Shrieking children covered their ears and adults flinched as the Blue Angels made a low pass over Fort McHenry, only to stretch their necks and shade their eyes to track the Navy jet fighters as they soared into the sun.
At the Inner Harbor, crowds lined the waterfront for unobstructed views of the aerial maneuvers as the Angels ducked behind office buildings and hotel towers, their roar none the quieter.
The air show represented a crescendo for the Star-Spangled Sailabration, a weeklong event that also included 19 tall ships and other military vessels moored in Baltimore's harbor to mark the start of a two-year-long remembrance of the War of 1812. A second air show is planned for Sunday.
Throngs packed Fort McHenry, the Inner Harbor and other locales in what organizers expect to be one of the biggest events ever held in Baltimore — with attendance estimates topping those of the Preakness and Baltimore Grand Prix.
"What a glorious day," said Caroline Watson of Frederick as her three grandchildren jumped up and down and clapped, watching the air show from Fort McHenry. "I don't know how anyone could not be moved by the fort, the flag and the Blue Angels."
Sailabration organizers predicted 1 million people would attend through June 19, when the tall ships depart and the festivities conclude. About 25,000 filled the grounds of Fort McHenry to capacity by 11 a.m. on Saturday alone, and 8,000 people flocked to Martin State Airport in Middle River. Baltimore police would not release an estimate of Saturday's crowd size, instead planning to release a total weekend figure on Monday.
City police and fire officials reported few incidents. A police officer was struck by a fellow officer's Taser as they broke up a fight at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, agent Donny Moses said. Children were reported lost but promptly found and reunited with their families. And three revelers who fell into the harbor near Ripley's Believe it or Not were quickly recovered and taken to a local hospital, according to the fire department.
Police were out "in multiplied numbers" from Fort McHenry to Federal Hill to Fells Point, according to Moses, who declined to say how many officers were on duty for security reasons. The increased presence came as crime and violence have been a concern at major downtown events.
While the Baltimore Grand Prix street race around the Inner Harbor went off without major incident in September, a child was struck by a stray bullet and a man died after being stabbed with a broken bottle after the Fourth of July fireworks display last summer. This summer police have stepped up downtown patrols after widespread fighting among hundreds of teens on St. Patrick's Day.
Sailabration celebrations were planned into the night Saturday, with a fireworks display at about 9 p.m.
Fort McHenry was a focal point of the festivities, and crowds came early in droves to tour the working naval ships docked there and see the air show from a prime spot.
Battles fought in Baltimore during the War of 1812 are remembered as among the city's finest hours, when residents successfully staved off British forces on the nation's behalf. The fort withstood bombardment by a British fleet in 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner," a poem that became the national anthem in 1931.
"This is a blend of America's military past and present," said Vince Vaise, the National Park Service's chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry. "The fort's being used. It's not a museum piece sitting under glass. It's pulsing with life, and we're attracting a whole new generation."
The Baltimore Department of Transportation staged 30 buses at M&T Bank Stadium, where spectators parked to be shuttled for the 15-minute ride to the fort. Some visitors woke up before dawn to ensure they weren't shut out of the Fort McHenry festivities.
"I was like, 'I'm not going to brave the crowd,' but then I realized I may never get another chance," said Mary Edwards of Middle River.
People flocked to a number of locales for the best vistas of the Blue Angels, which were putting on their first show in Baltimore since 1959.
Downtown workers like Kari Kishiyama, who lives in Severn, had seen glimpses of the Blue Angels as they made practice runs Thursday and Friday. The F/A-18 Hornet jets fly in formations of six at shows across the country to boost Navy and Marine Corps recruitment.
"It's just so smooth," Kishiyama said of the show, watching with her husband, Lonnie, in the Inner Harbor.
Crowds filled the waterfront promenades, lured by the air show and tall ships. Families pushed strollers and tourists stopped to snap photographs. Lines snaked along the sidewalks, dozens of people deep, as crews gave visitors ample time to explore the decks. Restaurants with waterfront views did a brisk business.
For Maria Beck of Bethesda, the long lines meant plenty of time to work on a needlepoint project. She sat on a bench near McCormick and Schmick's seafood restaurant. She and her husband had walked along the waterfront, but he broke off to tour ships.
"Walking around is nice enough for me," Beck said.
Tre Medina, 9, and a group of young boys stood on the pedestal of a flagpole on the harbor's Pier Five, craning their necks above the grown-ups and scanning the horizon for the planes. Crowds froze and looked upward, cellphone cameras held high, when the jets appeared overhead, leaving a wispy loop of contrails behind as they disappeared from sight again.
"There are seven," Medina counted. "No, six," he corrected, as all the jets joined in a "V" formation heading straight upward into the sky. The Blue Angels' show lasted about 45 minutes, with other small planes streaking across the sky earlier in the two-hour show.
At Martin State Airport, people were able to watch the Blue Angels take off and land, and to tour Coast Guard, Navy and Marines aircraft in between. Upon landing after the air show, the Blue Angels pilots signed autographs there.
Back at Fort McHenry, the festivities continued after the air show with a concert leading up to the evening fireworks. As the Blue Angels show ended, some people were settling in for a patriotic evening on the water, while others were plotting their exit and a trip across the harbor to Fells Point.
"If you wait until the last rocket's red glare, you'll miss last call," said Charlie Gomez of Washington.
Sailabration events Sunday
Aircraft display and festival, Martin State Airport, 10 a.m.
Sailabration festival villages open, Inner Harbor and Fells Point, 11a.m.
Ships open for free tours, Inner Harbor and Fells Point, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Navy warfare demonstration, Fort McHenry, 1 p.m.
Blue Angels air show, Fort McHenry, 1 p.m to 4 p.m.
Blue Angels autograph session, Martin State Airport, 4:30 p.m.
Baltimore Symphony premiere, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 7 p.m.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun