Tourism agency launches campaign with Civil War theme

February 22, 2011|By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

Last year Baltimore's tourism officials encouraged visitors to find their "happy place" and created the world's largest smiley face to help lift the region out of its doldrums.

In previous years, they coaxed city visitors and residents to see jellyfish at the aquarium and celebrate Edgar Allan Poe's 200th birthday.

For 2011, the tourism agency, Visit Baltimore, plans to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's start by promoting local museum exhibits and cultural attractions with connections to the war.

Visit Baltimore officials will hold a briefing Wednesday at Camden Station to outline details of the $65,000 tourism campaign.

The tourism agency plans to use other historical events in future years to encourage people to visit Baltimore, including the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and the 100th anniversary of the abolitionist Harriet Tubman's death in 2013.

"This is kind of our theme for the next several years: history," said Tom Noonan, president and chief executive of Visit Baltimore. "People love to go places where they can see history. We're going to have a lot of reasons to visit Baltimore."

Jeffrey Buchheit, director of the Baltimore National Heritage Area in the mayor's office, said much of the planning was done by a group called the Baltimore Civil War 150th Commemoration Committee.

"It's not a downer story," he said of the tourism campaign. "It's a fascinating story about the struggle for freedom and equal rights for everyone. It's very inspiring."

The campaign is starting at the restored Camden Station, where the Sports Legends Museum is opening an exhibit Wednesday called "Riots, Railroads and the Coming of Mr. Lincoln."

Running through December, the exhibit will present stories about Abraham Lincoln's stops in Baltimore, including one before his inauguration. Actor Fritz Klein, portraying Lincoln, will appear at the museum Wednesday to re-enact the Feb. 23, 1861, pre-inauguration visit.

Money for the campaign is coming from public and private sources, including a $40,650 grant from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.

Noonan said his agency tries to build a promotional campaign based on events and exhibits that will unfold over the course of a year. He said he expects the Civil War promotion to help areas that don't have a direct tie to the war by drawing people who might not otherwise visit the city. "We feel that if we get people in town" for historical events, he said, "others will benefit as well."

Additional campaign participants include the Maryland Historical Society and the Mount Clare Museum House, as well as the B&O Railroad Museum.

The "Find Your Happy Place in Baltimore" campaign ran through much of 2010 and has now ended. In that effort, $500,000 in public and private funds was spent to purchase ads in regional publications and launch other efforts to promote Baltimore. The theme was inspired by the American Visionary Art Museum's "What Makes Us Smile?" exhibit, which continues through late summer.

After Wednesday's campaign launch and exhibit opening, the next events will come in mid-April, the 150th anniversary of the Pratt Street Riot. On April 19, 1861, four companies of the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia were attacked by a mob on Pratt Street and opened fire. Four soldiers and a dozen civilians were killed — the first blood shed in the Civil War.

Other events will include the April 16 rededication of President Street Station, which was closed briefly after the heavy snowstorms of 2010.

Tourism officials say the Civil War focus this year will lead up to 2012, when the city and state will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and Maryland's role in the conflict. The commemorations will continue in 2013, when historians will honor abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who died in 1913. Future events will commemorate the Underground Railroad and the Emancipation Proclamation.

According to Tourism Economics, a research company, tourism supports 74,000 jobs in the Baltimore area and generates more than $1.1 billion in annual tax revenue.

More information about the Civil War campaign is available at http://www.civilwarbaltimore.com.

ed.gunts@batsun.com

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