Baltimore went a little War-of-1812-crazy last year, when some 1.5 million people crowded into the Inner Harbor to celebrate the bicentennial of the last time Great Britain invaded the U.S. And things should get even crazier next year, when Charm City fetes the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and its most enduring legacy, "The Star-Spangled Banner."
So where does that leave 2013?
Just fine, thanks to the folks at Fort McHenry and the Maryland Historical Society. They've run with the inspired idea to reproduce the flag that survived the British bombardment celebrated in Francis Scott Key's famous poem.
That huge banner is the centerpiece of this year's Defenders' Day celebrations, as Baltimoreans continue to celebrate the happy confluence of a Baltimore seamstress (Mary Pickersgill, who created the original flag), a Frederick lawyer (Key, who wrote the poem that would become "The Star-Spangled Banner"), a British drinking song ("To Anacreon in Heaven," the tune of which was applied to Key's poem) and some unfriendly pyrotechnics courtesy of the invading British navy.
"This is a big deal," said historical society President Burt Kummerow, justly proud of the flag that will be raised over Fort McHenry for the first time Saturday. "This is the first time anyone has gone to the trouble we went to, to get it as accurate as we could."
Adds Vince Vaise, Fort McHenry's chief of interpretation, "We're upping our game this year. This will be a pretty awesome prequel for 2014."
Here are the five main components of this weekend's Defenders' Day celebrations:
Friday, 1:30 p.m.: The new "Star-Spangled Banner" is unveiled and begins its journey to Fort McHenry
Since July 4, more than 1,000 volunteers have been stitching away at the Maryland Historical Society, re-creating the 30-by-42-foot flag that flew over Fort McHenry 199 years ago. At 1:30 p.m., the finished flag, containing some 150,000 stitches, will be unveiled in the historical society courtyard; the U.S. Army Old Guard Color Guard will then fold the flag and prepare it for the 3.6 mile journey to Fort McHenry.
"This will be the first chance for the public to see the flag in all its glory," Kummerow said of the giant flag, which weighs in at 42 pounds. "It's a lot of cloth."
Planners originally had ideas of staging an elaborate procession through downtown, Kummerow said, but had to accede to the realities of rush hour in Charm City. "Stopping traffic in Baltimore is just not a good idea," he said.
Thus, a much quieter journey to Federal Hill. The trip will include a 4 p.m. wreath-laying at the Battle Monument, erected on Calvert Street to commemorate the Battle of Baltimore — an assault that included the Fort McHenry bombardment that so moved Key.
Friday, 5:45 p.m.: The flag is carried via parade from Federal Hill to Fort McHenry
Back in 1814, cannon atop Federal Hill warned Baltimore of the arrival of the British fleet. This year, in a far more celebratory mode, a few score living historians and the Fort McHenry Guard will shoot off cannon to announce the giant replica flag's arrival, followed by a flag-raising ceremony (not the replica flag, which will remain folded during its visit) and other activities, including wreath-layings at monuments to Gen. Sam Smith and Maj. George Armistead, key leaders in the defense of Baltimore.
Following the ceremony, some 100 people, including re-enactors and many of the people who actually worked on the replica flag, will lead a procession down Riverside Avenue to Riverside Park, where a short fife-and-drum concert will commemorate what used to be known as Fort Look-out, an earthen redoubt built as a defense of Fort McHenry
Beginning at 7 p.m., the parade will pick up on Hull Street and proceed down Fort Avenue and on to Fort McHenry.
Friday-Sunday: The new Fort McHenry quarter is unveiled at the fort
This newest entry in the U.S. Mint's "Beautiful Quarters" program depicts the famous glaring red rockets as they burst over the fort. The coin will make its official debut in a ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday. If you're 18 or younger, lucky you — you get a free quarter, just for showing up. The rest of us, however, will have to settle for exchanging our standard U.S. currency for the quarters, which will be available in rolls of 40. The coins will be available through the weekend, or as long as supplies last.
"The defense of Fort McHenry was a watershed event in the War of 1812," said Tom Jurkowsky, the mint's director of public affairs, "and this new quarter captures the significance of that victory."
Saturday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.: Living history demonstrations at Fort McHenry
They won't be in as much peril as their 19th-century forebears, but groups of living historians will be encamped at Fort McHenry throughout the weekend. Visitors can watch as they drill, march, fire their muskets and cannon, cook their meals and basically make like it's 1814 all over again.
Authors and local historians will also be present, to discuss the events of the Battle of Baltimore and answer questions.
Saturday, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.: The replica flag is raised over Fort McHenry
With appropriate pomp and ceremony, courtesy of the U.S. Army Old Guard, the replica "Star-Spangled Banner" will be raised over Fort McHenry for the first time. And talk about arriving in style: The flag will be carried within the fort on the same horse-drawn caisson that is used at Arlington National Cemetery. This offers a rare chance, organizers say, to see the caisson away from Arlington, used in a ceremony far less somber than the funerals it usually attends.
(Word has it Gov. Martin O'Malley may even show up, in his replica War of 1812 uniform.)
With the flag proudly waving over the fort's 21st-century ramparts, the celebration will continue as the U.S. Army Drill Team will fire cannon and demonstrate 19th-century tactics that would have been used to defend the fort. And then, as befits a celebration of events that led to the writing of our National Anthem, there will be a concert by the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers' Chorus. On the bill? "The Star-Spangled Banner" (naturally) and Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" (of course).
And here's betting you saw this one coming: at dusk, a 30-minute fireworks display will re-create the "rockets red glare" that Key made so famous.
If you go
• The 199th anniversary of the bombardment of Fort McHenry is being commemorated through Sunday at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St. (410-685-3750 or mdhs.org), and Fort McHenry (410-962-4290 or nps.gov/fomc).
• Admission to the MHS is $6-$9, free for children 3 and younger. Admission to Fort McHenry is $7, free for those 15 and younger. Entrance to the fort will be free beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday for the flag-raising, concert and fireworks.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun