Reporting Jay Lloyd
Guns blazing in a landlocked naval battle on Lake Erie, a British blockade within sight of Lewes, Delaware and the creation of a national anthem as the cannons of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry held off an invading fleet. These and more regional events commemorate a 200-year-old war that’s being remembered during nationwide bicentennial celebrations. Here’s where you’ll find them in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. – Jay Lloyd
BALTIMORE INNER HARBOR
The premier event commemorating the War of 1812 will launch in nearby Baltimore from June 13th to 19th. The battle of Baltimore Harbor bears a special significance because it inspired the creation of our national anthem. Fort McHenry and the flag that caught the eye of Francis Scott Key–amid the “rocket’s red glare”–will be a magnet for visitors. It’s just a water taxi ride away from the Inner Harbor and Fels Point, where an international fleet of tall ships and warships will dock and be open for visitors. Harborside hotels are offering packages that include accommodations and events. The most convenient and scenic way to get around is by water taxi and tour boat.
NEW YORK CITY FLEET WEEK
Ships of the world’s navies and the U.S. Coast Guard will sail into New York Harbor and be on display along the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island waterfronts until the end of May. A parade of sail traditionally starts “Fleet Week,” as an eye-catching combination of magnificent sailing vessels and warships glide up the Hudson River among the yachts and recreation boats, to pass in review at the Intrepid Museum. The War of 1812 bicentennial and the role of America’s sea services will be front and center. A full schedule of events involving units of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard is anchored here.
Lewes, Delaware took a pounding from the British fleet as it tried to pry loose supplies from reluctant townspeople while the Redcoats set up a blockade of the Delaware Bay and river. The “Cannonball House,” on Shipcarpenter Street, is a vivid reminder of action. It has been converted into a museum containing a nautical smorgasbord of seagoing artifacts and history. The entire complex of 18th century buildings, maintained by the Lewes Historical Society, is a fascinating voyage into the era of America’s passage from Colonial to both Revolutionary and War of 1812 eras. Lewes is close to the beaches and seashore resorts at Rehoboth, Bethany and Dewey.
“The Home of the Brave” is an exhibition that traces the history of America’s nautical role in the War of 1812, which many consider an extension of Europe’s Napoleonic Wars. This will be highlighted at the Independence Seaport Museum at Penn’s Landing. The story is told in the words of sailors and witnesses, the music and social life of the times, as well as the political forces that lit the fuse. Or head to Fort Mifflin at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. On June 2nd, the historic fort will offer reenactments and living history displays revolving around the War of 1812.
Erie Maritime Museum
Pennsylvania’s major contribution during the War of 1812 was building a fleet of warships under the command of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry at Erie, in the northwest corner of the state. This fleet soundly defeated the British in the Battle of Lake Erie under Perry’s battle flag motto, “Don’t give up the ship.” If you’re up for a trip to Erie, you’ll find Perry’s flagship, The Niagara, open to visitors when it’s in port and docked at the Erie Maritime Museum. Built on a surviving part of the original ship, this is a faithfully reproduced rendition of the vessel that sailed into action and offers a view of the cramped quarters and low overhead beams that forced sailors to duck walk through the ship. I had many bumps on my head while sailing aboard her on a cruise from Newport, R.I. to Philadelphia as a reminder of just how low.
Three cruises will be sailing the Great Lakes this summer. If you have an adventurous spirit and want to go, check it out here.
Bicentennials are rare events. Take advantage of any you can find, especially one as steeped in American lore as the War of 1812.