Begin the morning with a walking tour of the Mount Vernon area, dominated by the first major monument to
Henry James called its square the most perfect in North America. First stop, the
Peabody Institute of Music, with five tiers of monumental cast iron around a marble court and 1/4 mile of books. It is a favourite spot for wedding receptions.
Next, head for the Walters Gallery, the contribution of
Henry Walters, who gave 22,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years and five continents, and a palazzo-styled building to contain it. There is a rare collection of Ethiopian icons, medieval armour, and illuminated manuscripts. An extra treat is the Asian collection in the adjacent Hackermann House, the period furnished townhouse of a 1850s merchant, with the oldest surviving wooden Buddha in the world (seventh c.)
For lunch - outside in good weather - Donna's offers a casual menu in the heart of Charles Village or try Gertrude's in the
Baltimore Museum of Art overlooking not one but two Sculpture Gardens.
In the afternoon, pay a visit to one of Baltimore's enviable collection of stately homes, several built by members of one of Maryland's great families. The Carrolls were innovative with their architecture but not names - most of them were named Charles.
The Homewood Museum built as a country house (1801-08) by Charles Carroll Junior enhances the campus of
Johns Hopkins. This immaculately restored Federal masterpiece has been a boys' school, faculty club and offices, and was an obvious influence on the warm brick architecture of the university.
Lucky Johns Hopkins also owns
Evergreen House, a forty-eight room 1850s Italianate mansion with a private theatre by
Leon Bakst. Pre-Revolutionary enthusiasts might opt for stately
Mount Clare (1760) built by
Charles Carroll, the Barrister, in southwest Baltimore.
At the end of the day, after all the grandeur, head to Fells Point for a stroll on cobbled streets lined with eighteenth and nineteenth century redbrick row houses and marble steps, memories of the colonial shipyards where the famous Baltimore clipper ships were built. The gaff-rigged schooner
Nighthawk(1880) is anchored there, offering Murder Mystery tours/ Buffet Moonlight Cruise. For a change of cultural space, head to the Inner Harbour for dinner northern Italian-style at Brio's Tuscan Grille. Don't miss the Lobster Bisque or the delectable Crab and Shrimp Fonduta.
Steep yourself in the War of 1812, which was of deep significance to Baltimoreans. Start with a visit to a major exhibition at the
Maryland Historical Society. In Full Glory Reflected, Maryland during the War of 1812 provides a compelling introduction to what was until recently the "Forgotten War." There are paintings, uniforms, military and domestic objects, life-stories and maps. When Washington was being burnt to the ground by the British, Baltimore citizens watching the glowing sky from only forty miles away feared they would be the next!
Then take the (free) Circulator bus to the Inner Harbour for a 60 minute National Anthem Tour by Sea. The captain, dressed as a Revenue Cutter Service officer of the 1790s, explains the sites of significance dotting the Inner Harbour for the
1814 Battle of Baltimore. The most compelling story is of a young lawyer, Frances Scott Key, who was trapped on a British ship, while trying to negotiate the release of a prisoner. He watched for 25 hours as the British bombarded
Fort McHenry. In the morning, the American flag was raised, the British had been rebuffed and
Francis Scott Key was released with the prisoner. He went home and wrote what was to become the national anthem, O say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave/O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
In the afternoon take a water-taxi to the Fort itself. An excellent short film at the Visitors' Centre sets the stage. There's a screen you touch that plays different versions of the
Star-Spangled Banner as sung (or mangled) by military bands, glee clubs, and Marvin Gaye. The star-shaped brick Fort, surrounded by parkland, designed by a Frenchman Jean Foncin in 1798, is surprisingly unassuming for its significance in American history. A few rooms are furnished in the style of the period.
If time and stamina permit, visit the Star-Spangled Banner House Museum, where costumed interpreters tell the story of how Mary Pickersgill Young, her daughter, mother, nieces and servants sewed the giant thirty-feet high by 42-feet wide with its fifteen stars and stripes. (It had to be finished in the loft of a brewery nearby.) This was the ensign that Francis Scott Key saw flying over the fort that fateful morning.
For dinner, try Ryleigh's Oyster House, where chef Francesco Lopez provides oysters (and crabs) every which way. The building, with its brick walls and slate bar, dates from 1812!
Stay longer - a week, a month, a year. There is opera, theatre, music, museums for every taste: Dentistry (Discover the Exciting World of Teeth), Visionary Art, and a splendid Aquarium.
Mary Alice Downie writes for Kingston Life Magazine and contributes to Fifty-five Plus, Good Times, Forever Young and many other magazines. She is the author of 28 books for children and adults.