Friday, August 24, 2012

Day 14: Fort McHenry and Baltimore

We spent the final day of our trip getting to know Baltimore a bit better. Our stated goal was to visit Fort McHenry, in the 200th anniversary year of the War of 1812 (though not of the Battle of Baltimore); after that, we were open.

We started our day, then, with the Fort McHenry National Historic Shrine. We drove into Baltimore in pouring rain, and entered the Visitor Center in the same. The entire building - and its exhibits - had obviously been redone for the anniversary, and it was really quite nice. There were a couple of exhibit pieces I liked a lot, but the real highlight was the new film about the Battle of Baltimore, which was exceptional.

However, the hands-down best part, and one I almost feel guilty for blogging about as the surprise of it was part of its appeal, was the end of the movie. The narrative talked proudly about a unifying national anthem, a chorus swelled in singing...and the entire screen raised up to show a huge window overlooking the fort and the flag waving proudly over it.

I'm not going to lie, I teared up.

Viewing window after the film, though the flag wasn't exactly flying high on this rainy, overcast day.
LOVED this little interactive, about the different ways musicians have interpreted the national anthem over the years.
The fort itself was really neat, and well-explained. It was nice to be able to walk around so much of it, and get a sense for its size and heft.

As we left the Visitor Center, the rain let up, and as we entered the fort, the Park Rangers down there made the decision to swap out the small flag for a larger one (the flags flown over the fort are heavily weather-dependent, and there was a good panel explaining this on the path up). This was the cue for a really remarkable moment - the Rangers asked if anyone wanted to help raise the flag. After an initial moment of awkwardness, people sprinted from across the parade ground to help. It was a simple extraordinary experience that I suppose we would call "participatory" but was also incredibly meaningful - who doesn't want to raise the Star-Spangled Banner over Fort McHenry?

I feel blasphemous saying this, but I almost think this moment would have been ruined by a historical  lecture.
After Fort McHenry, we traveled further downtown to take a look at Camden Yards, which has done a beautiful job of integrating a ballpark right into the heart of a city, using existing historic structures and giving an authentic/throwback feel to the look of the ballpark as well.

We also visited the Baltimore Legends in Sport museum, which was really quite good. For me, a highlight was its use of oral history in its baseball galleries. It seemed like every exhibit case had a video or audio recording of someone connected with past teams, or with a resident who remembered key events in baseball history.

This exhibit about the fire that destroyed the old baseball stadium had both this rather realistic lighting/design treatment as well as audio of Baltimore residents talking about their heartbreak in seeing the flames.
After the Legends Museum was the Babe Ruth Birthplace, which, to be honest, was kind of a letdown. The ticket for both museums was rather pricey, and the birthplace museum was a bit of a jumble. Sometimes I visit museums dedicated to famous individuals and come away thinking I would've really loved them if I'd been a fan of the individual in question. This was one of those museums for me.

They did have a clever way of acknowledging donors, however - one plaque per home run!
With that, we wrapped up our trip, to return back to Boston the next day. It was an intense two weeks that I'll be processing for months and years to come, and added not only to my professional development as a museum professional but also to my understanding of America as a country - it's not often you get to see so many different places in such a short time!

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