because of the Basilica’s history in American Catholicism.  In fact, Mother Theresa visited the church during the renewal of vows for the sisters in her order.

Statue of Mother Theresa

A few years ago, it was discovered that the crypt in the basement, in its original state about four feet high, was actually supposed to be dug out in Latrobe’s.  The work commenced with pick axes and wheelbarrows because there was no way to get major machinery into the space.

The Crypt (with several buried bishops of Baltimore) was original earth up to where the arches end. Old, historic bricks were acquired to match the aged look of the of the original foundations.

More than almost any other church in America, this church is as much a capsule of American history as it is that of the Catholic Church.

Letter from George Washington to American Catholics; there are also letters from Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe to Archbishop John Carroll

Babe Ruth with his mentor, Brother Mathias, CFX, from Baltimore's St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, run by the Xaverian Brothers, invited to Baltimore in 1866 by Bishop Martin J. Spalding

The Oblate Sisters of Providence were founded in 1829, in Baltimore, by women in the African-American community for that community's children. Mother Mary Lange, OSP, the foundress is a candidate for canonization. This is a 1912 classroom of orphans in St. Francis Academy in Baltimore.

For more information, the Basilica has its own website with additional information, both historical and practical.

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Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Travel

Local History in our Cities’ Museums

In the U.S., our cities have certain stories of their past to tell:

  1. Life before the European–the story, told mostly through archaeology and treaties, of the American Indian in a particular region
  2. Settlement–a story that often includes conflict, with the previous inhabitants, the landscape or both; sometimes this is a story of innovations, sometimes a story conquest and often it includes stories of tremendous will and perseverance; this is also told through archaeology and occasionally federal and legal documents–under more fortunate circumstances, it includes first person accounts
  3. Growth–a story that explains how a settlement of a few pioneers became a town and then a city; this is usually a story that builds through multiple phases: first as infrastructure improves and again as local industry develops; occasionally these stories include periods of economic and population regression–sometimes it is how they culminate
  4. Local industry–this story features the prominent (usually) men about town that created jobs and economic growth through commercial means and typically effected politics and society, such as Heinz in Pittsburgh, the race track in Saratoga or the ship yards in Baltimore
  5. Local events/catastrophes/individuals–these are uniques stories and major events unique to the region, from cataclysmic natural disasters to military battles to political show-downs or epic instances of courage; they provide much of the local color and show up in any phase along the way
  6. Prejudice and civil rights–these are stories that recognize the local region’s particular participation in our country’s greater history of having failed to live up to our own ideals, tempered with the stories of courage and risk in which those shortcomings were overcome–most of these stories appear in the past tense, often around slavery, Jim Crow or urban renewal, and with the sense that we have overcome those periods and issues
  7. Sports–these stories can also encompass a wide range of periods and are part of the local lore, trial and triumph; these often include a discussion of prejudice at some point, usually looking at the Negro Leagues or desegregation in sports and the impact on society

These cases are often the focus and model for local museums.  As with historical textbook authors and documentary directors, curators are often knowledgeable about either one particular facet of the museum’s exhibits or are specifically gifted in their field and happen to be at a history museum (as opposed to art, for example).  Thus, it is frequently the case that museums, as with textbooks and documentaries, do not always deal with the method behind the displayed knowledge, nor thus the disagreement that often exists regarding historical interpretations.  So, in the same sense there is often the perception of the provided information as being HISTORICAL FACT as opposed to an interpretation of evidence–often the result of hard research, I am sure–but not reflective of historical method, which is itself an end in one’s historical education.

So, the question arises: how do we use this as curious human beings and as educators?

For the curious:

Whenever we visit these museums, we have two options in our approach: we can simply take in and enjoy–a passive edutainment approach–or we can consider what is missing, what evidence is provided for the assertions, what implications arise, what other interpretations exist or other questions–an active thinking approach.  This is all really dependent on one’s own interests.  While visiting the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh I was really intrigued by a small exhibit that acknowledged the various religious women orders that had been active in Pittsburgh despite a prevalent suspicion for foreign-born Catholics.  The exhibit explained that the nuns earned respect by providing health services for orphans and poor factory workers in the growing steel industry.  An example of each habit was provided and a brief blurb about the order, but little other information or evidence about their accomplishments and relationships in the city.  I was particularly interested because few of the orders had an education–mission which is the stereotypical role, today.

In the sense that the exhibit brought the subject to my awareness it was positive, but that I left with more questions than answers is an outcome for which the merits must be judged by each individual.

