Maryland’s tradition of national leadership in commemorating the events of the War of 1812 extends back to September 14, 1814, the date to which the Society of the War of 1812 in the State of Maryland traces its origins. On September 12, 1815, the cornerstone for the Battle Monument- the nation’s first war memorial and the first monument in America to celebrate the common soldier-- was laid.
In rapid succession, the City of Baltimore commissioned Rembrandt Peale to paint portraits of the heroes of the Battle of Baltimore (1816), such as Joshua Barney. The First Mechanical Volunteers, 5th Regiment, Maryland Militia, erected a monument to mortally wounded sharpshooter Aquila Randall at North Point (1817).
In 1827, the same year that President John Quincy Adams visited these monuments and dubbed Baltimore the “Monumental City,” portions of Hampstead Hill were donated to the City of Baltimore by William Patterson as a public walk, becoming Baltimore’s [Maryland’s?] first public park. Battle Acre was dedicated as a memorial park in 1839, making it Baltimore County’s oldest public park. Annual convenings and pilgrimages of the defenders continued long into the 19th century. Similarly, Maryland’s Defenders’ Day holiday, September 12, was marked with commemoration from the first anniversary, and although the intensity of its observance has waxed and waned through the years, it remains a legal holiday in Maryland, although it was discontinued as a distinct paid holiday for State employees in 1996.
Many communities in the United States, as well as Canada, significantly raised the commemorative bar during centennial period of 1912 to 1914. Magnificent monuments were erected in many communities.
But it was Maryland and Baltimore which hosted the weeklong National Star-Spangled Banner Centennial celebration, from September 6 to 13, 1914. The incredible investment made in the celebration is chronicled in the National Star-Spangled Banner Centennial: Official Programme and The Story of Baltimore, published by the Commission in 1914.
Volume 1 of the minute book of the Commission, which covers the period from January 1914 to July 21, 1914, is in the manuscript collection of the Maryland Historical Society. Baltimore Mayor James H. Preston served as President of the Commission. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson served as honorary president of the Centennial Commission, with former presidents William H. Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. Honorary vice-presidents included Thomas R. Marshall, Wilson’s Vice President; Champ Clark, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; Admiral George Dewey, Admiral of the United States Navy; Major General W.W. Wotherspon, Chief of the Staff United States Army; Phillips Lee Goldsborough, Governor of Maryland; and the Governors of the 18 states that comprised the United States in 1814. Vice-presidents included former Governors of Maryland and former Mayors of Baltimore. The staff brought on board in February 1914 included Paul J. Quinn, Assistant Secretary, and Frank A. O’Connell, Director of Publicity. A staff of 12 was in place by June 1914 at the rented offices on the second floor of 113 E. Baltimore Street.
More than 30 Committees were formed for various jobs. In addition to the Executive Committee, there were Accounts, Advertising, Armistead Monument, Athletic, Badges and Souvenirs, Boy Scouts, Carnival, City Council, Civic and Trades Organizations, Counsel, Decoration and Illumination, Finance, Fifth Regiment Armory Reception, Floral Automobile Parade, Fort McHenry Ceremonies, Fort McHenry Memorial, Fraternal Orders, General Reception, Historical, Historical Exhibits, Historical Pageant, Hotel Accommodations, Legislative, Medical Relief, Military, Military Ball, Municipal Parade, Music, National Patriotic, National Society U.S.D. of 1812, Naval, New York, North Point and Fort Howard, Parades, Patriotic Societies, Public Schools, Publicity, Pyrotechnic, Reception, School Board, Speakers’ Bureau, Theatrical, Transportation, Visiting Merchants’, and Woman’s Committees. There were also state committees formed for states and territories. The sources of the budget of nearly $200,000 included, $75,000 each from the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore, and the balance from individual, organizational and corporate contributions.
The Commission laid the groundwork for a variety of long-lasting products beyond the one-week celebration. A new generation of public art was commissioned, including works for St. John’s College in Annapolis and at Terra Rubra in Carroll County (Francis Scott Key’s birthplace and alma mater, respectively); Bladensburg, and at the Baltimore Court House and at Fort McHenry.
The sum of $5,400 was budgeted for the stand to hold the human flag to be composed of 6,500 school children. More than 20,000 spectators descended on Carroll Park for a “Colonial Garden Party.” The whopping sum of $13,500 was approved for a Philadelphia based production company to create 24 moving tableaux cars with actors portraying significant moments of the War of 1812 in Maryland.
In response to the Commission’s request that the Constellation participate in the centennial activities, Acting Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the vessel restored “as she appeared in 1814.” Constellation underwent the modifications in Norfolk, and was then towed to Baltimore harbor, where she lay on display from September 7 (the anniversary of the original 1797 launch) until October 29, 1914. In June 1914 the Commission approved a script for a movie being made by the Edison Moving Picture Company. “The Birth of the Star Spangled Banner” was playing cities like Denver as part of centennial celebrations by September 1914.
From July 8 to August 1, 1914, Commission President Mayor Preston toured dozens of major American cities by rail on a good will, centennial promotional tour. Memorial sculptures were unveiled in Patterson Park at the base of the pagoda, in the rotunda of Baltimore City Hall, and in Fort McHenry. In May 1914 the Commission resolved to have the City of Baltimore accept title to the surplus Fort McHenry, despite no funding coming from U.S. Congress. Fort McHenry Ceremonies Committee Chairman for the Commission, U.S. Congressman J. Charles Linthicum, would later lead the legislative efforts to have the fort declared a National Monument and Historic Shrine (1925), and to have the Star-Spangled Banner made our national anthem (1931).
The centennial also inspired Marylanders to pursue other cultural and civic initiatives to elevate the quality of life and profile of their state. Both the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra trace their origins to the impulse to commemorate the centennial of the Star-Spangled Banner and the War of 1812.
In addition to the festivities in Baltimore, a major celebration took place in Frederick City and County, September 9-14, 1914. Extremely proud as the birthplace of the author of the Star-Spangled Banner, and for the role of Frederick countians in the War of 1812, the festivities are described in The Star Spangled Banner Centennial Celebration and Home Coming at Frederick Maryland. Organized by a local committee which relied on local contributions, it enjoyed the active participation of Maryland Senator J.P.T Mathias, and an Executive Committee consisting of Richard P. Ross, Charles McC. Mathias, Edwin Markell, and J. Murray Dronenburg. The elaborate Key Monument in Mt. Olivet Cemetery was actually installed and unveiled in 1898.
Finally, a statewide network of historic markers exists today commemorating Maryland people and places that were significant to the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake. The inspiration for many of them—like the monument marking Caulk’s Field battlefield in Kent County or Dr. Beane’s burial site in Prince George’s County-- came from the impulse to mark the centennial. Others, like the site of the Battle of the Ice Mound, came from historic marker programs operated by the Maryland Historical Trust, the Maryland Historical Society, and the State Highway Administration (or State Roads Commission). The single best place to go to understand and view the markers erected over the decades to commemorate the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake is the highly searchable Historical Markers Database, at www.hmdb.org.