The Walters Art Museum – Ancient Egypt & Nubia

Even though we live close to Washington, DC and the Smithsonian, it isn’t always possible to take the kids down to peruse the various museums along the National Mall. This is why Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum is a great resource for home school families trying to teach ancient civilizations. Although the purpose of our trip was to focus on Egyptian artifacts, the museum has collections from Greece, Rome, and the Ancient Near East.

The museum’s Ancient Egypt & Nubia exhibit provides a fantastic overview of Egyptian history from the Old to the New Kingdoms. By far the most impressive pieces are the two monumental statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet that welcome you and the intact mummy, which is still in its wrappings. Both of my older girls have previously been to the British Museum and been able to see the vast highlights of their collection. But with the Walter’s both M1 and M2 were happy to walk around and see the smaller pieces that shaped the lives of those in ancient Egypt whether it was in this life or the next. Of particular note were the canopic jars, shabtis, senet boards, and a duck cosmetics holder. The Egyptian collection also offers a small number of interactive exhibits to include an overview of the process of mummification, which is also available online.

Website: Walters Museum of Art – Ancient Egypt and Nubia Collection

Know Before You Go: Those with disabilities should from the Centre Street entrance. On street parking is available, with a larger garage at the intersection of Cathedral and Centre street.

Location: The Museum is located at 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland.

Hours: The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10AM to 5PM, although it is open late until 9PM on Thursdays. The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday, as well as Martin Luther King Day (observed), Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Admission: Admission is free.

Poe’s Baltimore

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The Simpsons as a television show ranks fairly high in our house. I have always been wondering the right time to introduce the show to our daughters, because it is such a cultural touchstone. So last year I decided to allow them to see some of the Treehouse of Horror episodes. To gauge their interest, I showed them Lisa Simpson’s reading of The Raven and they were immediately hooked. Since then, I have used October as an opportunity to introduce them to Poe’s poems and short stories. The Raven has played

With Halloween fast approaching, it was the perfect time to introduce our girls Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore. Our first stop was the Poe House, which was built in 1830 at what was the edge of Baltimore. By 1832, Maria Clemm, her mother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe, and daughter Virginia Eliza Clemm moved from East Baltimore to the house.Accompanying Maria, Elizabeth and Virginia was a 23 year old Edgar Allan Poe. Edgar, who had recently released his third volume of poems, entitled Poems, was attempting start his career as a writer. In 1833, Poe was awarded a prize in October 1833 for his short story Ms. Found in a Bottle and introduced to Thomas W. White, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. Poe only lived in the Baltimore house until 1835 when he moved to Richmond where he became White’s assistant editor. He returned in 1836 to marry his cousin Virginia Eliza, before returning to Richmond.

The house is quite small and can be visited in about 30 minutes, through a self-guided tour. Along the way, are displays outlining Poe’s life and death in Baltimore, the short-stories that he wrote while in Baltimore, and the genealogy of the Poe family. Poe artifacts inside the house include the author’s writing desk and telescope, while the attic contains a simple bedroom that was Poe’s. There is also a gift shop with tons of Poe related memorabilia.

Our second stop was the Westminster Burying Grounds, where Edgar, Virginia and Maria are buried. The grave is right near the entrance and features several display plaques. In addition to the Poe grave, Westminster Burying Grounds a number of famous Marylanders are interred at the site. These include James McHenry (signer of the U.S. Constitution and namesake of Fort McHenry), Robert Smith (Secretary of State and the Navy, and Attorney General), and Samuel Smith (militia commander during the 1814 Battle of Baltimore). The burying grounds are open to the public during daylight hours from 8 AM till dusk and are free of charge.

Website: The Poe in Baltimore website has a number of great recommendations for alternate locations linked to Poe throughout Baltimore.

Know Before You Go: Like many homes built in the 19th Century, the Poe House in Baltimore is very small and cramped. Visitors should take care on the steep stairs to the second floor and the attic.

Location: The Poe House is located at 203 North Amity Street in Baltimore, Maryland. The best way to get to the house is via car, where there is plenty of parking.

Hours: The Poe House is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 AM to 4PM through the end of December. There is a special opening on Halloween.

Admission: Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for seniors, active duty military and students with IDs. Children under 12 are admitted free with an adult.

 

Fort McHenry – Battle of Baltimore

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore Harbor, sits among some of the most hallowed ground in America. Although not notable for the loss of life (only four defenders were killed) like Gettysburg or Pearl Harbor, it is far more famous because what its defense inspired among a still very adolescent nation.