For the educator:

These same challenges can be turned into opportunities by educators.  In fact, tapping into the local industry or sports lore may be a really useful way to engage students in challenging concepts surrounding both historical method and content.  Relationships can be fostered between local institutions encouraging students to engage and research the content in the exhibits and learn more about how historians know what they claim to know.  There are, thus, many opportunities not only to engage students with the physical objects of the past, but to engage their attention to the construction of the content.  Local histories are often exhibited in a predominantly positive way, with the darker points of history usually (but not always) relegated to the more distant past, and this also creates opportunities to prompt thought about other perspectives and more balanced understandings of human past and human nature.  (Incidentally, I think it is often the threat of the darker side of history that makes the accompanying sports history that much more appealing and triumphant!  That is unless, of course, there is something inherently unavoidable about the loss, such as the Baltimore Colts packing up and leaving town, or the utter racism that left the Washington Redskins as the last team to desegregate.)

In short, there is opportunity in our local field trip availability that can trigger really useful active thinking–historical thinking, as Sam Wineburg would call it–that we can tap into as educators at all levels.

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Filed under Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Historian's Journal

A Pittsburgh fan’s case for sports in history

"Stan, Guy, love the show!"

Earlier this week I wrote about history and journalism.  I posted that day with a heavy heart because my favorite radio station had just been unceremoniously scrapped.  (In fact, I had been following the Twitter pages of the afternoon show hosts, The Drive, and they literally were planning their afternoon show Monday when they got the news that they were done.)  I think sports represent a really interesting an important part of social history.  My station was ESPN 1250 on the AM.  It was the Pittsburgh ESPN affiliate radio station.  One of the hallmarks of the station was the Stan and Guy show in the 10-2 slot.  This was a special show, because for years the two sports personalities had previously aired their show together on the local Fox affiliate’s TV station with devoted fans. Pittsburgh is a serious sports town.  There is a long loyalty born out of the economic trials during the 1970s, relieved by the success of the Steelers.  While the Steelers were irrelevant before before the ’70s the Pirates were not, playing in an America whose sports scene was still dominated by baseball (ironically, Pittsburgh and the Pirates face the reverse situation, now–maybe someday Lemieux will buy them).  This blog post is a short argument (admittedly, colored in black and gold) for the relevance of sports history in “real history”–especially, but not exclusively, for the 21st century.  (And, a tribute to Stan and Guy and the guys on the Drive for their unfortunate dismissal by a national sports media company who, as Stan has so often said, don’t get Pittsburghers or the black and gold nation.)

A Pittsburgh legend: Myron Cope, inventor of the Terrible Towel.

When he was alive the great Myron Cope dominated the airwaves in western PA.  Cope was not just a great personality, he was a great human being.  He inaugurated the Terrible Towel era (and in 1996 gave the rights to the Allegheny Valley School which cares for people with mental and physical disabilities, such as Cope’s autistic son).  The affection for this man was genuine from players and fans alike.  People connected with him.  The city’s history was connected to him and through him and the world of sports.  He was also a huge influence on every sports voice and journalist who came out of Pittsburgh.  It is illustrative of how important a sports community can be in some cities and how important the local media is in bonding that community together through its discussion.  It is that much more evident when you consider the charitable power that these same individuals have and exercise for important causes, locally, nationally and sometimes internationally.

To my mind a beloved sports personality and team in a beleaguered city is a unifying and positive force.  And, any city that puts so much heart and soul into its sports and sports personalities, as Pittsburgh does, has to have that element acknowledged when its history and self-identity are explored.  There are genuine points of interest for sociologists, anthropologists and historians.  Pittsburgh, in particular, is such an interesting case study, because so many people left during hard times creating a widespread but ever-loyal fan base (as with a case like me, exiled in Baltimore!) and because the city has evolved so much in the years since its sports teams stood for success while the city’s success, in general, had faltered.  We can’t ignore the relevance of sports in society, nor should we, be it negative or positive.  The problems in sports are reflective of society’s problems, both because of how they often represent examples of excessive and indulgent behavior in society’s vices and because of the heroism attached to these players.  But, by the same token some of the victories in sports have also been essential in our evolving society, including the emotional victories, such as the Lake Placid’s Miracle on Ice and the Saints victories in post-Katrina New Orleans; and, also the social victories, such as Jackie Robinson’s courageous first step dismantling the color barrier in sports and society, during segregation.

