Has it really been 200 years since we didn't invade Canada? Boy, time sure flies when you're evolving from colonial upstart to global superpower. But it's true; exactly two centuries ago this month the young United States of America went to war with her domineering mother country, Great Britain—which was stealing our sailors, interfering with our global commerce, and being very stubborn about its claim on a sizable chunk of North America. We declared war on June 18, 1812, and spent the remainder of that year failing to invade Canada. In 1813 the British brought the war to our neck of the woods, raiding, pillaging and burning towns and settlements up and down the Bay—capping off those insults in August of 1814 with a nearly uncontested march on Washington, which they thoroughly burned. Less than a month later they turned their attention on Baltimore, but that city turned out to be far better defended. American troops amassed along the Patapsco and the batteries of Fort McHenry combined to repel the invasion—and the latter of course inspired Francis Scott Key's poem "Defense of Fort McHenry," which was soon set to music and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner."
And so now we celebrate! Both Virginia and Maryland have a lot of exciting activities cooked up for the bicentennial celebration, the biggest of which will be the tall-ship spectacular OpSail 2012, which anchors the celebration in Norfolk and Hampton Roads in early June. Then it will travel—en masse, as one giant parade of sail, no less—to Baltimore, where it will serve as the centerpiece of Maryland's 1812 "Star-Spangled Sailabration" celebration.
Here we offer the details (as many as we can accommodate, anyway) of all the star-spangled celebrations this month. Happy bicentennial!
The festivities will commence conveniently on June 1 at the mouth of the Bay. So we'll start there, in Virginia Beach, and make our way up the Bay! The City of Virginia Beach is hosting the patriotic Virginia Beach Oceanfront Air Show (www.whisperconcerts.com), June 1 to 3, daily from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Its biggest draw will be the Blue Angels, but will also include military and civilian aircraft demonstrations, parachute teams and patriotic concerts. Moving inland a bit to Hampton, Va., the party shifts from sky to sea as tall ships begin to arrive in Hampton to kick-off the annual Blackbeard Pirate Festival (www.blackbeardfestival.com). The Blackbeard festival, June 1 to 3, will be its usual raucous self, complete with rowdy pirate reenactors, sea battle reenactments and fireworks, but will be joined this year by the Pride of Baltimore II. Yorktown, Va. (www.visityorktown.org), will also be holding its festivities June 1 to 3. Patriotic as always, Yorktown will open its ceremonies with the Fifes and Drums of Yorktown, then the public is welcome to tour several U.S. Coast Guard and Navy ships, as well as the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery ships. If you're on the Eastern Shore that weekend, Onancock will be hosting the schooner Sultana at the town wharf, which will be open for tours. Other activities in Onancock will include decoy carving demonstrations, 1812 lectures, concerts, watermen's heritage displays and family activities. Visit www.onancock.org for the full weekend schedule.
Moving on to opening events for the OpSail Virginia celebration, the new Sea and Air Parade will feature both ships and aircraft from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, NOAA and other government entities and private organizations. The fleet of naval ships will travel from Cape Henry, through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, past Fort Monroe and on to Norfolk, where the first ships are due to arrive at noon, after which many will be open for free public tours. Visit www.opsail2012virginia.com for the ships' schedules.
After the naval vessels have made their way into port, the international fleet of tall ships will begin gathering on June 7, anchoring in Lynnhaven Roads, just outside the bridge-tunnel. The fleet will leave the anchorage at 7 a.m. on June 8, and travel through bridge-tunnel (between trestles A and B), past Fort Monroe and then into the Elizabeth River and Norfolk. The first ships are due to arrive at Town Point Park in Norfolk at noon. For a list of the best places to view the parade, as well as the participating ships, and rules for recreational vessels navigating near the parade, visit www.opsail2012virginia.com.
Once the tall ships arrive, the party in Norfolk and Portsmouth will really start. In Norfolk, the arrival of the tall ships signals the start of Norfolk's annual Harborfest celebration (www.festevents.org), which will occupy Town Point Park and the majority of the Norfolk waterfront Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. midnight, and Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Over the course of the weekend, there will be national and regional music artists playing on two stages, roving entertainers, arts and crafts vendors, food, a dock-dog competition, boatbuilding competition and on-the-water activities, children's activities, and a monstrous fireworks display, synchronized to a patriotic score (Sat. Jun. 9, 9:30 p.m.). Outside of Harborfest, there will also be a military encampment, with reenactors from multiple periods of U.S. military history, a mock archaeological dig prepared for kids, hosted by Tidewater Community College, and a nightly "Swingtime Salute" WWII revue party on the deck of the U.S.S. Wisconsin (www.vastage.com).
