Years ago I took my kids, separately, to Ft. McHenry on Memorial Day. They haven’t forgotten.

Fort McHenry in Baltimore, birthplace of our national anthem, is a great place to take the kids on Memorial Day. A few years ago I took GoofBoy and we had a blast. He climbed over the walls and the cannons, we went into every nook and cranny of the fort together. Because it was Memorial Day, there were brief ceremonies and volunteers in period costume answering questions.

Best of all, when we got home he re-created the Battle of Baltimore with Legos. He gave me a tour. There was Ft. McHenry (it is very hard to build a star fort with Lego bricks) and nearby was a squadron of British ships. Then he proudly pointed to a ship that was separate from the others with a little Lego person on it.

“Daddy, that’s the truce ship and that’s Francis Scott Key watching the battle.”

Wow, he paid attention. Key, a DC lawyer, was on a truce ship negotiating with the British for the release of American prisoners during the battle. It was from truce ship that he watched the Battle of Baltimore, saw the flag still waving, and was inspired to write the Star-Spangled Banner.

This year, I took GoofGirl. She had been asking to go and was very excited to “climb on the cannons.”

It was astoundingly hot (Ft. McHenry was originally swampland.) But our first discovery was the bomb shelter, which is underground and pleasantly cool. We watched the bagpipers and observed the National Moment of Silence. We wandered in and out of the buildings of the fort. I wanted to stay and read every plaque and exhibit but GoofGirl urged me on. Still, she asked some questions of and of the costumed docents about life at the fort. She was particularly interested in the description of the green slime on the walls of the fort’s prison.

Unfortunately, there were big signs saying “Do not climb on the cannons.” So we looked (and touched) but that was it.

GoofGirl was disappointed, for her this was the whole point of the trip. But she didn’t complain. Still, I felt as though this trip had not been the rousing success that the GoofBoy expedition several years earlier had been. Maybe forts are kind of a boy thing. When I asked what her favorite part of the day was, she told me it was swimming in the pool at her grandparents later on. Fair enough. Maybe I should have bought her something at the gift shop…

But, when she came home from school today, she announced, “I wrote four pages in my journal about Fort McHenry. Can I read them to you?”

“Of course!”

And she did. She recounted the trip in great detail: particularly how kids are free, how during the Battle of Baltimore people sat up on their roofs to watch the fighting, and how “a lawyer on a truce ship” saw the American flag still flying despite all the British bombs and was inspired to write our national anthem.

Mission accomplished.

Originally published at on June 1, 2016.

AAAS Policy Fellow, formerly @UMIACS (specializing in international security), did a PhD on vice presidents, interested in a lot of stuff

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