Today was our big field trip to Ft. McHenry in Baltimore. A fairly easy 45 minutes commute this morning as all the commuter traffic was going in the opposite direction, also to our advantage on the way back to College Park!
The 30′ x 42′ banner commissioned from flag maker Mary Pickersgill did not actually fly all night through the battle. Mrs. Pickersgill was a flag maker by trade and made a living sewing banners for the many ships that came into the port of Baltimore. Major General George Armistead, the commander of the fort, ordered two flags in 1813. A small “storm flag” that measured 17′ x 25′ and the majestic 30′ x 42′ banner “so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.” When you visit Ft. McHenry there are four different sizes that they fly depending on the weather. Today they were flying the 17′ x 25′ replica because of the wind conditions. They DO, however still fly the 30′ x 42′ replica when the weather permits. Imagine the weight of the giant flag on a wooden flag pole. The pole had a cross beam that was buried about six feet deep to help hold it upright.
In an extremely small nutshell, this is the fort that protected the city of Baltimore from British Invasion on September 13, 1814. The next morning Francis Scott Key and others stood on a ship watching and waiting for the sun to rise to catch a glimpse of the Star Spangled Banner. Once it was spotted Key wrote out the lyrics to the SSB. It has been stressed and I have learned that Key wrote the piece intending it to be a song. Gathering in pubs, halls town squares, information was shared in poetic and song form. People of the era knew tunes by name. Key wrote the lyrics to the SSB to purposely be sung to the tune of “An Anacreontic Song.” Mark Clague, musicologist from University of Michigan, did an excellent job of laying out the two songs side by side to show the flat out similarities. It’s a difficult 9 line rhyme with an extra rhyme in the middle of the fifth line. No way was it an accident and no way did he write the “poem” and then someone else put it to music, which has been frequently and inaccurately claimed in history.
The folks here at the institute are quick to point out that it was NOT really a drinking song. Which to some might be a moot point. In these days young men DID assemble in local clubs to discuss the politics of the day and there WAS drinking. Here’s a bit on the original song/tune recorded at Ft. McHenry, with a couple of “not quite the truth” points, but entertaining.
More acceptable version from the Star Spangled Music Foundation.
Of course, the SSB has gone through many evolutions and still changes every time it is performed as there is NO official version of our Anthem.
While this fort seems a bit “typical” it certainly has a richer history when you consider the link to our National Symbols.