Battle Monument rededicated with flag and drum, music, muskets and speeches 'Here hope was restored,' Schmoke tells assembly

September 13, 1997|By Jacques Kelly and Brenda J. Buote | Jacques Kelly and Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Flags were unfurled and muskets fired in downtown Baltimore yesterday as politicians and militiamen gathered to rededicate one of the city's most prominent monuments -- the statue that honors those who fought in the Battle of Baltimore and inspired the national anthem.

Dressed in military regalia from the War of 1812, the Baltimore Ceremonial Guard, Captain Howard's Company of Mechanical Volunteers of the 5th Maryland Regiment and Aisquith's Sharpshooters began the hourlong ceremony at the city courthouse with a short parade from City Hall on Holliday Street to the Battle Monument on Calvert Street, between Lexington and Fayette streets.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Maj. Gen. James F. Fretterd, adjutant general of the Maryland Army National Guard, also marched in the parade.

After a gospel-like rendition of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" by Malvilyn and Calvin Statham, the rededication ended with a musket salute by the ceremonial guard and a benediction by the Rev. Damien G. Nalepa, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church.

"This was the first war memorial to be built in the country to commemorate those who lost their lives defending the United States," Schmoke told an audience of attorneys, bankers and schoolchildren who stopped by for the noon ceremony, part of a yearlong project to rededicate memorials for the city's bicentennial.

"It was here that hope was restored. Some would say that Baltimore saved this nation," Schmoke said.

During the War of 1812, the British made their way to Baltimore in September 1814 after sacking Washington, but they were defeated at North Point and Fort McHenry in what came to be known as the Battle of Baltimore.

As the battle raged, a young lawyer-poet named Francis Scott Key watched the British naval bombardment of Fort McHenry through the night. In the morning, when he saw the U.S. flag flying over the fort and realized the British had failed to capture it, he penned the lines beginning, "O say can you see," which later became "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Thirteen years later, the Battle Monument was unveiled in what is now the 100 block of N. Calvert Street. Paris-born architect J. Maximilian M. Godefroy was selected to create it.

"His design was really quite original and remarkable," said Robert L. Alexander, a University of Iowa professor of art history who has devoted much of his career to the study of Godefroy.

"Francis Scott Key's 'Star-Spangled Banner' is better known as a memorial of the battle, but it did not initially generate the enthusiasm that Godefroy and his monument did," Alexander said.

The Battle Monument was a sophisticated piece of design, Alexander said, with classical allusions and references. The base has 18 layers of Baltimore County marble, a reference to the number of U.S. states in 1815.

The female figure at the top represents Baltimore. She holds a laurel wreath of victory and looks toward Fort McHenry and North Point.

The monument was begun Sept. 12, 1815, just one year after the battle. Construction continued until Sept. 12, 1822, when the Baltimore American estimated that 10,000 to 20,000 "people of all sexes, classes and ages" assembled around the monument and ships anchored in the harbor ran up the star-spangled banner.

Baltimore's Battle Monument became an instant landmark.

Its likeness was soon adopted as the official symbol of the city of Baltimore. Over the years it has appeared on tax bills, parking tickets, school diplomas and proclamations.

But its central location, at one of the city's busiest downtown crossroads, subjected it to heavy pollution.

Working throughout the summer to clean the monument was Isil Ozturk, a Turkish-born, University of Pennsylvania-trained architectural conservator.

Several conditions have hurt the monument. A gypsum crust formed in places, and a "biological fungus" -- algae and lichen growths -- discolored the marble. In many places, the ancient materials are scaling away.

"We use only soft natural bristle brushes, nothing nylon or plastic," Ozturk said of the cleaning process.

Pollution deposits and biological scum weren't the only eyesores removed from Monument Square. The city's Transportation Department agreed to take down a traffic sign that for the past decade has sat squarely in front of the monument.

Restoration, funded in part by a $10,000 contribution from the Maryland Military Monuments Commission, will continue. The cost of the restoration is estimated at $260,000.

"It looks wonderful," said Alice Grogden, a paralegal with the attorney general's office, who stumbled upon the rededication during her lunch break. "It's very exciting, and certainly appropriate for the bicentennial. I especially liked the military music and uniforms."

Pub Date: 9/13/97

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