O say can you …. hey, check this out

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My family visited Fort McHenry this past Sunday afternoon. Turns out a visit to Baltimore’s fortress, which proved pivotal in the war of 1812, makes for an easy afternoon outing. Just drive around the Inner Harbor on Light Street until you hit the aptly named Fort Avenue. Turn left on Fort and ride it straight into the Fort McHenry Park. The wide expanse of grass along the Patapsco River makes for a great picnic spot. A visitors fee of $5 for adults (kids 15 and under are free) treats you to a short film detailing the Fort’s historic role in protecting Baltimore from a British invasion. The battle inspired Francis Scott Key to pen those immortal lines that became the opening salvo for every major league baseball game. For me the high point of a visit to the Fort comes at the end of this movie where, as you hear the first quiet strains of “O say can you see …,” a long curtain pulls slowly back to reveal a replica of the very flag Francis Scott Key spied that September in morning 1814 to let him know the Americans had driven the British away. It puts a lump in my throat every time. But this time we got an even better treat. At 4:30 p.m. on weekends, re-enactors dressed in period costumes take down the over-sized stars and stripes and replace it with a smaller version. I thought the colonial uniforms were a lot of fun, perhaps because they reminded me of the get ups worn by soldiers in the Pride & Prejudice movie I’ve been watching over and over on DVD this summer. (But of course, those soldiers would have been the bad guys in this scenario.) When it was time to take down the flag, a “soldier” called out that he was going to need the tourists’ help. He told us to gather round the flag and as it comes down, we were to grab it by the handful. I went running to join in, my daughter in one arm, my camera in the other. The soldier hollered to my husband – who stood out in the orange Aberdeen Ironbirds hat we got at hat night last week – to be in charge of grabbing the end with the stars on it and to start stuffing it into a big green duffel bag.(I imagine this is just how they must have done it back in 1814.) The soldier saw where I was standing and perhaps, seeing that I didn’t actually have a free hand, directed two taller gentlemen to my side. Then the flag came tumbling down. I got off one shot as it billowed loosely overhead and then I realized it was about to cover me. Understanding now that I was the opposite of help, I began backing out of the guys’ way as quickly as possible. I my haste, my daughter’s hat tumbled off her head and slipped under the flag that was now held clumsily aloft by a rectangle of tourists, reminding me of elementary school kids playing with a parachute in gym class. It would have made a great picture. But alas, my daughter began loudly bemoaning the loss of her hat. Her 8-year-old brother came to her rescue, letting fly his handful of flag to duck underneath Old Glory and snatch up her hat. By the time she recovered, the group had gathered up the flag into what was now a long strip that a soldier was helping my husband hurriedly stuff into that duffel bag. By the time the two soldiers, each holding one of the duffel bag’s handles, trooped off with the heavy flag between them, a new smaller flag had already been hoisted in its place.