Saturday, August 23, 2008


Gettysburg is located in Central Pennsylvania, somewhat closer to Philadelphia than Pittsburgh, and not far from the Maryland border. The bus I took went into Harrisburg, a much larger town about 45 minutes away. The closest big city is Baltimore, and the day after I arrived we went down there for a day. I had never been there before, so I was looking forward to that. The first place we went was the birthplace of Baltimore native Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player who ever lived. Here's a picture of the outside:

The building is furnished as it was when the Babe was born in 1895 and is now a museum. It was fun to visit, and I think my grandmother actually got the most out of it, because she's the one who had the most to learn! (BTW, there's another Baltimorean who's more recently become a rather well-known figure in his own sport—guy by the name of Michael Phelps. Maybe you've heard of him? ;-))

After that we drove around the waterfront area to Fort McHenry, which is part of the National Park Service. Have you heard of the War of 1812? It was between us and Great Britain—who we'd succeeded in kicking out just 31 years before—that actually went on for two years till 1814. It began because of an ongoing conflict between Britain and France in which American trade was being disrupted. We nearly lost that war, and had we lost, our very young country would have ceased to exist. British forces managed to reach Washington, DC, and burned much of the city, including the president's residence, to the ground. Then they headed to Baltimore, whose only line of defense was Fort McHenry. Right before the Battle of Baltimore, a man by the name of Francis Scott Key went to see the British captain to try to gain the release of an American prisoner they were holding. He succeeded, but because the British were afraid the two Americans had heard too much of their plans they forced them to stay on the ship. During the battle, the smoke got so thick that nobody could see who was winning. At some point in the night, sounds of battle ceased, but because it was dark they didn't know who'd won, and since it was the Americans who stopped firing first they feared the British had gotten past the fort. It was only at sunrise, when they saw the American flag still flying above the fort, that they realized Baltimore had been saved. Can you imagine what a dramatic, emotional moment that must have been, to realize both your city and your country, which you thought were both on the brink of total destruction, were still intact? Key was so moved by the site of that flag that he wrote a poem called “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” which was set to music and later renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It is now our national anthem. This is the view of the fort from the visitor's center on the grounds:

I knew that story before visiting the fort, but what I didn't know was that long after the War of 1812 it was still an important part of the military, serving as a holding area for Confederate POWs during the Civil War and a hospital for wounded soldiers during WWI. What was left of the fort when it became a National Park has been preserved to what it was like in 1814, with exhibits on the officer's quarters, magazines (where gunpowder was stored) and other aspects of its function at that time. Of course, the flag in the middle of the fort isn't the same one that was there then—that one is kept at the Museum of American History in Washington—but it is a replica, complete with the 15 stars that existed at that time. (Each star on our flag represents one of the states, of which we currently have 50. In 1814 there were only 15 stars: the original 13 states, plus Vermont and Kentucky. There were already more than 15 states by that date, but they stopped adding stars for several years because they thought it would look too cluttered.) After Fort McHenry, we went to the Inner Harbor for lunch. It's an area in downtown Baltimore where there are a lot of shops, restaurants and other places geared toward tourists.

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