The action at Fort McHenry was part of a much larger Battle for Baltimore that occurred in mid-September 1814. Following the Battle of Bladensburg and subsequent burning of Washington, Maj. General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane’s invasion fleet moved further up Chesapeake Bay to attack the city of Baltimore. On September 12th, Ross landed the main British army at North Point and was met by an advance guard of American soldiers and militiamen along the North Point Road. In a sharp action that day Ross was killed, but the British carried the field, forcing the Americans back to the defenses protecting Baltimore. Prior to the larger attack on Baltimore, Col. Arthur Brook took command of the British ground forces and marched within two miles of the city.

To augment the ground campaign, an attack by the British Navy was necessary. What stood in the way was Fort McHenry and a number of smaller works protecting the entrance to the harbor. The British bombardment of Fort McHenry commenced early on 13 September and lasted some 25 hours. Maj. George Armistead, the fort’s commanding officer, estimated that somewhere between 1,500 and 1,800 shells and rockets were fired by the fleet. Because of the types of weapons used by the British, the bombardment fleet could sit well outside of the effective range of the fort’s guns. A sortie of British landing craft were sent under the cover of darkness to attack Fort McHenry, but they were driven back by a combination of American guns, defective barges and poor reconnaissance.

The bombardment continued throughout the early morning until 7AM on September 14, when the British fleet departed. Aboard a truce ship in the harbor was a Washington lawyer named Francis Scott Key who was seeking the release of a friend captured at the Battle of Bladensburg. Key was able to view the hoisting of the Fort’s garrison flag in the morning light. This inspired him to write a poem entitled “Defence of Fort McHenry,” which was published three days later and soon set to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heave.” Later, the poem and tune would become the America’s National Anthem.

Much like other fortifications along America’s East Coast, Fort McHenry has undergone significant changes in its history. The 1814 Upper and Lower Water Batteries have been moved closer to the Fort and bristle with Civil War-era Rodman canons. A reconstructed Water Battery does provide some insight into the outer defenses of the fort. The Sally Port has been strengthened with a brick guardhouse instead of the wooden walkway extending that extended to the ravelin. At the time of the bombardment, the barracks were only one-story and not the two-story structures that you see today.

Some of the places of interest throughout the National Monument include:

  • Visitor’s Center: The visitor’s center has been recently renovated and incorporates a number hands-on activities for children. Kids can compare their heights to the size of Star Spangled Banner, find their favorite version of the National Anthem, examine a reproduction of a Congreve Rocket, learn about some of defenders of the Fort, and follow the history of Francis Scott Key. The highlight is a ten minute video (shown on the hour and at half past) on the Battle and the authoring of National Anthem.
  • Shore Battery Reconstruction: Although many of the cannon at Fort McHenry are from the period of the Civil War, the reconstructed shore battery provides a glimpse into the types of cannons used to defend against the British Navy.
  • 1814 Barracks: One of the primary stops for the Junior Ranger badge is the 1814 Barracks, which houses displays on the history of the fort through the ages, a multimedia overview of the Battle of Baltimore, and a reproduction of the living quarters for the common soldier defending the fort. Unfortunately, only tables and bunks populate the barracks.
  • Powder Magazine: Although enlarged after the battle, the powder magazine is stocked with powder barrels. Outside there are a number of canons that children can view.
  • Commanding Officer’s Quarters and Guardhouse: The Officer’s Quarters features a mock-up of Maj. George Armistead’s quarters, with an electronic map focusing on the Battle of Baltimore. Visitors then move through the barracks where they can view a presentation on the making and history of the Star Spangled Banner after the battle. Before exiting, you are taken past the guardhouse, where a reproduction of the flag is stored.

Junior Ranger:

Both M1 and M2 took part in the Fort’s Junior Ranger program, which is for 5 to 13 year old students. The Fort McHenry Activity Booklet is broken up into easy, medium and difficult program. We decided to go with the easy portion, which is still pretty difficult and may require the assistance of parents to assist in answering many of the questions in the visitor center. The NPS provides black and white copies of the booklet, which can be difficult to read. I would recommend printing out the required pages at home an bringing them along. You can determine the required pages, by looking at the top of the page red for easy, white for medium, and blue for difficult.

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Pre-Prep:

There are a great number of resources available for students to take advantage of prior to visiting Fort McHenry. Their is a great overview of the Bombardment of Baltimore in the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. There are also a number of children’s books that focus on Francis Scott Key and the authoring of what would become the National Anthem. Among them are Step into Reading’s Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner and Rebecca Jones’ The Biggest (and Best) Flag That Ever Flew, which recounts the story of the flag’s maker Mary Pickersgill. 