Consider the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted Roberto Clemente.  Clemente, a Puerto Rican, would become the first Hispanic player to win a World Series as a starter (1960), win a league MVP award (1966) and win a World Series MVP award (1971).  He died in plane crash, in flight on a mercy-aid mission to earthquake rocked Nicaragua.  While Major League Baseball maybe littered with the stats of Latino-American ball players, today, Clemente was inspiration to a population that was treated like second-class citizens–maltreatment that continues even now.  In an era when one’s race still carried suggested undertones of one’s ability, Clemente challenged those notions with his work and gave back generously when he could have withdrawn in bitterness.  His foundation continues to give to Pittsburgh youth and awards others who give.

Art Rooney, the Chief--a damned admirable man.

During the 70s, as much of the country fell on hard times, the steel mills cut back and Pittsburghers felt the times more harshly than many.  Seemingly out of nowhere, behind a young head coach, Chuck Noll, the Steelers helped lift up a depressed city.  As the team gained momentum and became the standard bearer for the city, the team’s chief, Art Rooney, the Chief, became an accessible hero for the fans.  He walked through the city with a warm smile, a friendly handshake and cigar for anyone who came up to him.  Rooney was humble and generous.  He was the unofficial leader of the city.  When he died the whole city attended the funeral.  Despite some recent blemishes, the Rooney family is still one of the most loved and respected of NFL owners because of what they gave the city and society.  (At the bottom of the page is a link to the NFL Films special on the Chief.)

Super Mario! Twice the savior of hockey in Pittsburgh and a man who had a hand in every Pens' Cup!

Mario Lemieux educated Pittsburgh in ice hockey.  I tend to think that it was essential that he do so, because the arena the Pittsburgh Penguins played in, the Civic Arena, later the Mellon arena, but always the “Igloo” in our hearts–a unique architectural building now at the end of its life–had been built on top of a neighborhood that had been confiscated by the city, displacing one of Pittsburgh’s minority communities, through eminent domain.  (It is, of course, a recurring challenge for cities–just ask the former residents of Southeast D.C. who were displaced by the National’s new stadium–one constantly justified by promises of economic growth that do not often pan out.)  Lemieux turned a largely apathetic city into great fans of the fastest sport!  When, in the 1990s, the team suffered financial woes, Lemieux saved the day, again, and bought the team.  Only a couple of years ago, he saved the team for the city, managing to keep it in Pittsburgh instead of losing it to Kansas City, despite a sweetheart deal awaiting them in that other city.  The days of limbo were awful and as a fan then and someone now living in Baltimore, a city that knows something about uprooted teams, I will always be grateful to that French-Canadian along with thousands of other Pens fans.  Since then, Lord Stanley, the prize of the NHL finals and the most unique trophy in sports, has returned to the city that sits on the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers!

Redemption for Big Ben? Too early to say . . .

On a less triumphant note, I submit, Exhibit D, the 2010 summer of Ben “Big Ben” Roethlisberger.  I do not know exactly what happened in Milledgeville, GA, but I do know it smells bad.  If Ben did not sexually assault the college girl who accused him, he still behaved intolerably.  The emotion in the city was palpable; and, yes, I could feel it all the way in Baltimore.  What is so depressing is the deplorable behavior of all involved: if Ben did it, we will never know, because the alleged victim was too intoxicated to provide the necessary testimony and evidence; regardless of what occurred in the end, it is hard to understand why the bodyguard, a Pennsylvania state policeman, let it go as far as it did, clearly an accessory; and, finally the apparent utter lack of respect for other human beings exhibited by the big man on campus, and shared by so many other hot shots in our society, at some point along the way became an integral part of Ben’s personality.  Now, what we all wonder, is can he reform–does he even want to?  Again, I cannot answer that, and certainly not at this juncture, but preliminary evidence suggests he might redeem himself.  Perhaps, it would be fitting of me to traverse the Keystone state and consider Michael Vick.  If both men are guilty, Vick’s crime is the lesser but remains deplorable.  Vick, now working closely with the Humane Society, has returned from the pallor of a jail sentence and the probable conclusion of his career as a humbled man and one who still has game.  One may hope he is truly a repentant, new man.  I would be hard pressed to judge anyone for not forgiving Ben, but I would like to believe a second chance is out there if he is responsible and determined enough to fully earn it, all the more so because jail time will not be served to punish any action that might have happened.  I know that for more than a few Pittsburghers it will take more than a winning season to embrace him, again.

