Sailabration launches War of 1812 bicentennial

Ships, planes and re-enactments commemorate war

  • The Statsraad Lehmkuhl, left, the Royal Norwegian Navy's sail training tall ship, docked at the Inner Harbor, served as backdrop for the ceremony that launched the Star-Spangled Sailabration.
The Statsraad Lehmkuhl, left, the Royal Norwegian Navy's… (Kenneth K. Lam )
June 06, 2012|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore will launch its commemoration of the War of 1812 by land, sea and air this week, starting with parachute jumps into Camden Yards and a parade of tall ships into the harbor. The history-filled week features music, fireworks and an air show over Fort McHenry.

The festivities kick off Wednesday with the arrival of 18 tall ships boasting sails on masts several stories high and dozens of Navy vessels. Visitors — as many as 1 million are expected, according to organizers — can catch glimpses of the ships in full sail entering the port and then tour and mingle with the crews.

Baltimore and Maryland stand at the forefront of the commemoration being celebrated in a number of cities, including New York, New Orleans and Norfolk, Va., because of the many battlegrounds and other historical sites here, organizers said. From a ship In Baltimore's harbor, Francis Scott Key wrote what became the national anthem and the Maryland militia stood ready as the city's last line of resistance against the invading British army.

"The ships are going to a dozen cities, but only we have the story of the national anthem and the flag," said Jill Feinberg, marketing director for Star-Spangled 200 Inc., the fundraising arm of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. "We promise so much to do and so many great events."

The ships have sailed to Baltimore often since their debut in 1976 and have been a huge draw, but organizers promise much more this time.

The U.S. Navy's "Leap Frogs" parachute team will make landings during Tuesday's Orioles game and repeat their feats Wednesday at Clifton Park, once the home of war hero Capt. Henry Thompson, and later at Patterson Park, where the militia made its stand. Free concerts, children's activities, re-enactments, and cooking demonstrations with Maryland's favorite cuisine will take place near the waterfront.

Visitors will find many opportunities to delve into the history at battle sites, meet with historians and learn about Maryland's role in what has been called the nation's second war for independence. The Maryland Historical Society opens "In Full Glory Reflected," the state's largest display of War of 1812 artifacts. Maryland Public Television will air throughout the week "Home of the Brave," a documentary film that mixes historic elements and modern dialogue.

Martin State Airport in Essex will host the Blue Angels, the Navy flight demonstration squadron, which is putting on its first air show over Fort McHenry. The airport on Eastern Avenue will put on its own two-day festival, filling its runways with vintage and modern aircraft. Fort McHenry, the birthplace of the national anthem, will be the best vantage to view the Blue Angels.

"We are the city giving people the chance to see international ships and get involved in a landslide of activities," said Tracy Baskerville, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. "This is a great opportunity to show off in the eyes of visitors and to give residents an extra appreciation for our city and help them rediscover Baltimore."

The United States, angered at GreatBritain'saggression on the high seas, declared war on what was then the most powerful nation in the world, on June 18, 1812. The British sent some 4,000 troops up the Chesapeake Bay in 1814. They burned several towns, the White House and most of the public buildings in Washington and were determined to sack Baltimore. They landed at North Point and were met by a band of militiamen, who killed their general. A fierce battle ensued in the harbor at Fort McHenry, and the Americans emerged victorious, inspiring Key's immortal tribute to the flag that continued to fly.

It is fitting that the Navy is so involved in the festivities, since many date its founding to the war that secured the freedom of seas. The city has for decades linked its celebrations to its maritime history.

"Baltimore is the centerpiece for planning this commemoration and will draw visitors from all over," said William G. Armstrong Jr., spokesman for Operation Sail, a nonprofit that focuses on maritime heritage and organizes events with historic sailing vessels from around the world. "The tall ships give nations a way to promote trade and good will and to showcase their culture and share their heritage. We are all one world sailing on the same waters."

OpSail is visiting other cities known for their roles in the war, including Norfolk, New York and New Orleans, where the last battle was fought a few months after the peace treaty was signed. Word had not reached the British and Americans in Louisiana.

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