Our flag is still there

Fort McHenry: National icon and quintessential Baltimore attraction is getting a long overdue face-lift.

July 04, 1999

INDEPENDENCE DAY is a fitting time to recognize overdue improvements to the grandest symbol of American independence that Baltimore has: Fort McHenry.

The star-shaped citadel on the Patapsco River withstood British bombardment in September, 1814, inspiring lawyer Francis Scott Key to write a poem, "Defence of Fort McHenry." One-hundred and seventeen years later, the song derived from that verse, "The Star-Spangled Banner," became our national anthem.

Unhip and underappreciated, the fort is the quintessential Baltimore attraction. Long before anyone imagined the city's once-fetid harbor drawing sightseers, Fort McHenry put the city on the map.

It is just now receiving its first major face-lift since it became a national park in 1933. With leadership from Senators Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Congress a few years ago appropriated nearly $6 million to repair the extensive masonry structures, damaged by time and rain. The restoration should be completed this year.

New exhibits opened at the fort a few weeks ago, funded by an initiative that allows national parks to keep a portion of attendance fees. The program reflects the Clinton administration's attempt to have the federal bureaucracy behave a little more entrepreurially. Park officials acknowledge they would have turned blue waiting for traditional channels to come up with the $700,000 this fee program has generated in a few years.

Visitors appreciate the improvements, as evidenced by a spiky-haired teen-ager calling out to his mom on a recent afternoon, "Hey, there's stuff to see in here."

Pub Date: 7/04/99

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