Dick and Gayl's Cruising Adventures

Having a Blast in Baltimore

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We have been to Baltimore before, and were looking forward to visiting the festive Inner Harbor again, with all its shops and restaurants, tourist attractions and museums, and street performers. 
We thought we had a pretty good read on the place, until we decided to venture out of the Harbor and into Baltimore's historic neighborhoods, which we are finding are full of secret treasures, like the first Washington Monument, and a huge museum built by one man to store and exhibit his  collection of well over 20,000 pieces of precious artwork.
Read on and we will share the secrets we discovered.
We love this town!

Star-Spangled Buoy

July 10, 2007  Rock Hall to Baltimore
25.7 miles
We had a virtually flat water crossing of the Chesapeake to get from Rock Hall to Baltimore.  After we passed beneath the Francis Scott Key Bridge over the Patapsco River, we saw the star-spangled buoy which marks the spot where Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star Spangled Banner".  In case you are as rusty on your national anthem history as we were, Francis Scott Key was being "detained" on a British ship during the War of 1812 while British were shelling the outnumbered American forces at Fort McHenry.  After the noise of the artillery stopped, Key watched apprehensively to see what flag would be raised to signal who had control of the fort.  He was so moved by the sight of the American flag that he wrote the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the back of an envelope.  Two days later, he was released from custody, and four days after that the song was published and distributed throughout the town as a handbill.  It was chosen as our national anthem in 1931.
All that aside, on this humid and hazy day, we couldn't see the fort from the star-spangled buoy.  We cruised for fifteen more minutes before we could dimly see the fort.  If that battle had been fought on a day like today, Key wouldn't have been able to see the fort, and we would have a singable national anthem that doesn't romanticize war, like "America, the Beautiful."
We tied up at our slip at the Baltimore Inner Harbor Marine Center at 11 am.  From the aft deck of our boat we have a commanding view of the the Inner Harbor attractions -- the Baltimore Aquarium, Harbor Place, and the Science Center -- and the impressive tall buildings of Baltimore's skyline rising behind them.  Looming in front of our boat is historic Federal Hill, with a park adjacent to the marina at its base, where we sit on our boat and watch people taking trapeze classes (their time in the air is very short, compared to the amount of time spent climbing up the ladder, preparing to fly, and getting from the net safely back aground).   At night, they put up volleyball nets in the sand courts at the park, and hordes of young adults come to play in what looks like a very competitive, very serious league of strong and ruthless players.
Within a couple hours of our arrival, purple-green clouds looking like big bruises bore down on us flinging lightning with deafening thunder claps that followed in nanoseconds. Hail followed, with wind gusts that slammed the hail into the boat.  The hailstones got bigger and bigger, with some the size of golf balls.  They made big plunking sounds as they hit the water all around, and they sounded like tumblers smashing on our boat deck.
Within minutes, sirens were wailing all across the city, seemingly converging on a point somewhere nearby.  When we bought a newspaper the next day we learned that lightning struck the steeple of the 140-year-old Mount Olive Free Will Baptist Church, igniting a five-alarm fire that destroyed the 3,000 member church, despite the efforts of 150 firefighters responding with 42 pieces of equipment.   

Marina and harbor view from Federal Hill

After the rain stopped and we figured the storm had blown over, we took a walk up Federal Hill.  We vowed to look for signs of Captain John Smith, who began exploring the Chesapeake 400 years ago, in 1607.  We learned that Smith voyaged up the Patapsco River in June 1608, and documented his signting of "a great red bank of clay flanking a natural harbor basin."  Early Baltimore settlers called the place John Smith's Hill.  It became known as Federal Hill 180 years later, when 4,000 marchers had a parade therough the streets of Baltimore celebrating Maryland's ratification of the Constitution.  The parade included a 15-foot model of a full-rigged ship called the Federalist, which was anchored at the foot of the hill after the parade.  The hill was named after the boat, which was later sailed to Mount Vernon and presented to George Washington.
In 1795 a marine signal tower was built on top of Federal Hill.  Observers in the tower could see 15 miles or more down the Patapsco River on a clear day.  When the person on watch in the tower identified a vessel, he unfurled its "house flag" to give advance notice of its arrival to the merchants and shipowners awaiting it in the harbor.  The signal service operated for over 100 years, until high winds belw the tower over in 1902, and it was never replaced.
We strolled brick sidewalks through the hilly neighborhood of brick rowhouses built in the 1800s to early 1900s.  Many of the rowhouses are tiny -- just a door and a window wide, and two stories tall.  The really big houses are just three windows wide and have three stories. 
We stopped in Cross Street Market, a several block long warehouse filled with butchers and fishmongers, a flower seller, food vendors, a crab house bar and some flea market stands. At the fudge stand, the man ministering to his fudge with a wooden paddle on the marble slab was gathering quite a congregation as he preached its praises and exhorted us to say "yes"  and "amen" to the virtues of fudge, yet somehow we delivered ourselves from temptation.
The current market was built after a fire in 1951, but it stands on the site of the orginal market established with a similarly motley crew of merchants in 1846. 
The two main commercial streets of the neighborhood have restaurants serving food of every nationality you can imagine.  It was an international adventure just looking in their windows and reading menus posted outside.  We decided to dine at a gourmet Mexican Restaurant called the Blue Agave, and had what may be the best meal of our trip so far -- it was certainly the best Mexican meal we have had in many years.
It was dark by the time we walked back to our boat, and we were attracted like moths to the lights of the sand volleyball courts.  The courts were full of energetic young players making smashing serves and diving saves.  We admired their athleticism for a while, then wandered off to the nearest ice cream stand to cool off after all the exertion of our walk.

