The “Star Spangled Banner.” Fort McHenry. Frederick Douglass. William Fell. The U.S.S. Constellation. The Middle Passage. Billie Holiday. Thomas Boyle. Henry Dashiell.
After moving to Baltimore about a year ago, these people, places, and things began to seep into my conciousness. Walking to the harbor and around to Federal Hill from my home in Fell’s Point, I frequently passed the Constellation. Waiting for the water taxi at the Maritime Museum, I read the sign about Frederick Douglass and Isaac Myers. Driving past the Visionary Art Museum in the early morning, I would see the words “O say can you see.”
Up to now, I have never paid too much attention to all the historical stimuli in Baltimore. During Sailabration, I watched some ships come in. I thought, “That looks nifty,” and that was that. I listened to some folks explain how Fort McHenry had successfully repelled the British attack on Baltimore Harbor, but I just mentally catalogued “another American defeat of the British,” and promptly returned my attention to whatever gravely important issue I happened to be dealing with. (My computer is acting a little sluggish—the horror!)
But when I really sit still and reflect on history, though, it seems that nothing I deal with should be stressful. I never had to secretly teach myself to read during the rare moments when my “owners” weren’t forcing me to work without pay (Frederick Douglass). I was never tasked with negotiating the release of an American prisoner of war, which meant that I would have to spend time with the enemy while they did their best to take down the city of Baltimore (Francis Scott Key and The Star Spangled Banner).
Everyone who appreciates history probably has their own “pet nugget” from the past. The stories of the privateers drew me into the 1812 era. Many of them were merchants unable to go about their business due to the British blockade. “All’s fair in war,” said the U.S. government, so the merchants loaded up their ships with guns instead of goods, accepted enormous risks, and set out to take their profits from the British merchants by force. Were they “good” men? Who knows? Given extreme circumstances, they adapted their methods of making a living, and brought an end to the war in the process.
Baltimore offers tons of opportunities to get in touch with the past. In doing so, we can apply those lessons to the present, even if that lesson is simply “Buck up!”