Tag Archives: SSB

Monday July 7, 2014

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!


Inside Visitor's Center

Inside Visitor’s Center

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.

25' x 17' still seems pretty large and magnificent

25′ x 17′ still seems pretty large and magnificent


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.

Cannons aimed at Baltimore Harbor

Cannons aimed at Baltimore Harbor

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Thursday July 3, 2014

Today’s conversation centered around the mythology of the SSB that is listed here.


We took the Metro into DC which is about a 25 minute trek.  College Park is the next to the last stop on the Green Line.  Seeing the Nation’s Capitol with a crowd of people who have never been here before is kind of neat.  The day started out beautifully, in spite of Hurricane Albert hitting the east coast of NC close to my house.  All the times that I’ve been to Washington DC I had never been to the Library of Congress.  It is a magnificent building with beautiful sculptures and paintings in the Grand Gallery and houses many different exhibits.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

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Thomas Jefferson was a far bigger bookaholic that I am.  He had a massive collection that he offered to the federal government after the British burned down the capital in 1814 during the War of 1812.  You can read more here.


This original collection is on display at the museum.

Part of Jefferson's original collection

Part of Jefferson’s original collection

The main buildings opened in 1897 with artistic decorations relating to literature, knowledge, creativity and intellectual achievement.  It was the first building in DC to be constructed with electricity installed.

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There are all kinds of exhibits featuring performers and writers.  The Ira and George Gershwin room houses their piano and many examples of music.

Gershwin Room

Gershwin Room

I particularly enjoyed the Bob Hope room which featured a lot of his memorabilia and photos/videos from his time period.  Lots of USO Christmas shows, movies, news etc. from the time period when entertainers were taking risks with humor involving the government.  Hope received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Bob Hope Presidential Medal of Freedom

Bob Hope Presidential Medal of Freedom

We spent about an hour with Library curators who displayed and talked about original documents relating to the SSB.  The tune for the SSB is the Anacreon, and many of the original pieces they showed us came from the 18th century.  The very first published copy of the SSB is behind glass.

First published copy of the SSB

First published copy of the SSB

Francis Scott Key’s lyrics were originally titled “In Defence of Ft. McHenry.”  Mark Clague points out that songwriting was a money making venture in these days.  It wasn’t long before the title was changed to the “Star Spangled Banner” and images of the flag attached, to give the sheet music less of a local Baltimore flavor and more of a nationally universal appeal.


So did you know that there is no official “legal” version of the Star Spangled Banner?  And that when it was made the official National Anthem in 1931, that was a deliberate choice so that each military division’s band could make it their own.  We talked about how pop stars can butcher the Anthem at sporting events, and perhaps when the NFL makes the choice who will sing it at the Super Bowl they are making the decision based on what kind of press they’ll get after the game.  How long will America be talking about Beyonce in that outfit singing the SSB?

The day ended with a concert from Thomas Hampson, Mark Clague and chorus from University of Michigan.  Many different versions of the SSB were performed as well as historical pieces.  The concert was free in the Coolidge Theatre at the Library and the 500 seat house was packed.

Thomas Hampson

Thomas Hampson