« One-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy defies odds, graduates from Royal College | Main | Midweek Madness: Thinking about buying an organ from Tex and Edna Boil »

August 21, 2012

How I spent my summer stay-cation, Part 1

Not that you care -- who would? -- but I've been on a stay-cation, with my mind practically a blank about most things, certainly not preoccupied with music and theater and all that sort of elitist stuff that consumes my work weeks.

I don't want to shut off all communication, though, since I value your clicking enormously, I really do. But what to write when I'm not covering performances or reporting newsy things?

Well, a lot of people post everything they do, from meals to their squeals, on Facebook, Twitter and what-not, so why can't I bore everybody with a quick recap of things that happen on my days off?

Easier said than done, since I am doing so little. But on Monday, thanks to a visit by an old buddy who had not seen all the Baltimore sights (or sites), I had a great excuse to stop by good old Fort McHenry, one of personal favorite places in this area.

It was my first time in the new visitors center, which has a lot more to offer than the old one.

I was especially glad to see the new film -- so much more interesting than that tired thing they used to show about some (fictional?) doctor who sort of knew Francis Scott Key and sort of knew what happened the night the bombs were bursting in air.

One odd thing, though, about Monday. Well, what didn't happen was the odd part.

At the old visitors center, the big finish of the film was ...

a recording of the national anthem as the curtains parted to reveal the current flag flying o'er the ramparts. Everyone in the room always stood up at that point.

The new film ends with that same flourish, only even more impressively (a higher-tech device replaces the curtains). But those viewers on Monday who were sitting (a lot of us stood through the whole thing)  never got off their rear ends when the anthem started and the real, live banner could be seen proudly waving.

These visitors were definitely American -- no mistaking their dress and voices -- so they presumably knew that Americans stand for the Star-Spangled Banner. If you're going to stand anywhere for it, wouldn't it be Fort McHenry?

Anyway, the biggest kick I get -- every time -- at Fort McHenry comes after walking along the perimeter clockwise, which provides such an uplifting view of the water, the fort, ships coming and going, etc. Then, as you round the western bend, there it is -- the giant statue commissioned in 1914 to commemorate Francis Scott Key's role in giving his country an anthem.

This is one of the great kitsch items of Baltimore, maybe the greatest. It's a wonder, as my visiting buddy remarked upon laying eyes on it for the first time, that John Waters has not given it a big role in a movie.

Key is not depicted in the statue, unless he just happened to have resembled a buff Greek mythological dude.

Somehow, out of 34 designs submitted in a nationwide competition, the commission went to Charles H. Niehaus, who sought to honor France Scott Key with an image called "Orpheus with the Awkward Foot." What were they thinking?

A couple of cool pictures on markers near the statute show the dedication in 1922, attended by President Harding. Quite a contrast between that soon-to-be-roaring-20s crowd and the backward-looking statue hovering over them.

I'd like to think that at least a few folks in 1922 saw Orpheus as an instant camp classic, on a par with Horatio Greenough's hilarious depiction of George Washington as a toga-wearing Roman (that 1841 statue has always been one of my faves at the National Museum of American History in DC).

At once mighty and absurd, Orpheus with the Awkward Foot (not to mention an awkward pinkie) is a treasure that makes me smile every time I see it. That might not have been what Niehaus intended, but not a bad way to be remembered.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected