Archive | September, 2014

Star Spangled Football

17 Sep

Last Saturday, Maryland lost a tight football game to regional rival West Virginia on a last-second field goal, 40-37. Both teams dressed a little special for the occasion. West Virginia wore a special gold helmet, and Maryland wore a unique alternate uniform that paid tribute to the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore (Sept. 13, 1814). Yes, as in the inspiration for our national anthem the “Star Spangled Banner.”


The wearing of alternate uniforms by college football teams has become something of a craze of late. While Oregon is most identified with the concept via its wearing a different uniform for virtually every game, a host of other schools, including Maryland, have embraced the fad wholeheartedly. Anyone familiar with college football will no doubt remember Maryland’s audacious state flag-inspired uniform from a few years ago.

Maryland flag uniform

This time, the Terrapins rolled out a special helmet featuring a decal with the outline of the venerable Fort McHenry, which withstood the British bombardment that so captivated Francis Scott Key. Both the jersey and helmet actually featured the words of the song he penned after witnessing that iconic event.


The whole thing is an unexpected collision of history, regional identity, and athletics. Like I often say about the past, it may not always be pretty, but it sure is intriguing. Kudos to the Maryland Terrapins for commemorating an important historical event in such a unique way.


The Star Spangled Banner

15 Sep

Symbols are an important part of our cultural heritage and our nation just celebrated the 200th anniversary of our most sacred ones. On September 13-14, 1814, the British navy bombarded Fort McHenry in their attempt to capture Baltimore. And as we all know by heart, the fort survived and “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”  This dramatic event during the War of 1812 led to the creation of two our most enduring symbols; our national anthem and that flag on which our national anthem is based upon. Both of these iconic symbols epitomize our nation in a way that transcends basic identification. I would hope this anniversary reminds our nation of the struggles and sacrifice it took to create and defend the country and its basic underlying principles. In an age where our nation and patriotism seems to be under constant bombardment and as our government, leaders, and military attempt to defend it from more and more threats, let’s take the time to celebrate one of  our nation’s finer moments and actually take pride in being Americans!

Star Spangled Banner flag


A Lackluster Sesquicentennial Indeed

9 Sep

If you are involved with any American cultural heritage institutions, you are no doubt aware that we have been attempting to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War for several years now. We are now starting to wrap up this national effort. The thing is, it doesn’t really feel like any coordinated national effort ever really got started.


This isn’t because there haven’t been some really strong efforts at generating interest. Numerous good books have been published, great educational programs staged, and several large scale reenactments planned. Even a few state governmental agencies got involved, having finally “seen the light” about the economic (if not educational) value of heritage tourism. For example, Florida produced one of the most impressive themed site guides ever compiled, Georgia created a robust website, newsletter, and all around promotional machine highlighting its major Civil War sites, and Alabama put together what will likely stand as the largest ever commemoration of the Battle of Mobile Bay. There were hundreds of other programs and projects of various sizes, the great majority of them solidly planned and well received by interested, if not always as large as forecasted audiences. In general, though, commemorative efforts have been met with more fizzle than sizzle. Why?

I certainly can’t say I have the ultimate answer, but I do have a hunch. I really don’t think the rather lackluster results of this commemoration speak to any general decline in interest in the subject as much as an inability to increase an already robust attendance at an impressive number of Civil War-related sites and events across the nation. The centennial celebration of the war helped establish numerous parks, museums, and interpretive events which still enjoy a healthy visitation, and there seems no end to the amount of literature published on the subject. Groups such as the remarkably successful Civil War Trust continue to show that people care, and care a lot, about preserving and interpreting the sites where the war happened. Actually, if there is any event in American history that is somewhat understood and appreciated by the public, it is the Civil War.

There is simply a lot more history being interpreted for the public today than there was in the 1960s, and a distracted and present-obsessed public just hasn’t bought in to the need to study this relatively well understood subject again on its 150th (an arbitrary anniversary to many when compared to the 100th or 200th anniversary). And of course, there is the complicating factor of race in all of this. The war was fought overwhelmingly in the South, and it is a lot easier to generate the political enthusiasm of many governmental entities for interpreting concurrent anniversary commemorations for Civil Rights Movement events than the accomplishments or suffering of Confederate soldiers. In summary, I think most of the blame for a rather tepid sesquicentennial commemoration lies with timing and current events. As stated in this blog many times over, I do feel there is an alarming decline in historical knowledge and interest in our nation’s past among the American public, but I don’t feel that the less than impressive commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is the best example of that troublesome trend.