Across the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth, the fun continues Friday–Sunday with more free ship tours, free concerts at North Landing, 1812 exhibits at the Old Coast Guard Museum and Virginia Sports Hall of Fame museums, and family fun and activities at the TopSail Café at Ocean Marine.
An affiliate port in the OpSail Virginia party, Cape Charles, Va., (www.tallshipscapecharles.com.) will also be hosting a weekend-long party, with three tall ships in the town harbor, concerts, arts and crafts vendors, historical reenactments, historic-buildings tours at nearby Eastville, Va., children's activities and evening harbor parties.
On June 12, the party will begin to move north. Following a blessing of the fleet in Norfolk, the fleet of 30-plus ships, accompanied by more than 100 recreational boats, will begin its journey north to Baltimore at 6 a.m. The fleet will maintain a speed of six knots and is anticipated at the mouth of the Potomac River by 9 p.m. If you're interested in joining the fleet (and this goes for any of the three parades of sails), register your boat for free at www.opsail2012virginia.com to receive an official OpSail 2012 Virginia parade flag.
Let the Star-Spangled Sailabration (www.starspangled200.com) begin! Whether or not you've accompanied the fleet of tall ships and naval vessels all the way from Norfolk, or you're new to the OpSail party, you're in for a treat. The fleet will arrive in Baltimore's Inner Harbor on June 13 and get settled in their berths—which stretch from the Inner Harbor to Fells Point and North Locust Point.
On Thursday, June 14, Flag Day, there will be a welcome ceremony and Navy Ceremonial Band Concert before the free public ship tours start and the Sailabration Village opens (public ship tours and the village will be open through Monday June 18). A Flag Day celebration will also be going on all day at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, and an evening Flag Day ceremony is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. at Fort McHenry.
During the weekend of June 16 and 17, the Martin State Airport on Middle River will host a Star-Spangled Festival and Aircraft Display (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days) featuring historic aircraft and the Blue Angels—which are stars of the Star-Spangled Air Show scheduled for each afternoon over the Patapsco River. (The best viewing spot will be at Fort McHenry.) Saturday evening the fun will continue at Fort McHenry, celebrating the American Flag with a festival, concerts and a huge fireworks display.
On Sunday, at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the Baltimore Symphony will perform the world premiere of the Overture for 2012, an original work by Maryland-born composer Philip Glass.
On Monday, the 18th, there will be a special event at the Inner Harbor featuring a reenactment of the signing of the declaration of war on Great Britain. And the following day the OpSail fleet will make a grand exit, with a departure parade of sail.
"The Choice"—The War of 1812 Living History Event
Visit Sotterley Plantation for an interactive journey from the perspective of the slaves at the plantation during the summer of 1814, when the British enticed slaves away with promises of freedom. Sotterley Plantation, Hollywood, Md. 301-373-2280; www.sotterley.org.
National Park Service Fee-Free Day at these National Park Service 1812 Sites:
Fort Washington National Park, Fort Washington, Md. 301-763-4600; www.nps.gov/fowaOxon Hill Farm, Oxon Hill, Md. 301-839-1176; www.nps.gov/oxhiFort McHenry, Baltimore, Md. 410-962-4290; www.nps.gov/fomc
"A Nation Emerges" Exhibit Opening
See the portraits of key players in the War of 1812, President James Madison, Dolley Madison, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Tecumseh and more at this new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. Washington, D.C. 202-633-8300; www.npg.si.edu/inform/visit.html.
Battle of North Point Exhibit Opening
The Battle of North Point played an important role in the Battle of Baltimore, helping to successfully drive out the land troops that arrived near Sparrows Point. Dundalk Patapsco Neck Historical Society, 6:30 p.m. Dundalk, Md. 410-284-2331.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will perform a special symphony inspired by the bicentennial of the War of 1812 written by World-renowned composer Philip Glass. Other celebrated works by prominent American composers will accompany the new overture. Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore. 7 p.m. 410- 783-8000; www.bsomusic.org.
Baltimore Dragon Boat Challenge
The Baltimore Dragon Boat club is hosting a special race in honor of the state's Star Spangled 200 celebration, including an 1812-meter race. Tide Point Marina, Baltimore. 8 a.m.–4 p.m. 443-573-4352; www.baltimoredragonboatclub.com
Nanticoke River Jamboree
Learn about life along the Nanticoke River during the period between 1612 and 1812 with paddling and biking trail events, reenactments and 1812 history displays. Handsell House, Vienna, Md. 410-228-7458; www.nanticokeriverjamboree.com.