Maryland will revel in its War of 1812 history with a two-year celebration of the pivotal battles, enduring sites and hometown heroes that played a role in the conflict that culminated in America's defeat of the world's strongest military force.
Boston remembers annually the events that sparked the Revolutionary War and Virginia recently marked the 400th anniversary of its founding at Jamestown. Now the 200-year-old war with the British that ultimately ended on Maryland's shores will take on renewed significance as communities across the state focus on stories many have forgotten.
"The whole purpose is to make people cherish the jewels we have here and to learn about how Maryland saved this country," said Carolyn Mroz, vice chair of the Baltimore County bicentennial advisory committee.
The state will kick off its bicentennial celebration of the war between the United States and Britain with a maritime festival in the Baltimore harbor in June 2012. That event will launch two years of festivities leading up to a re-enactment of the September 1814 battle at Fort McHenry that gave America its national anthem and its 15-star flag,
"1812 is the forgotten war that we want to make people remember," said Vince Vaise, National Parks Service chief of interpretation at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. "This is a powerful national story and a powerful location story."
Bill Pencek, director of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, organized six, daylong workshops in areas touched by the war.
Baltimore County's workshop last month drew about 90 people eager to help plan the commemoration of the Battle of North Point. In that key skirmish, a scruffy U.S. militia successfully repulsed an experienced enemy that had landed on the peninsula by the thousands.
"This was Marylanders defending Maryland and they were responsible for a pivotal victory that was instantly memorialized," Pencek said. "Think of Francis Scott Key reporting live from the Patapsco River. There was no CNN then, but his poem was, within weeks, published in all the newspapers. It resonated with people instantaneously."
Key, imprisoned on a British ship in the Baltimore harbor during the 1814 battle, was inspired to write "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the sight of the American flag still waving after intense fighting. Although that account is widely known, Vaise said highlighting it will help Americans better understand what they have been singing since 1931, the year Congress officially made Key's poem the national anthem.
"These events will have the power to jump-start interest in this subject," Vaise said. "Maybe then we won't have visitors to Fort Sumter, a Civil War shrine, asking where is the Francis Scott Key Memorial."
Help from the parks service
The National Parks Service is partnering with the state and numerous communities on organizing events to highlight the major battles. The service has recently awarded Havre de Grace $100,000 to fund its observance of the 1813 devastation of the city by British soldiers.
"Only four homes in the city escaped the fire that destroyed Havre de Grace and three of them stand today," said Brigitte Peters, Havre de Grace's marketing and tourism manager. "We re-enact that battle every year, but in 2013, we will make the event even more regional."
Maryland tourism officials have met extensively with their counterparts in Virginia, which marked the 400th anniversary of Jamestown with 13 events in 2007.
"We are looking at this as our Jamestown and we are expecting huge crowds at signature events across the state," said Jill Feinberg, Baltimore County tourism director.
Virginia's celebration generated 20,000 jobs and $1 billion in tourism revenue and Maryland can at least equal, if not surpass its neighbor, Pencek said.
Pencek estimated the cost for the commemoration at about $20 million, but taxpayers will not pay the bill. The sale of gold and silver commemorative coins, which will be available in January 2012, will pay about half the cost with much of the remainder coming from corporate funding and foundation grants, he said.
Baltimore will open the celebration in June 2012 with a maritime festival that will bring tall ships and Navy vessels to its harbor. The city will recall those ships for a grand finale in 2014.
In January, the city plans to launch a national traveling exhibit to educate people on the historic significance of the war and to generate interest in the commemoration, said Jeff Buchheit, director of the Baltimore National Heritage Area, which works to connect residents to the history of their communities. The city took the lead prior to the 100th anniversary of the war.