THE 1976 CAVALCADE of tall ships from the Seven Seas gave such a psychological boost to Baltimore that their return today fills the city with anticipation. A million visitors are expected to crowd the Inner Harbor to glimpse the majestic reminders of a bygone era.
The ships' visit 24 years ago is still vivid in the minds of many Baltimoreans and visitors, who got a sneak preview of coming attractions in downtown revival at the bicentennial event.
The Inner Harbor, in particular, received rave reviews. Though Harborplace was not yet built, locals and outsiders decided the city's shoreline was worth repeat trips. The event changed the city's image.
Over the next eight days, Baltimore has another opportunity to strut its stuff. Luckily, the visiting flotilla this time is so big -- some 30 vessels from around the world -- that the curious wanting to see them all will have to venture off the beaten path. They will see neighborhoods that are in the midst of redevelopment, such as Locust Point and the Boston Street stretch of Canton. The tall ships may be the main course, but the energy and optimism of those neighborhoods are tasty side dishes.
The timing of the tall ships' arrival is propitious. The first new hotel in more than a decade will soon open. The election of Mayor Martin O'Malley has spawned hope that Baltimore can be turned around the way many other aging cities have been. A big turnout could give the city added confidence.
Over the past several decades, Baltimore's working harbor has moved from the heart of the city to outlying areas. The tall ships remind us that the Monumental City's history has always been closely linked to seafaring and foreign trade.
Each of the ships has a past. Some of that history may be glorious; some may be controversial. What matters today is that they come here in peace, unblemished by political insignia or nefarious doctrines. They deserve an enthusiastic welcome.