Exploring Charm City’s Inner Harbor
I love going down to Baltimore this time of year. Seeing the Inner Harbor being decorated for the holiday season. Watching people ice skate on a small outdoor rink, set up just for the season. Even though Baltimore might be a big city, there really are times where you can feel like you are in small town America. From people greeting you as you pass by, to a stranger taking picture of you with your phone or camera.
Over the years I’ve seen quite a bit of Baltimore. I’ve been to the Aquarium and the Science Center. I’ve watched baseball games at Camden Yards and indoor soccer at Royal Farms Arena. But there is so much to see and do in Baltimore, it is easy to overlook many things and places. So I decided to be a tourist. I decided to park my car and explore the Inner Harbor and Fell’s Point areas of Baltimore.
After parking in a parking garage, I walked over to Fell’s Point to grab some breakfast. Now, I’m sure most of you have heard of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. If you have, you’ve seen the host go to plenty of places in Baltimore. But to me, there are only two places that sparked my interest. One is a BBQ place that has awesome food and I love going there. The other is a little café nestled in Fell’s Point, The Blue Moon Café.
On the show, they talk about a Captain Crunch French Toast. I’m a huge cereal fan so I had to try it. After sitting down at the bar next to a couple on one side and another lonely patron on the other. I ordered the Captain Crunch French Toast and an orange juice. Now, what came out was not what I expected. It was better! I received three large pieces of Captain Crunch encrusted French toast topped with a thick whipped cream and fresh fruit. Now I love smothering my French toast in syrup, but after the first bite, I was in love. I ate as much as I could, this is some seriously filling food. The fresh fruit was awesome and so good. I couldn’t have been happier with my meal.
After breakfast, I strolled through Fell’s Point and found a nice bench near the water to sit, enjoy the morning, and let my food digest. Although it was early, the area was bustling. The local restaurants and bars were receiving their morning deliveries of food and alcohol. Many people were out for a morning run or exercise and construction workers working on a couple of new high-rises and the renovation on the Broadway City Pier.
Being as everything was still getting ready to open, I decided to walk around the Inner Harbor and up onto Federal Hill Park. I’d been to the Inner Harbor more times than I can count, but I had never been on top of Federal Hill Park. The sight was once known as Signal Hill for the maritime observatory that once looked out for the shipping interests of the city. It was also the site of a fort erected overnight by General Benjamin F. Butler’s union troops in 1861 following the Baltimore riot. The spot also gives you, what I feel, is the best viewing location of the entire Inner Harbor.
As the stores and businesses began to open for the day, I made my way to the Visitor’s Center. Inside I perused through many pamphlets of places to see and things to do. I stopped and viewed a model of the Pride of Baltimore, and authentic reproduction of a Baltimore clipper topsail schooner. I also sat down in the small theater and viewed the 10 minute movie about Baltimore. Surprisingly, I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought about Baltimore. After the movie I moved on to my goal for the day, the historic ships!
In Baltimore there are four historic ships that you can tour. They are the USS Constellation, the lightship Chesapeake, the USS Torsk, and the USCGC Taney. I had been on the USS Constellation when I was a young kid with the cub scouts, but she had been restored since. The other three I had never been on before. Needless to say, I was as excited as a kid.
I paid the admission fee and headed in the entrance of the USS Constellation. I took one of the audio tour devices, which I HIGHLY recommend, and began the tour. The audio tour is more of a story and you are part of it. You are a visitor to the ship and are lead around the entire ship by a midshipman, or naval cadet. The USS Constellation has had several incarnations and this one in Baltimore is of the second incarnation, a sloop-of-war from mid 1800s. The USS Constellation was also used as a training ship for the midshipmen from the naval academy. Throughout the tour you learn about every part of the ship and the people who worked aboard her. While I was there, I also got to witness the live firing of one of the 20 pound parrott rifles, which is actually a canon. The tour took me roughly an hour and was well worth the time.
On my way to the next ship, I decided to stop at Baltimore’s World Trade Center. In front of the building are monuments to the people who lost their lives in the attacks on September 11, 2001. After paying my respects, I paid the small admission fee and headed to the 27th floor to the Top of the World Observation Level. From there you can get a 360 degree view of the entire city. The views were spectacular! You could see for miles in every direction. I viewed a few memorials for Marylanders that perished in 9/11, snapped quite a few pictures, and then headed back downstairs to continue my exploration.
The next ship I came to was the lightship Chesapeake. The Chesapeake (WVL-538) was commissioned in 1930 and served for 41 years. Lightships were commonly named for the station that they served. This would cause ships to be renamed but keep the same hull designation. The Chesapeake has also been called Fenwick and Delaware. Also during WWII, she served as LS-116 and was an examination and guard vessel out of Sandwich, Massachusetts. She is outfitted with a 13,000 candlepower electric beacon lamp and is said to be seen 14 miles away. Of course, in her present location it is no longer used. There was not much to explore on her since a volunteer staff was gathered and was using some of the rooms like the galley and quarters. But I was able to explore the bridge and the open deck above the bridge. All in all, a wonderful vessel that served her time proudly.
The USS Torsk (SS-423) is a Tench Class submarine. The Torsk made two war patrols near Japan in 1945 and is the last U.S. ship to sink an enemy vessel during WWII. I’ve been on military ships before and know how tight quarters can be, but I’d never been in something this tight. In fact, I had to take my small backpack off in order to navigate my way through the sub. Also for this reason, I left my camera in my bag because it was so tight. Even the commanding officer’s quarters were smaller than my closet at home. In the enlisted crew area there were more than 20 bunks in a 10’ by 18’ area. The guide said that while some men were asleep with all the bunks full, there were others still working. I could only imagine how tight the quarters would be with so many men working and living.
The last ship to tour was the United States Coast Guard Cutter Taney. The Taney was commissioned on October 24, 1936 and is the last ship still floating that fought during the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the Taney was moored in Honolulu Harbor and not in Pearl Harbor. She also served in both the European and Pacific theaters during WWII, during the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as aided in the search for Amelia Earhart. She was decommissioned in 1986 and given to the city of Baltimore for use as a museum ship. This ship is beautiful. With her white hull and red and blue stripe, she looks like she is ready to deploy and protect us once again. Crew quarters are still tight, but there are more amenities than on the Torsk. There was even a store with some Star Wars cookies on display. Even they knew there would be more movies to come!
Being done with the historic ships in the harbor, I made my way to the end of Pier 5 and visited the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse. Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse was originally located where the mouth of the Patapsco river meets the Chesapeake Bay. Built in 1855, and deactivated in 1988, it is the oldest screw-pile lighthouse in Maryland. Inside, you discover a display showing all the locations of lighthouses in the Chesapeake Bay area. To the right of the entrance is one of the two bedrooms that was used by keepers of the lighthouse. Inside the room, it is laid out much the same way it would have been during its use. In the hallway there is a tight staircase leading to the second level, where more information about the light and lens can be found. Access to the top area, where the lens is located, is restricted.
Having explored the area and ships for the past six hours, I decided to call it a day. Looking at my phone app that tracks my movement, I realized I had walked nearly 10.5 miles. I was thrilled and excited about all I had seen, experienced, and learned. Just in these few spots, I had learned so much history, I also met some amazing guides, and most of all…. had fun.
If you would like to learn more about these ships and their roles in this country’s history, make your way to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. You can also visit www.historicships.org. To learn more about Baltimore and other attractions in the city, visit www.baltimore.org.