The Original Washington Monument

Wednesday, July 11 We Discover Baltimore Treasures and Secrets
We decided to let geocaches be our guide today, but we never got past the second cache, because it sucked us into a trail of discovery of secrets and treasures that held us captivated all day. 
You know we can't keep a secret, so here we go:
Secret #1: The original Washington Monument, the first monument in the nation constructed to honor George Washington, is right here in Baltimore.  It was built in 1829 (we were surprised it took that long for someplace to decide to honor George in a monumental way).  It is a cylindrical pedestal with a statue of George Washington on top, totaling 178 feet in height.  There are 228 steps leading to its observation deck, but we passed on the opportunity to climb them. 
Construction of the monument took fourteen years, and it ended up costing twice the  original estimate of $100,000.   Despite the building challenges and the big cost overrun on the monument, when the folks in D.C. decided to build their Washington Monument, they called on the same guy who did the Washington Monument in Baltimore -- Robert Mills.  The D.C. version wasn't done until 1884, 55 years after the Baltimore one, and Mills probably learned a thing or two in the intervening years.
The Monument lobby includes a bust of George Washington sculpted by Guiseppe Cerachi, who Napoleon later persuaded to come to paris to do a series of busts of him.  The trip to Paris was a bust for Cerachi -- he wasn't there long before he was executed for his involvement in a plot to murder Napoleon.
Secret #2: Francis Scott Key is the author of our motto, "In God We Trust." We learned this from a plaque on the side of the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, which was conceived as an imposing Gothic "Cathedral of Methodism" in 1872.  It was built on the site where Francis Scott Key died, in his daughter's home -- thus the plaque honoring Key on the wall of the church.  Tomorrow we will learn another facet of this secret.
Secret #3:  About a block away from the Washington Monument there is a five story art museum with a mind-boggling collection of treasures and masterpieces from ancient times through the early twentieth century, most of it collected by one man -- William Walters, and his son -- Henry, and admission is FREE!  We thought we'd just stop in to this museum we had never heard of after we visited the Washington Monument, since the museum was free and we were in the neighborhood, and the sign out front said they had a temporary exhibit of Gees Bend Quilts. 
After about 15 minutes, we knew The Walters Art Museumn could trap us for the whole day.  And, except for an hour break to go shopping for supplies at a bead store nearby, we did spend the whole day there, until they shut the place down at 5 p.m., and locked the doors behind us as we left. 
We started with the quilts, which the museum exhibited not only with labels telling about the quilt and quilt-maker, but also with perspective from local art students who visited Gees Bend and met the quilters.  We have seen other exhibits of Gees Bend quilts and read about them, but one secret we learned from this exhibit was that part of the isolation and poverty of these quilters resulted from the county cutting off ferry service to Gees Bend in the 1960s, when residents started taking the ferry to the county seat to register to vote.  Ferry service was only reinstated within the past few years.
The Museum has great curatorial labels, and they have free audioguides that you can use to hear additional curation and commentary on many of the exhibited works.  We enjoy audioguides, and use them whenever they are available, but the guided commentary choices in this museum were extraordinary -- they had kid-oriented curation, music curation (relating music of the time to the painting), a faith-based commentary, a museum director's choice track, and a couple other options.  If we listened to and read all the information available to us, we could only have covered a few galleries.
So, we did a little of everything, just sampling the works that intrigued us as we wandered the galleries.  The problem was, it was all so intriguing, and precious, and mind-boggling to think that a father and son managed to accumulate most of the work on display, treasures spanning 55 centuries, from Ancient Egypt to Impressionist France, massive medieval tapestries to tiny Faberge eggs, jeweled swords, armor, paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters, Tiffany glass, stained glass windows from the 1100s, Greek art, French art, exquisite furniture, delicate carvings in ivory and iron and wood. . . an abundance of so many beautiful things it would take many visits to even begin to find favorites.
We tagged on to a tour with a curator, and learned many things, but our favorite story was about the history of the museum's largest painting, a 10' by 15' masterpiece by Tiepolo.  When the museum had it shipped over from Italy, it fell in the river when it was being unloaded in New York.  After they fished it out, it was cleaned and restored, and hung over a stairwell beneath a skylight. Because it was dull and a bit damaged, they thought it was a workshop piece, not highly valued for a work by Tiepolo.  Then there was a big snowstorm, power went out and the skylight leaked -- by the time power was restored and someone noticed the damage to the skylight, water from melting snow was running down the painting, and had been for some time.  The painting came down for yet another massive cleaning and restoration project, this time removing many layers from sections of the painting that were poorly repainted during past conservation efforts.  The result -- $11 million later a masterpiece was revealed hidden beneath all the layers of abuse.  Best of all, the insurance company paid the $11 million restoration costs.
How can it cost $11 million to restore just one painting?  Here's a secret to painting restoration we learned from the curator -- one of the primary methods of cleaning is with a tiny brush and spit.  It takes a long time to generate enough spit to clean a 10' by 15' painting.