In a society where history is often regarded as drab, boring or irrelevant, I think it is important to take advantage of fans’ passion.  In this case, I am clearly talking about more than just statistics.  I believe that there is legitimate course of study and a way to catch the interest of a broader segment of the population.  Imagine, for example, the depth and value of investigating the removal of the Baltimore Colts from a city devoted to them by a young Ravens fan today.  Covering the Baltimore scene would bring up many fruitful research segues into the economic times and trials of the city that coincided with that unfortunate event.  (No offense Indianapolis, but the NFL gave you the team and Baltimore’s football history and heritage!)

Legends: Guy Junker, Mike Lange, Steve Blass, and Stan Savran (left to right)

So, sports are an important window into society’s soul.  In order to reach that window, we rely on sports journalists to boost us up and give us a glimpse through it in our contemporary world which shapes history.  Where some are comedic, like NFL Network’s Rich Eisen and ESPN’s Kenny Mayne, others are brash and contrary, like ESPN’s Colin Cowherd and Pittsburgh’s Mark Madden, and still others are in touch with the pulse of sports in society, like ESPN’s Chris Berman and Pittsburgh sports guys Stan Savran and Guy Junker.  Stan and Guy brought genuine emotion and real insight.  I will miss that and hope to hear from them again, soon.  In the meanwhile I want to thank them for great and moving times that I experienced as a listener.  Guy’s savant-like knowledge of Pittsburgh baseball earlier this year, a fantastic interview at this year’s training camp with “Mean Joe Green” and this summer’s discussions about childhood games and crotchety neighbors are just some of my favorite memories from this year alone.  I have been moved to anger, tears and laughter over some jubilant and trying years in the Pittsburgh sports scene and ESPN 1250 (online) was there through the last decade of it!  It was great being reunited with former Mountaineer and Steeler Mike Logan!  And, it was great having the Stan and Guy show reunited on ESPN while it lasted–may it return again, soon!!

Go Stillers!  Go Pens!  Pittsburgh is the City of Champions!  (Except Pitt!)

Check out this short film about the “Chief” from NFL Films:


Myron Cope:

Decorative relief from the Basilica of St. John, Ephesus, Turkey


Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Historian's Journal

Visiting Ft. McHenry

Satellite view of Fort McHenry.


I have lived about six miles from Fort McHenry for just over two years but only visited it for the first time today.  (Don’t judge me!  It’s been a hectic couple of years—a goodly chunk of it was spent in DC!)  I thought I would share some of the particulars about visiting the park.  I do this for a couple of reasons:  Firstly, in a couple of years we will begin the celebrations for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812the event that put Ft. McHenry on the map and that Francis Scott Key witnessed, stirring him to write the poem that is today our national anthem.  Secondly, it is precisely the sort of local flavor that I want to occasionally season the blog with.  Besides, it seems like the right sort of post as the summer boils away.

To start, I wanted to cover some logistical points.  Most weekends do have a planned event.  That said, we went on a Tuesday and there was hardly anybody there when we first arrived, which was kind of nice even though we failed to beat the heat.  Also, the changing of the flag ceremony (held at 9:30 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.—participation encouraged!) is one of the few events going on daily, weather permitting.  While parking is free, it is a $7 entrance fee for ages sixteen and up.  Technically, if you’d like to save the money, you can show up and simply walk around the fort, taking in the earthworks and the view from the point.  To get in the fort you pay at the visitor center and receive your sticker, which must be visible.  (Once purchased, they will give you two receipts, one of which is actually a seven day pass that is good for the subsequent six days.)  There is a small exhibit, a short film, a typical gift shop and restrooms.  From there you can walk out to the fort.  There is a small food stand with hotdogs, chips and beverages, but we packed a lunch and ate at the picnic tables in the shade right next to the parking lot.  Once you are on the fort grounds there is little cover from the elements, so come prepared for them—fortunately, we had some Gatorade in the house to slightly appease the group who had a smaller appetite than I for guns and fortifications under the August sun!

A model of the fort as it appeared during the War of 1812.

