Thursday, August 20, 2009

Vacation: Day 3 Baltimore

By the time we arrived in Patapsco State Park just outside of Baltimore it was 9 or 9:30 pm. As we approached the entrance to the park I saw a sign that simultaneously made my brain click with recognition and my stomach sink. It said,

Tunnel Ahead Low Clearance
Max Height 11 ft 6 in.
Use Alternate Entrance

In the instant I read that sign I remembered a note I had read on the park website months ago as I planned the trip. Anyone entering from the east (Hwy. 40) had to pass through a tunnel. Those entering from he west (I-70) did not. I also remembered thinking, "Oh, that's no big deal for us because we'll be coming from I-70." Um, yeah. That was before we decided to go to Gettysburg first instead of at the end of the trip. I knew Mom and Dad's 30ft fifth wheel camper wouldn't make it. And it was my fault.

You see I was the instigator of this trip. The planner. The researcher. Dad usually handles all of that but he's never been to the East Coast and Brian and I have so we took the lead this time. I thought I had all of my i's dotted and t's crossed, but apparently not.

The problem was by the time I had come to this conclusion we were already heading down the hill toward the tunnel, leading my parents to an inevitable dead end. Sure enough. Dad stopped to measure the camper and discovered it was 12 ft. tall. He would have to turn around. In the dark. On a hill. In a small two lane street. Needless to say he wasn't happy.

Brian and I pulled through the tunnel and on to the guard shack to register. We explained why the rest of our party wasn't behind us. The ranger on duty seemed worried. He didn't think Dad would be able to turn a rig that big around. He jumped in his truck and rushed down to help out. By the time he got there Dad had back all the way up the hill and managed to turn around. The ranger was shocked. I wasn't.

I've seen Dad back all kinds of equipment in to all kinds of holes. There is nothing he can't maneuver. After a lifetime of driving machinery he is pretty good at backing up in all kinds of situations....and my mom is good at directing him. I had complete confidence that they'd get it turned around...eventually. I took a while and I am glad I wasn't there to incur Dad's wrath as he had to do it. Ryker was riding with them and Dad told me later, "Don't ask Ryker what I was saying about you."

Anyway, they made a u-turn and came in the other entrance and all was well....for about 2 minutes. We located our campsite and discovered that it would take another miraculous backing feat for Dad to get the camper in the narrow site. Now not only had a I chosen the entrance with the tunnel I had reserved a campsite that was going to take 30 minutes to back in to. I feel sorry for the other campers that had to listen to Dad's diesel truck roaring around forward and backward, spinning the tires, driving through ditches and in to the edge of the woods until he finally had the camper positioned in the site. It was quite the experience.

It was close to 11 pm by the time we got all set up and settled in to bed. By 1 am it was raining and Brian and I were stumbling around half asleep trying to pull the tarp over our tent. You see, we had learned our lesson from sleeping in a sopping tent the two previous vacations. I told Brian I would never spend another night in our tent without a tarp big enough to cover THE ENTIRE TENT on standby in case of rain. This was the first time we needed it. When we got it out of the package it was humongous!!! Our tent is 10 ft. long and in order to get a tarp long enough we had to get one that was immensely wide. That thing was so big we could barely wrestle it around in the dark, in the rain without waking up the whole campground. We finally got it in position and crawled back in to our bed.....just as the rain stopped. Of course.

The next morning we woke up early and started to pack up. About the time we had breakfast finished and everything loaded except the tent it started to pour down rain. Of course we had already removed the tarp. So.....we had to wait out the deluge and pack up a wet tent to start the day. Mom and Dad parked the camper at a local Wal-Mart and jumped in with us to head to Baltimore's Inner Harbor. I do have to note that I couldn't have chosen a better campground as far as location was concerned. In 2 minutes we were on the Interstate and in 10 minutes we were parked downtown.

We got the scoop at the welcome center and decided to use the Water Taxi for our transportation for the day.

The day was a little gray and misty but it was clearing and warming up rapidly. We chose Fort McHenry as our first port of call.

As we cruised around picking up passengers at various locations we got a great tour of the harbor. We saw these naval vessels....

and the Domino Sugar plant....

and this huge sea going cargo ship.

When we arrived at the Fort (after two transfers, good practice for the DC metro) the sun was shining brightly. On the recommendation of our Water Taxi captain we watched the 15 minute movie in the museum before heading out to walk around in the actual fort. The movie was good. It told the story of The Star Spangled Banner and Francis Scott Key's inspiration flying over Ft. McHenry on that morning back in 1814.

In a nutshell Dr. William Beannes, a prominent business man who refused to give British soldiers quarter in his home, had been imprisoned on a British ship that was sitting in the Baltimore Harbor. Key, a Washington D.C. lawyer was sent to negotiate his release. While sitting in the truce ship arguing with the British guards the bombardment of Ft. McHenry began. Key and Beannes watched in horror all through the night as fire was exchange between the fort and the British vessels. In the morning (by the dawn's early light) Key could see the gigantic flag flying over the fort and knew that the Americans had been successful in holding of the siege of the fort and ultimate control of the city and shipping of Baltimore. He immediately sat down and wrote the poem that later became our national anthem. Beannes was released, Key went home, and the British never attached the harbor at Baltimore again.

At the end of the movie these giant curtains on the side of the theatre opened to reveal a perfectly framed view of the flag flying over Ft. McHenry, just as it did 200 years ago, as the Star Spangled Banner plays over the loud speakers. It was really neat!

After the history lesson we were ready to head out to see the Fort itself.

The fort is built in a star shape. Each "point" has cannons facing out toward the water.

There is a dry moat surrounding the fort so that the soldiers could walk around the exterior without being vulnerable to enemy fire. Inside the fort there are barracks for the soldiers and officers as well as ammunition storage and stables for the horses.

The barracks actually seemed pretty comfortable....except for the fact that the men slept two to a bed slightly bigger than a twin size.

As we toured the fort we heard the band play some music of the day. We didn't recognize most of the songs but one of them was definitely, "I'm squishin' up my baby bumblebee. Won't my mommy be so proud of me...." Apparently it originally had different, more patriotic, lyrics.

General George Armistead commanded the Fort during the bombardment by the British. Amazingly the enemy only managed to land one direct hit (killing 9 men) on Fort McHenry during the entire 25 hour engagement. However, the stress of the campaign overwhelmed Armistead and in a weakened condition he died a few months later.

Although it stayed in service for 130 more years Ft. McHenry never saw any more battle action after that day. During the Civil War the Fort served as a military prison, confining many confederate soldiers and Maryland civilians convicted of being Confederate sympathizers. During World War I several other buildings (now removed) were added to the site and it was used as a military hospital for troops returning from the European conflict. As it's final duty before becoming a National Landmark it served as a Coast Guard base during World War II, once again protecting the port of Baltimore.

The Fort was a really interesting place to visit. The boys really liked it and we all learned a lot. The whole experience got even better when we saw the actual flag now known as the Star Spangled Banner in the Smithsonian....but that's a story for another day., boats and more boats....oh yeah, and some crabcakes.

Baltimore: To Be Continued...

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