Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland

BY TONY HARRINGTON

Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland as a child who was interested in history was an awesome experience.  The city was brimming with historical landmarks that were rich with stories of our nations past.  From Edgar Alan Poe’s home and burial spot, to the history of Johns-Hopkins Hospital, from the final docking spot of the U.S.S. Constellation to the historic Fort McHenry there was plenty of stories to go around.

Hiding behind the stories told by tour guides during the day at some of the locations were darker stories that were whispered from the lips of employees and visitors that told of strange goings-on in these incredible institutions.

Among the many sites rumored to be haunted in Baltimore, perhaps the most famous is Fort McHenry.

Construction on the fort as we know it today was completed in 1798 by French architect Jean Foncin. The fort was named after the Secretary of War serving under President George Washington, James McHenry. Fort McHenry was completed after America won its independence from Britain and was designed to secure the port of Baltimore from attack.

The Fort stands on the Locust Point peninsula that sticks out into the harbor. The design is a classic 5-star shape surrounded by a dry moat.

Shortly after completion the War of 1812 came to the Port of Baltimore as British ships tried to enter the harbor. The battle raged for 25 hours beginning on September 13, 1814 at six a.m. and ending on the morning of September 14, 1814.

During the bombardment on the Fort a young lawyer who had come to Baltimore to negotiate the release of a political prisoner of war was so moved by the attack and the sight of a flag sewn by a local seamstress Mary Pickersgill which remained standing during the attack that he penned a poem called “The Defense of Fort McHenry.”  That lawyer was Francis Scott Key and the poem he penned would later become the National Anthem of the United States and re-titled “The Star Spangled Banner”.

During the attack on the fort 4 people lost their lives including a black soldier and an unfortunate woman who was cleaved in half by a bomb as she carried supplies to the soldiers on the battle front. Additionally 24 soldiers were wounded during the attack.

During the Civil-War the fort served as a prison for confederate prisoners as well as a myriad of public political figures who were accused of being confederate sympathizers. There were deaths reported during this phase.

Fort McHenry went on to serve as an enormous hospital for troops returning from the battlefront of World War I. Several lives were lost at the fort during this time.

The history of the fort coupled with the tragic loss of life witnessed within its walls and within the harbor just beyond have led to rumors that there is something not at rest on the grounds. Visitors report a sense of dread, the feeling of being watched, and the sensation of movement around them when no one else is nearby.

Docents who work at the fort recounting history to tour groups remain tight-lipped about their experiences during the day, but secretly admit to experiencing paranormal phenomenon that defies logical explanation. One worker who tells stories from the prison cells to passers-by during the well it hours of day recalls a time when someone prevented his evening departure when the last of the tour groups had made their way through.

This particular worker had always felt as if he was not alone in the prison cell that he occupied during the day. In order to humor himself and provide some comfort he took to calling his invisible friend “George”, assuming it was the ghost of former Baltimore Mayor George William Brown who was a political prisoner at the fort during the civil war era. Each night before the worker would leave his post and head for home he would wish George a goodnight. One particular evening the worker failed to bid his ghostly friend adieu and the worker claims that as he pulled the cell door open to exit it felt as if someone had slammed the door closed.

He tried once again to make an exit and once more the door was ripped from his grasp and slammed closed forcefully. It was then that the docent felt someone push him away from the exit and further back into the cell. The employee was terrified, but realizing his departure from his standard parting salutation he cried out, “Goodnight George!”

The cell door creaked open slowly and the worker was permitted to leave the cell without further incident.

Many visitors to Fort McHenry report seeing the figure of a black male with a rifle resting on his shoulder as he paces back on forth seemingly on patrol. Many believe it is the spirit of the only black man to lose his life in the bombardment on the fort during the War of 1812.

Workers and visitors alike have also reported shadow figures, the smell of gunpowder, the sound of crying, and drums being played in the distance.  Allegedly, a malevolent energy haunts the interior halls of the fort that has attacked and/or frightened workers at the fort.

Regardless of the paranormal activity, Fort McHenry is an incredible place to visit where one can reflect on the birth of a nation, the origin of the Star Spangled Banner, or simply enjoy a picnic lunch on the very grounds where once a battle raged between the British and the Americans for the Port of Baltimore.

For more information of Fort McHenry, please visit the official website of National Parks Services.

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