West End News July 9

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Uss_constellation_baltimore.jpg

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This is a totally different West End News column. I got thoroughly steeped in Fourth of July yesterday. Some items from long ago popped into my head and they won't leave until I write about them. So here goes.
 
I grew up in Baltimore, the location of Fort McHenry, which is the site of the battle that inspired the Star Spangled Banner. Every fifth grade public school student in Baltimore took a field trip to Fort McHenry. There were no school busses, so we traveled by streetcar to the wharf where we boarded an ancient steamboat for the brief trip across the harbor to the fort.
 
At that time Fort McHenry was in deteriorated condition. We got off the boat and tramped around the fort with very little explanation about what we were seeing. Then we assembled in the center of the fort, listened to a brief patriotic speech, sang the first verse of the Star Spangled Banner, got back on the boat and went home. A very confusing day for me and my classmates.
 
Many years later we attended the national convention of the Association of Counties. One of the entertainment items was a trip to Fort McHenry. By then there was a street to the fort, so we did not have to take the steamer.
 
I could not believe my eyes when we got there. The fort was totally rehabilitated. We were greeted by a uniformed re-enactor who portrayed a soldier of the revolutionary time. Just as we arrived a busload of school kids arrived. They looked like fifth graders to me. Their reception at the fort was worlds different than mine had been.
 
They were met at the gate by two soldiers who identified the group as recruits. They were lined up and told that the British were about to attack the fort from the sea. They would be responsible for manning the gun ports, but above all they needed to sound the alarm when the British ships were sighted.
 
One of the soldiers had a big spy telescope, which he handed to one of the kids to see if the British were in sight. The student yelled that a ship was in sight, and passed the glass around so others could see for themselves. The soldiers demanded to know if they were certain that the ship was British. They told the kids to look for the flag on the stern of the ship. Considerable panic took place because they could not see the flag.
 
The soldiers replaced the spyglass with a different one that they said was "stronger", and sure enough the flag could be seen, but it was an American flag! You can just imagine the reaction of the students after all of that build-up. The soldiers once again organized the students into formation and dismissed the troops from duty.
 
I was curious as to how the whole act was carried off. After telling the soldiers about my dismal experience at the fort decades before, they let me in on their secret. The spyglasses had transparent photos of a man of war in the front of the glass. The first ship had no visible flag, but the second had a very visible flag. A harmless trick that really pumped up a group of kids. I forgot my fifth grade trip to the fort. I am sure that this group of students never forgot theirs.
 
On the same trip we visited the Revolutionary War ship "Constellation" which was docked in the Baltimore Harbor. The reason for our trip was that a friend, Dick Brown, had served on the Constellation when he was a young man in the Navy. Dick is the father of Nancy Cihlar and Kathy O'Neill of Lutsen. Dick had asked us to see if we could take pictures of the interior of the ship for him. Would you believe that the first sign that we saw said “No Pictures.” We appealed our case to the ship commander who granted permission, seeing as how Dick had served on the ship, but we could not touch or move anything. So, mission accomplished then, but now I and WTIP have an immediate mission to accomplish. We ask your financial support for WTIP. The West End folks tell me that they listen to WTIP a lot. That is great to hear and now we ask that you call 387-1070 to offer financial support. Thanks a lot!
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