The fort itself was in use up through the twentieth century.  It was decommissioned after WWI, according to the volunteer answering my questions, and was temporarily used as a training site for the Coast Guard during WWII before it was returned to the city of Baltimore and became a National Park.  So, the fort, in its current design and construction, is not exactly as it was in 1814 when the British showed up to attack Baltimore.  In 1814, all of the fort’s buildings were single-storied and the outer works were not quite as built up as they appear today.   But, the star-shaped configuration had been paid for by the wealthy citizens of the city of Baltimore—particularly a man by the name of McHenry!  (As the guide told us, McHenry figured he put enough money and work into it the fort ought to have his name, thus, foreshadowing the process for naming stadiums all over America.)  The star-shaped design is critical for the fort’s survival.  The brick prongs are reinforced with the earth behind them.  Each prong is both pointed and sloped to reduce the effect of incoming projectiles—every hit is a glancing blow.  Eliminating a direct hit helps thwart enemy artillery (canons), but it also turns the ground around the fort into a nasty meat grinder for infantry (soldiers on foot) or cavalry (soldiers on horseback) because the approach is in between the prongs or over them, giving all the advantage to the defenders.  In the case of Ft. McHenry, it did not come to this.  Rather, the fort was only attacked by the British navy, which was forced to fire mortars and rockets from just beyond the range of the fort’s guns.  Both of these weapons had the advantage of sending their projectiles up into the air and then falling into the fort, but they did not succeed in defeating it.  In fact, according to the film only four men died, twenty-nine wounded.  The British gave up and sailed down to New Orleans only to come up short against Andrew Jackson (whose role in the victory would propel him into the presidency).

Maryland was a copperhead state during the Civil War (meaning the state, while positioned on the North’s side of the border, was sympathetic to the South).  Baltimore, in particular, was home to many influential residents who were leading the cause for southern sympathy.  Lincoln took preemptive action and arrested some of these secessionists.  In doing so, he suspended the right of Habeas Corpus along the military lines from Washington to Philadelphia.  (Habeas Corpus, a right predating the U.S. Constitution and originating in English common law, states that an individual cannot be arrested without being charged, to prevent unlawful seizure of citizens.)  At that time, the fort served as a prison.  Despite the Writ of Habeas Corpus issued by Chief Justice Taney, Lincoln and the U.S. Army held prisoners in violation of our country’s laws, such as Lt. John Merryman of the Maryland State Militia.  Merryman had sabotaged train lines to impede the Union army on his governor’s orders.  (http://www.nps.gov/fomc/historyculture/the-writ-of-habeus-corpus.htm and NPS volunteer, 8-11-2010)

Particularly at the flag changing, but also at other times and events,  the NPS Rangers don the military garb of the fort’s defenders.  On our visit we were given a musket demonstration, by one such historic interpreter dressed in the finery of the early uniforms, before the financial burdens of the war required a less adorned uniform of an artillery soldier (which the ranger said looked very similar to the Civil War uniforms of the North).  He explained the steps for firing his replica 1789 Springfield Musket, 65 caliber.  The first step is to cock the musket, then put powder in the pan, next put powder in the barrel, then the musket ball (which he did not include), pound it down with the ram rod and finally point and fire.  The musket, lacking any rifling on the inside of the barrel, is not terribly accurate, but when a volley is fired into opposing ranks it can have a devastating effect.   In response to my query, he affirmed that the U.S. military, like the British soldiers, trained with live rounds—one of the reasons the British had sometimes had an edge against the French in prior years.  Unlike the British, however, he explained that the elite Americans could only fire three rounds a minute, which, if accurate, is one shy of the vaunted elite of the Red Coats, especially those seasoned in the conflict against Napoleon!  (NPS Ranger, 8-11-2010)

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There is one final anecdote I want to relay.  Our last stop for the morning was actually returning to the Visitor’s Center as we had hurried to get to the flag ceremony.  The film, very typical of the NPS (produced in 1984-5, “The Defense of Fort McHenry”), is told from the viewpoint of Dr. William Beanes, who was captured by the British for his involvement in arresting British soldiers after promises had been secured from the invading officers.  According to the agreement his town’s homes and property would not be molested so long as the British force was left unmolested.  His point of view is unique because after his arrest he was held aboard a British ship until Francis Scott Key, the prominent Georgetown lawyer and also Beanes’ friend, would partake in the negotiations for his release.  The British, grateful for the medical care Beanes had provided to wounded British soldiers, agreed to the release following the attack on Baltimore to prevent them from warning the city.  The  British released Beanes and his negotiators to an American truce ship during the assault on Baltimore and Ft. McHenry.  The fight carried on well into the night, then all was silent and dark.  Beanes’ party waited shipboard through the dark hours before the dawn not knowing the outcome.  The waiting continued until the fort’s morning gun fired and the incredible Star Spangled-Banner was raised above the fort, inspiring Key to write the poem that would become our national anthem.  (The Star-Spangled Banner is an example of the second flag adopted by our country, with fifteen stripes and stars—the only flag with fifteen stripes as the next one would revert to thirteen stripes for the original colonies.)