Raising the replica flag

Thursday, July 12  A very big flag, and more
We couldn't leave Baltimore without a visit to Fort McHenry.  We took the water taxi over to the fort as soon as the taxis started running, at 10:00.  Because we had to transfer taxis two times to get to the fort, it took us nearly an hour to get there.  First we watched the National Park Service movie about the fort, which ends very dramatically with a curtain at the side of the theatre opening to reveal a window wall looking out upon the fort's flagpole with the flag flying (it flys 24/7, per Presidential order), while "The Star-Spangled Banner" is being sung on the film soundtrack.
This fort is really all about the flag, and we were lucky enough to be there at noon on a day when they changed the flag from their very big storm size flag to a gargantuan fair weather flag.  The fair weather flag is a nylon replica of the wool 30 foot by 42 foot flag Francis Scott Key saw when he was inspired to write our national anthem. It will not unfurl in winds less than five miles per hour, and it puts a dangerous stress on the flagstaff at winds over twelve miles per hour, so the "fair weather" window when it can fly is very narrow.  Since we didn't know anything in advance about the weather limitations for flying the replica flag, or about the audience participation flag-raising opportunity at noon when conditions are right, we felt very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
We showed up for what we thought was a noontime ranger talk, and found that the ranger was more action than talk -- he was planning to change the flags, and he needed the help of lots of fort visitors to hold the edges of the replica flag to keep it from touching the ground.  Dick and I took turns holding the flag edge and photographing the process.  Once the flag was raised, we both agreed that we lost the perspective of just how huge it was.  Hands-on learning can't be beat.
Since we have seen a lot of forts on this trip, and on so many others, we didn't linger long around Fort McHenry to poke into the little rooms to see how tough life was for the soldiers stationed there.  We hopped on the water taxi, and headed to Fells Point to explore another Baltimore historic neighborhood.
Fells Point was established on the harbor shore in 1726, and it was known for its ship-building.  Over 600 ships were built in Fells Point during its heyday, including renowned Chesapeake Clippers. 
Today, Fells Point is a popular bar, tavern and restaurant district, with cobblestone streets that will twist your ankle if you don't watch your step.  We lunched there, then decided to walk the streets of Fells Point into Little Italy and on to Harbor Place.
Along the way we came across the Baltimore Public Works Museum, housed in a historic pumping station.  We had heard from Roxanne and Lenny that it was surprisingly good, and we got there just an hour before they closed, so we decided to give it a try.  It was worth about an hour to think about all the things public works does to keep the city clean and safe, but I didn't have trouble ripping myself away from the place.  I did have a little trouble ripping Dick away from the garbage truck driving simulator.  Dick kept trying to crash his garbage truck into school buses and police cars to see how much damage he could rack up on the truck and how many citations he could get  for reckless driving.  When he finally left the simulator, the wheels on the truck were all wobbling when it moved,  and a message at the bottom of the screen urgently advised him to get it to the garage for repairs.
We intended to stay in Baltimore two days, but we were having so much fun we stretched it to three.  We might have decided to stay even longer, but we got a call from our friends aboard Avalon telling us that there are log canoe races this weekend around the Chester River and Langford Creek.  We have never seen a log canoe race, and we have never had a bad recommendation from Peggy and Mike, so we are off to join them at the races.
Here's a secret we learned when we visited Fort McHenry: "The Star-Spangled Banner" has four verses.
Here are the three you don't know.  Be sure to read the last line of the last verse (before the chorus), to see the origin of our national motto.
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected new shines in the stream,
  'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
  O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, shale leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
  And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
  O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov'd home, and the war's desolation,
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land,
Praise the Power that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto -- "In God is our Trust,"
   And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
   O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.