Monumentally Speaking . . .
Christopher T. George

Refurbished Key Monument to Be Site on Star-Spangled Banner Walking Tour

R efurbished Key Monument to Be Site on Star-Spangled Banner Walking Tour

     The Francis Scott Key Monument, which is undergoing renovation in Eutaw Place at Lanvale Street in Bolton Hill, will be a stop on a planned downtown Star-Spangled Banner Walking Tour. This proposed mini-tour will link to the larger 200-mile planned Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail that has been under consideration by Congress after being proposed by Senator Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland.

     Senator Sarbanes was in attendance along with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton last July for a ceremony at the Key monument as part of the White House Millennium Council's "Save America's Treasures Tour." During the same visit to Baltimore, Mrs. Clinton went to Fort McHenry and saw the handwritten draft of "The Star-Spangled Banner" from the Maryland Historical Society (MHS) brought to the fort for the occasion. On the proposed walking tour, as well as visiting the Key monument in Bolton Hill, visitors could visit the War of 1812 Room of MHS where the copy of Key's poem is kept on permanent display, as well as see the plaque in Mount Vernon Place where Key died in 1843 in a house owned by the Howard family on the site of today's Mount Vernon Methodist Church.

     At the July 1998 ceremony, Mrs. Clinton announced that a total of $62,250 had been awarded by Target Stores to help restore the monument in Bolton Hill, as part of "Save Outdoor Sculpture!"--a joint project of Heritage Preservation and the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. The money from Target Stores is being matched by state and local funding provided by the Maryland Military Monuments Commission, the Friends of the Francis Scott Key Monument, and the city's Department of Housing and Community Development.

     The Francis Scott Key monument, which was donated to the city by Charles L. Marburg, was unveiled in 1911. It is the work of French sculptor Jean Marius Antonin Mercie, an 1868 recipient of the Prix de Rome. The monument includes a bronze figure of Francis Scott Key in a rowboat rowed by a barefoot sailor. The monument captures the moment the poet returned from the British ship on which he had been detained during the September 13-14, 1814 bombardment of Fort McHenry. He is seen standing up in the rowboat holding up a copy of the poem and offering it to an allegorical figure of Columbia on a four-columned marble canopy. The standing figure of Columbia proudly holds the Stars and Stripes high and to her left side. Bronze tableaus on each side of the base of the columned canopy show on one side the Royal Navy bombarding the fort on the stormy night of September 13-14 and on the other the ramparts and cannons of the fort.

     The renovation of the monument, expected to be completed by July 31, is being undertaken by conservator Steven Tatti, S.A.T. Inc., under the auspices of the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) in partnership with the Department of Recreation and Parks. The conservation program will include: cleaning, refinishing, and rewaxing of the bronze figures and plaques; cleaning, repointing, and removal of stains from the white marble; and cleaning, repointing, and repair of the granite coping wall surrounding the fountain base. The monument actually began life as a fountain. Water used to lap up against the bronze boat but the city drained the pool to prevent the danger of children drowning.

     The proposed Star-Spangled Banner Walking Tour conceived for Baltimore would be similar to the Freedom Trail in Boston. Pending city approval, the sidewalks could possibly be marked as they are in Boston to direct people on the route to take. One proposal would be to mark the route with painted stars.

     In addition to taking in the Key monument in Bolton Hill and the sights we mentioned in Mount Vernon, one arm of the walking tour could include a walk to Fort McHenry past Federal Hill which has two War of 1812 monuments, to General Sam Smith and Major George Armistead, commander of the fort during the Battle of Baltimore.

     It could then proceed along Key Highway and Fort Avenue along a route past streets named after War of 1812 local and national heroes: Lawrence, Jackson, Hull, Boyle, Webster, Decatur, and so on. A suggestion might be to provide mini-biographies of these heroes either on plaques along the route or on a printed brochure for the walking tour.

     Another arm of the walking tour could proceed from the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House down President Street past the Civil War Museum, to Fells Point, new site of the MHS Radcliffe Maritime Museum which will help celebrate Fells Point's contribution to building the privateers that harassed British shipping during the War of 1812, and to Patterson Park, site of the redoubts where some 16,000 militia and navy sailors and marines stood ready to defend Baltimore if the British army had attacked the American positions.

     The walking tour could include sites related to riots in summer 1812 when a pro-war Republican mob attacked anti-war Federalists, wrecking a newspaper office on Gay Street; the site of a fortified house on Charles Street where Federalists under General Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, father of General Robert E. Lee, tried to fend off the mob, where the present-day USF&G Building stands; and the bloody finale when the mob attacked Federalists taken for their protection to the city jail, on the same site as today's City Jail, killing one man and wounding Lee and others.

     The tour could also include a visit to City Hall, where another War of 1812-related monument recently underwent renovation. The Centennial Eagle, a bronze statue of an American eagle on a furled Star-Spangled Banner, was originally presented to the city in 1914 by the United States Daughters of 1812 on the occasion of the centennial of the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." The eagle sculpture, which for years had been in an alcove on the east front of City Hall, subject to deterioration from pollution and pigeon droppings, has been cleaned and restored with funds from the Daughters of 1812 and the city and placed in the upstairs rotunda of City Hall, where it can be better appreciated.

     Also, under a flagstaff on the low wall of War Memorial Plaza opposite the east entrance of City Hall is a plaque placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution to mark the site of the Holliday Street Theater where the "Star-Spangled Banner" was first sung by an actor named Hardinge. City Hall, too, of course, is only a block from the Battle Monument, the city's major memorial to Baltimore's dead of the War of 1812--another recent renovation project of CHAP's.

     Other locations to visit could include the site of the Fountain Inn at Light and Redwood Streets where Key completed the poem, and the site of the offices of the Baltimore American on South Street where fourteen-year-old printer's apprentice Samuel Sands ran off the first copies of the poem as handbills. The rest, as they say, is history.

[Device] Christopher T. George is a local free-lance writer and poet and the author of the recent picture book on our city, Baltimore Close Up, from Arcadia Publishers, on sale at local bookstores.

Questions or comments about this article for Mr. George.

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