Locked gate, irksome sign halt Fort McHenry visitors

October 08, 1990|By Alisa Samuelsand Robert Hilson Jr. | Alisa Samuelsand Robert Hilson Jr.,Evening Sun Staff

Under hazy skies, two stenciled words on the black-and-white sign at the entrance gate to the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine today brought huge disappointment for local residents and out-of-towners alike.

"Park Closed," the sign read. To emphasize the message, the gate was chained and locked.

Since midnight Friday, the nation's historic parks and museums, including Fort McHenry here and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, have been closed as Congress and the president deadlocked on the $500 billion deficit-slashing budget package.

"I come all of the way here and it's closed," Norman Acker of Los Angeles said today, outside the Fort McHenry gate at the end of East Fort Avenue. He and his wife, Carol, are sightseeing along the East Coast.

"First, we went to New York and couldn't see the Statue of Liberty," Norman Acker said. "Then we went to Philadelphia and couldn't see Independence Hall, but did get a glimpse of the Liberty Bell. Now we come here and the only thing working are the parking meters. Is there any need to go to Washington?"

Normally, Fort McHenry is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"I'm really disappointed," an Alexandria, Va., resident, said after taking advantage of a sunny Sunday to drive to Baltimore.

After making a U-turn about 4 p.m. in front of the fort, the 28-year-old federal worker, who gave only his first name, Stephen, said he brought his cousin, Marcella Aumitre, 26, to Fort McHenry "to see all the stars and stripes."

On Saturday, they attempted to visit government sites in Washington, but found the Smithsonian and others attractions closed.

Aumitre said, "I feel bad I missed the Smithsonian, but I feel worse for people who may have no way to make ends meet."

She was referring to the 2 million federal employees who might be laid off if Congress and President Bush don't reach an accord on the budget.

"I think Bush is right," said Stephen. "Congress needs to get its act together."

Meanwhile, for Paul Chiles, park historian at Antietam National Battlefield at Sharpsburg, the closure comes on what is normally one of the site's busiest weekends.

On Friday, before the shutdown, 669 people visited the Civil War site, compared with 355 at the same time last year, he said.

It's normally closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's days.

Chiles said many people arrived over the weekend, often from other states, only to find the park closed. "They're not thrilled," he said.

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