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Two more days until July 4th and my brother and sister-in-law have secured prime viewing spots to Baltimore’s fireworks display – without even trying. Simply by inviting colleagues to their harbor view apartment on the fourth of July, they’ll be able to strike up an instant connection.

Typically you’d have to pay at least $55 for that kind of front row seating. And you’d share the view with however many hundreds of other people join you at the Baltimore Aquarium or on the deck of one of the city’s historical ships. Not that I’d complain if I got into either one of those celebrations for free.

Even my brother will need to leave the comfort of home to enjoy more than the fireworks though. Bands are set to start playing at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater at 4pm, culminating with the U.S. Naval Academy Band Electric Brigade at 7pm. The 9:30pm fireworks will be choreographed to music as well.

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If you’d like to take the more historical route like my husband and I will be doing at Fort Vancouver, Washington, then I’d recommend checking out Fort McHenry earlier in the day. One of America’s historical hubs, Fort McHenry is where the nation’s flag withstood a night of bombardment, inspiring Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.

The festivities start early at Fort McHenry, with the Fife and Drum Corps making its way from Federal Hill to the Fort McHenry visitor center at 10am, followed by poetry readings and a dramatic recitation of the Declaration of Independence. Period costumes, games, and dancing accompany musket salutes and cannon firing at various points throughout the day.

You can expect Fort McHenry to be particularly crowded this year as the Maryland Historical Society makes the first stitch in a reproduction of the flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner.” If you want to avoid the crowds or have to work all day on July 4th, the fort is open almost every day during the year and has extended summer hours May through September. And if you wait until April, you can save $7 per person by entering the fort during national park week.

Though Fort McHenry is one of the historical features Baltimore is most renowned for, the city and the state as a whole serve as rich historical grounds. I regret having waited until our last two months in Baltimore to read Maryland, A Middle Temperament: 1634-1980 by Robert J. Brugger. I didn’t have enough time to make it through more than an eighth of the book’s 864 pages. The narrative history is well worth the time commitment in my opinion if you want to learn about the politics, economics, and culture of the region.

For a slightly shorter read that’s divided into 19 area tours, you might want to check out Maryland: A New Guide to the Old Line State. I haven’t read this book yet, but Brugger is one of the authors and the format sounds far more easily digestible in small bites.

I’ve yet to find similarly compelling histories of Portland, Oregon. The city’s history pales in comparison to Baltimore; nonetheless, we’ll be touring historical buildings at Fort Vancouver this Fourth of July and enjoying bands before the fireworks display.

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How will you be celebrating the Fourth of July? Send me an email and I’ll share the most unique ways of celebrating in my next blog post.

Here’s one of the more interesting ways a friend has celebrated the Fourth of July – Ted is Holding Down the Fort. And she happens to live near Baltimore, so you can learn about another event in the area if you’re new to Baltimore – the Catonsville parade.

Happy Fourth of July!

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