The film concludes with a waving flag and the opening strains of our anthem.  At this point, dramatically, the blinds pull back and reveal the fort with the flag flying.  Everyone stood, many of us thinking that the film was at its conclusion and preparing to leave, but a slightly bossy septuagenarian had walked into the room and ordered us to turn, face the fort’s flag, put hand over our right heart and, “Sing along!”  I, at least, was unaware that the entire anthem was about to blaze forth.  What could have been a rather moving moment of patriotic warm-fuzzies was somewhat spoiled with feelings of having just been scolded by a grandfather or ordered by a drill sergeant.  Then he instructed us to follow him for a quick presentation in the exhibit space—which was perfectly enjoyable—but, I feel that this could have been a fully positive event if the film had included a disclaimer telling us at the beginning what they expected or that the presentation would end with the singing of the anthem. (“Please, join us in singing . . “)  I do not think the dramatic effect would have been lost, just the feeling that we’re doing something wrong or being bullied!

(In the YouTube link below you can see just how absurdly enormous the original flag was, or you can click on the hyper-link in the above paragraph to visit the Smithsonian’s website about their exhibition for the original Star-Spangled Banner.)
(Follow the below YouTube link to hear the entire national anthem with the lyrics. 2 min. 45 sec.)

Decorative relief from the Basilica of St. John, Ephesus, Turkey



Filed under Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Travel

Historian’s Journal – an Introduction

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This is the first installment of my other blog type–the one under the category “Historian’s Journal”!  For the most part, this is not so much me on my soapbox, rather, it is me walking the walk–I hope!–and brushing off history, digging up the fun and the interesting, leaving the dull and brittle with Coach Yester in my 10th grade history classroom!  In it I hope to share, in a more typical blog style, perhaps, my travels, my research projects, my reviews of museums or articles, the odd but interesting news story or magazine article, the occasional how-to-project (typically related to research I imagine, like cracking the LOC–Library of Congress–or accessing special collections) and related volunteer projects (as in history related).

Henry Jones working on the Grail Diary (The Last Crusade)

Its name, “Historian’s Journal,” is inspired by [imagined?] images of antiquarian journals from someone traipsing through the world in the latter days of the British Empire, because so much of everywhere was British–sun never sinking on it and all–and it was popular to be knowledgeable about everything.  Picture the Grail Diary from the third Indiana Jones (for which there exists an entire website and merchandise!)–but not so narrowly focused!  Maybe the image of Dumbledore’s office, in a book, or, rather, a blog?  I love the tactile connection of a real book–especially a journal!  I have something of a journal fetish, in fact, given the number that are lying around or boxed in my abode. (The revival of the Moleskine journal on the market has had a somewhat costly effect on my finances!)   So, this is a slightly unusual undertaking for me, but I am nonetheless excited to do something so uniquely mine and share it with everyone who visits.

Harry in Dumbledore's office for the first time (Chamber of Secrets)

Unlike my other blog category, “Historian’s Journal” is intended to have more frequent entries and be more akin to an actual journal.  Someday someone could use this as a primary source to learn about my culture and my interests–God help them!–which I imagine will require them to have a great deal more computer skills than many of us historian types, as I am not leaving a paper trail but a digital one.  For someone like me trying to fathom a digital trail is a philosophical exercise.  The vagaries of computer code resemble nothing so much as a grand existential riddle . . one I cannot solve . . yet.

This is an opportunity for me to play, ruminate and occasionally pontificate, but I hope it is the sort of thing that you would want to share with me and engage in a dialogue with me about it all.  Given that I currently live on the edge of Baltimore, many of my entries will likely bear a distinct D.C.-MD flavor to them, but my interests and journeys take me far from the shores of the Inner Harbor on the Chesapeake (journeys, being hampered by practical things like budgets, are not always of a physical nature–another reason I like history: more ways to take a journey than I can afford otherwise!!).

I promise, here and now, to do everything by the book, despite the venue.  By this I mean, I will always give you a source when it is appropriate and I will always be clear when an idea is not my own.  As has been said by many great minds in history: if I contribute anything useful, I do so because I stand on the shoulders of giants!  So, enjoy my contributions and share your comments!



Decorative relief from the Basilica of St. John, Ephesus, Turkey

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Filed under Historian's Journal