Sailabration showcased Baltimore’s �fun’ potential


By Donald C. Fry

It’s official. Sailabration, the 10-day maritime and air festival from June 13-19 around Baltimore’s waterfront, was the largest event ever in Baltimore and Maryland, according to expert crowd measurers.

This is probably not surprising news to those who thronged to Baltimore to climb aboard dozens of tall ships and other vessels docked along the harbor, and to watch the Navy’s celebrated Blue Angels buzz the shores of the Patapsco River and Middle Branch.

For the record, 1.54 million people attended Sailabration and, by virtually any measurement, a very good time was had by all, according to a report released yesterday by Forward Analytics, the market research firm charged with measuring the festival’s impact.

That would rank the event slightly larger than the 1.5 million who reportedly attended the OpSail event in 2000 that, not coincidentally, lured a critical mass of tall ships to Baltimore’s harbor.

The Sailabration event was a significant fiscal success, generating an economic impact of more than $166 million – including $7.2 million in combined tax revenue for Baltimore City and the state of Maryland – and creating the equivalent of 4,047 jobs, according to the report.

Approximately 76 percent of Sailabration visitors came from outside Baltimore City and 28 percent were from outside Maryland, researchers report.

Not to overstate the obvious, but it’s pretty clear that the combination of warm sunny days, tall ships, the waterfront, an air show, and good attractions and places to eat on the shore constitute a powerful economic combination for Baltimore.

Economics aside, it’s also big fun for everyone, visitors and residents alike. That’s not something that should be downplayed. Baltimore is many things, but the city at its best is full-tilt fun.

The reason for Sailabration was to launch a national and local three-year celebration of the War of 1812. So the good news for those who loved Sailabration is: we’re going to do it again in September 2014 to celebrate the bombardment of Ft. McHenry, Baltimore’s signature historic event.

There are, no doubt, some who express wonderment that so much is being made of the War of 1812, a war that surveys show is not a major part of America’s consciousness.

I concede that most of the time, it’s a war that gets marginal attention and generally less respect than is due.

Possibly the most visibility the war gained in our nation’s popular culture was in 1959, when a song written by Jimmy Driftwood and recorded by country and rockabilly singer Johnny Horton, “The Battle of New Orleans,” rose to the top of Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 and country charts.

That hit song was about the famous 1815 American victory in Louisiana near the end of the war. But it pales in comparison to another song, “The Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem whose lyrics were written a year earlier by Francis Scott Key in a sloop off Fort McHenry as he watched British ships bombard the fort during the Battle of Baltimore.

By celebrating the War of 1812, particularly in Baltimore, we honor what was, in effect, our young nation’s “second war of independence” and the 1814 defense of our city that helped preserve the young nation after British forces had ransacked Washington, D.C., destroyed the White House, the Capitol and the Navy Yard.

It was a moment in history when Baltimore and our nation said “enough” to the greatest military power of its time. Through heroic efforts of Baltimore’s mayor, citizens at North Point, Patterson Park and soldiers at Fort McHenry, the invaders were turned back here.

Celebrating the War of 1812 gives Baltimore a unique opportunity not only to commemorate the night our city helped save America, but to demonstrate Baltimore’s current vitality, spirit and limitless potential to the world.

The Sailabration crowds enjoyed Baltimore at its very best. Many of the same attractions, such as the tall ships and the Blue Angels, will be back for a 10-day “Star Spangled Spectacular,” beginning September 5, 2014 and culminating on September 14, that will celebrate the Fort McHenry bombardment.

Judging from the popularity of Sailabration, I have a feeling the best is yet to come.