Patriotic pageant Friends of historic fort revisit Battle of Baltimore

September 12, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

Old Glory will stream in triumph oveer the ramparts of Fort McHenry Saturday as the rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air once again proudly hail the freedom hard won from the British 177 years ago.

The story of the Battle of Baltimore and the inevitable victory over the powerful British fleet will be told in dialogue and song in an original operatic pageant, "O'er the Ramparts," on the parade grounds of the fort at 8 p.m.

Cannon and artillery fire will be simulated and the use of flash pots will light up the sky at the old fort to lend dramatic effect to this unabashedly patriotic saga.

Written by F. Scott Black and Richard Byrd with music composed and conducted by William E. Watson, the celebration of the 177th anniversary of the success of the combat is being sponsored by the Patriots of Fort McHenry Inc. The non-profit organization is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the national monument and historic shrine.

A cast of 24 experienced actors and singers from the Baltimore area have been assembled to participate in this living-history presentation.

Alan R. Walden, president of the Patriots of Fort McHenry and WBAL news commentator, plays Issac Munroe, a fictional observer who narrates the hour-long show. Walden's wife Jeannie enacts the role of Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the 30-foot-by-42-foot battle flag that inspired Francis Scott Key.

"The scenes are staged in London and Baltimore showing both sides of the story," said Walden in a recent interview. "It is a walk down the shadow of history and the pieces are tied together as the story unfolds. The battle scenes are particularly forceful."

Byrd said the actors "will not actually speak or sing. In order to have the right balance and clarity all music, songs and dialogue have been prerecorded. The walking actors will lip-sync to the tape."

Walden said, "In most cases the voices on the tape are not the voices of the live actors. Each walking actor received a copy of the tape and script and practiced lip-syncing at home. By the time they came to rehearsal they had the synchronization down pretty pat."

"It is more difficult for an actor to use this particular technique," added Byrd, who is the voice for Robert Gorsuch, a prominent North Point farmer, "because they have to memorize lines listening to a tape to get the exact inflections and pausing the original actor used. The actor must not miss a beat."

It was the remarkable defense of the Fort McHenry against a 25-hour British naval bombardment in September of 1814 that inspired the young lawyer from Georgetown, who was anxiously viewing the stormy conflict from a truce ship, to put down the words that would become our nation's anthem. As sung by actor Edward J. Peters, this proud moment is the highlight of the pageant.

Among others, American generals Samuel Smith and John Stricker and British Gen. Robert Ross, British Adm. Alexander Cochrane and Americans Maj. Gen. George Armistead and Mary Pickersgill are major characters.

This is the second time the pageant, originally produced in 1989, has been enacted. The authentic period costumes were fashioned by James J. Fasching and Shryl Ryanharrt.

"In writing the dialogue, Scott and I used as many direct quotes as possible," said Byrd. "Our sources were history books and papers furnished by the Enoch Pratt Library and Maryland Historical Society. The National Park Service provided us with important historical details."

"This production also incorporates the important battle of North Point," said Walden. "People don't realize the battle of 1814 is the Korean War of the 19th century . . . our second war of independence."

Tickets to "O'er the Ramparts" may be purchased Saturday night at Fort McHenry. Admission is $10 for adults and children. All proceeds will be deposited in a fund for the restoration of the fort. For further information, call the Patriots of Fort McHenry at 625-2202.

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