Defenders' Day begins with a bang

Celebration: Though the state holiday isn't until tomorrow, re-enactors and visitors got a taste of history over the weekend.

September 11, 2005|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,SUN STAFF

Virgil Bennett, a 15-year-old re-enactor on hand at Fort McHenry yesterday, teased his friend Joseph Sherrill. Both were dressed in blue coats and white pants reminiscent of early 19th-century American soldiers.

Virgil boasted that he was the son of an officer, and a low-ranking officer himself. Joseph, 13, was only a private.

"We try to stay in character when tourists are around," Virgil joked as he and Joseph wandered toward one of many encampments where other re-enactors stood at attention or gave lessons on how to shoot a cannon during this year's Defenders' Day festivities.

Defenders' Day - officially tomorrow, although celebrated at Fort McHenry over the weekend - is a state holiday that once rivaled July 4 celebrations, commemorating the successful defense of Baltimore by 1,000 men during the latter part of the War of 1812. It's also a celebration of Francis Scott Key's penning of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Dozens of tourists and Maryland natives wandered through the fort yesterday afternoon, chatting with re-enactors like Virgil, who imparted to onlookers nuggets of fact about the battle or how to properly load a 19th-century weapon.

Thousands were expected for the annual fireworks show last night, and several events are scheduled for today, including combat demonstrations through early afternoon and the lowering of the 15-star and 15-stripe flag at 2:30 p.m.

Recognizing the key role militia played in defending the port city from the British, who had just burned down the White House in Washington, organizers dedicated this year's "Star-Spangled Banner Weekend" to citizen soldiers.

Zachary Johnson, 7, of Catonsville was visiting the fort for the fifth time. "I like the cannons because they're so big," he said.

Deanna Marino, 7, of Bel Air said she had most enjoyed seeing the view of the Patapsco River while standing next to a cannon.

She also listened as her father, Dan, told her and her family about Fort McHenry and its many accoutrements and asked a re-enactor about the difference between a rifle and a musket.

After prodding from her mother, Debbie, Deanna remembered the significance of Fort McHenry and Defenders' Day:

"The Star-Spangled Banner?" she asked, and then, after a pause: "Oh yeah, he wrote it during the war!"

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