Know Before You Go: The majority of the grounds are accessible via paved or brick walkways. There are bathrooms at the visitor center and inside the center barracks in the fort. A gift shop that sells some of the books listed above is located in the visitor center. A number of living history (seasonal) and talks are provided by the park staff, so check the site’s calendar before heading out.

Location: Fort McHenry is located at the tip of Locust Point at 2400 East Fort Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21230. Baltimore Bus #1 is the only public transportation option and stops at the main gate. From there it is about a 100 yard walk to the Visitor Center.

Hours: The Park is open daily, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Hours are from 9:00 to 5:00 PM.

Admission: Admission to the park is $10 for those 16 years and older. Children 15 and under are free. Purchase of admission allows free entrance to the site for the next seven days. A yearly pass is available for $40 and provides admission for three adults. Educational groups can seek a waiver to the fee.

S.S. John W. Brown Liberty Ship

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Project Liberty Ship [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

One of our favorite homeschool curriculums is Five in a Row, which seeks to develop a love for literature in children through in-depth study of an illustrated child’s book. Since we recently moved back to the mid-Atlantic, near Chesapeake Bay, we felt that Jane Yolen’s All the Secrets of the World was the perfect choice to start the school year. The story follows Janie, who moves to her grandparent’s house on Chesapeake Bay, after her father’s departure to fight in World War II. The story deals with a number of topics to include family, perspective in relation to distance and time, and the home front during the war. While playing with her cousin one afternoon, Janie spots a convoy of Liberty Ships leaving the Chesapeake, similar to the one her father departed for Europe on. The ships and the perspective of distance

Liberty ships were an important part of the Allied war effort. Built quickly and on the cheap, their role was to overwhelm the shipping channels between America and Europe with a steady supply of cargo and troops. These ships were crewed by Merchant Mariners, with a compliment of U.S. Navy Armed Guards to man each ship’s defensive weapons. During the war, over 200 ships were lost due to enemy action, fire or collision. The S.S. John W. Brown was one of these Liberty Ships.

Built in Baltimore, Maryland and completed in the summer of 1942. During World War II, the John W. Brown completed a total of 13 voyages, to include the the transport of soldiers to the European Theater of the war. During World War II, she supported the invasion of Italy on several voyages, carrying cargo and men across the Atlantic. Following the war, the John W. Brown was converted into a floating school in New York City. In the late 1980s, the ship was acquired by Project Liberty Ship. The John W. Brown has since undergone a process of restoration and acts as a living monument to the Merchant Marine and the sailors and soldiers who sailed on the ship.

The Blue Line Tour is the primary visitor circuit through the ship and hits nearly all of the high points. A brochure outlining the tour is available, allowing visitors to see the ship at their own speed. If arrangements are made in advance or if a crew member is available, guided tours are available. As this is a working ship and renovations are constantly being undertaken, there are plenty of crew members to ask questions along the way. The tour hits all of the primary points of interest on the ship, to include the fore and aft gun mounts, flying bridge, wheelhouse, crew and officers quarters and the galley. The tween deck has a number of collections outlining the history of the John W. Brown, Liberty Ships, the Merchant Marine and the U.S. Navy Armed Guards during the war. Of interest to those visiting the ship in connection to All the Secrets of the World, is a section of bunks and interpretive displays outlining life as a soldier traveling to the European Theater. Just like Janie’s father did.

In addition to Five in a Row, the ship can be used to study topics like the Merchant Marine, World War II (especially the home front), and sailing. Display areas in ship also feature topics like semaphore, knots and nautical terminology. In addition to the printout for the Blue Line Tour, young visitors can receive a Young Mariner Activity Guide.

Know Before You Go: The S.S. John W. Brown is a working ship requiring constant upkeep. Elevators are not available and passageways/stairs in the ship can be cramped an steep. Visitors should take care and watch their step when on the deck.

Location: When in port, the ship is located at 2020 South Clinton Street, in Baltimore Maryland. To park, turn onto the John W. Brown’s pier and proceed about 300 feet. The pier’s shed offers free parking.

Hours: Visits to the ship, when in port, can be made on Wednesday and Saturday between 9AM and 2PM. Check the ship’s website or call 410 558-0646.

Admission: Admission is free, but donations are highly recommended. There is also a ship’s store where memorabilia can be purchased.

Websites: