Mayor taken to hospital amid harbor festivities

Complains of shortness of breath; held for observation

  • The Star Spangled Spectacular Concerts and firework show at Fort McHenry to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the National Anthem.
The Star Spangled Spectacular Concerts and firework show at… (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore…)
September 14, 2014|By Ian Duncan | The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was hospitalized Saturday night after complaining of shortness of breath at the Star-Spangled Spectacular festivities at Fort McHenry.

The mayor delivered her remarks at the event, which included the vice president and the British ambassador, before leaving the stage around 8 p.m., mayoral spokesman Kevin Harris said. She was alert and communicating with staffers and family, he said.

Harris said Sunday Rawlings-Blake was resting comfortably at the hospital but he had not been discharged from the hospital. Doctors were planning to run more test Sunday, Harris said.

"We are optimistic that she will be discharged as soon as possible," Harris said.

He declined to name the hospital due to privacy concerns. Rawlings-Blake has had not previously experienced such symptoms while in office, he added.

In 2010, the mayor was hospitalized for 11 hours after she awoke before dawn with chest pains, numbness and dizziness. Doctors then performed a battery of tests and determined that the 39-year-old was suffering from gastrointestinal difficulties, she said.

Tests at the time, including an EKG and a stress test, indicated the mayor was in "excellent health" and ruled out serious medical concerns such as a heart attack or a stroke.

Saturday's incident was handled quietly and went unnoticed by most of those at the fort for the event. Amid music and elaborate fireworks, Baltimore continued its celebration of the defense of Fort McHenry and the birth of the national anthem, raising a huge garrison flag — the defiant symbol that the fort's defenders raised two centuries ago to show they had survived the British bombardment.

Fireworks filled the sky over the Inner Harbor, including one multi-colored arrangement in the shape of the Star-Spangled Banner. The display — the largest ever staged in the city — began after the singing of the national anthem and a speech by Vice President Joe Biden built around Francis Scott Key's 200-year-old question: "O, say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave?"

"The resounding answer is yes," Biden said. "We are Americans and every American enemy who ever faced us has learned it has never, ever been a good bet to bet against the United States of America."

The celebration started as dusk gathered over the old fort, with dignitaries taking the stage under a pink-streaked sky. For most of the evening the performers were backed by a smaller storm flag, the same size as the one that flew over the fort on the night of the battle when the Royal Navy launched a 25-hour bombardment from the harbor.

Sir Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador, said any animosity between the United States and Britain had long since passed. "Despite what happened 200 years ago it's a huge privilege to be here," he said. "Two centuries on we still count each other as indispensable allies."

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi spoke of her childhood in the city, growing up just two blocks from the Flag House where the banner was sewn. Like other speakers, she threaded together the special meaning of the battle with Key's words, which became an anthem for all Americans and held special significance to Baltimore.

The U.S. Marine Band, which filled the stage with striking red and white uniforms, formed the heart of the show, playing a suite of patriotic music.

The band was later joined by the blue-robed Morgan State Choir and singer Jordin Sparks to perform the national anthem.

As they sang, the 30-by-42-foot garrison flag — as large as the one Key saw flying after the battle was over — was run up the fort's flagpole before the sky erupted with fireworks on two sides.

The booming pops and sparks of the display continued for close to half an hour as the giant flag fluttered in a breeze over the ramparts.

Pier Six sported two stages for its role in the Star-Spangled Spectacular, and had a full, vociferous audience to greet a cross-section of American music. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by Marin Alsop, backed Broadway, country, soul and rock artists on the program, which was broadcast nationally on PBS and was interspersed with narratives about the Battle of Baltimore.

"This is the biggest anniversary party I've ever seen," Melissa Etheridge told the crowd.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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