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Fort McHenry Gets a New Flagpole for Its Star and Stripes

The new 87-foot flagpole being installed. NPS photo by Benjamin Kreshtool.

The new 87-foot flagpole being installed. NPS photo by Benjamin Kreshtool.

Few places are more closely associated with the Stars and Stripes than Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, and the park has a new flagpole that's a blend of modern technology and 19th century craftsmanship. It was installed in plenty of time for a special event on August 1st.

“Historically, Fort McHenry has gone through a lot flagpoles,” says Chief of Interpretation Vincent Vaise. “The first known replacement was in 1810, four years before the bombardment. It was struck by lightning and blown apart. Nature had better aim than the British.”

The most recent flagpole at Fort McHenry dated to 1989. Wayne Boyd, the park's Acting Maintenance Chief, discovered hidden rot in the existing flagpole, prompting the need for a replacement.

“I was taking part in a special National Park Service maintenance training program," says Boyd. "Part of the program was to make a careful assessment of park facilities and historic structures. That’s when I noticed that there was some rot in the center of the pole."

This discovery made it essential to install a new flag pole to ensure visitors safety. The new flagpole, which will stand at 87 feet, is made of Douglas fir. Resembling a ship’s mast, the pole is constructed in two parts for stability and to make it easier to perform maintenance.

“They used to build sailing ships in Baltimore,” says ranger Scott Sheads. “If you wanted something that tall for a flagpole, you likely built it as a mast.”

The new pole is a blend of modern technology and 19th century craftsmanship. During work on the new pole, Steven Wagner and Son, of Center Valley, Pennsylvania, ...were busy shaving, cutting, and blending vintage iron hardware, much as their historic predecessors had done. However, modern epoxy and paints will ensure that the pole weathers the elements for a long time.

On June 19, 2009, the previous pole was removed, and a temporary aluminum pole was used to ensure that the flag continued to wave 24 hours a day at Fort McHenry during the two-week replacement project. Visitors still had the opportunity to participate in flag changes and see a period flag with 15-stars and 15-stripes.

Installation of the new flagpole was completed well before a special event at 6:00 p.m. on August 1, 2009.

The program features patriotic music, military pageantry and living history! The program begins with a concert by the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, Continental Color Guard, U.S. Army Drill Team, Baltimore Brass and Fort McHenry Guard. Dressed in the uniforms of Washington’s Continental Army, the U.S Army old Guard Fife and Drum Corps plays stirring fife and drum music to audiences worldwide.

Joining the Old Guard is the Fort McHenry Guard Fife and Drum Corps. The Fifes and Drums of the Fort McHenry Guard have played for the Governor of Maryland, Michael Phelps and dignitaries throughout the state.

If you can't attend that event, there are other special activities at the park on summer weekends.

From 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm every Saturday and Sunday through August 29, visitors can enjoy living history programs by the Fort McHenry Guard.

Experience the daily life of the War of 1812 soldier, sailor and citizen through presentations by the Fort McHenry Guard. Dressed in replica clothing of the early Nineteenth Century, the Guard conducts drills, barracks activities, artillery and musket firing demonstrations, civilian activities, and children's programs.

Work has begun on a new visitor center for the park, and the project requires some parking changes. Click here for details.

The park is located at 2400 East Fort Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21230. Driving directions and other information to help you plan a visit to Fort McHenry are available on the park website.

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