“Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light…”
196 years ago today…
On September 13, 1814, Attorney Frances Scott Key was aboard a British troopship at Fort McHenry to negotiate the release of an American civilian that had been taken prisoner. When the bombardment of Fort McHenry began about four miles away, Key was detained on the troopship. In the early dawn hours of September 14, 1814, Key saw the huge flag still flying over Fort McHenry, and he excitedly began to write the words to the song that is now our nation’s national anthem. The poem’s original title was “In Defense of Fort McHenry,” and the anthem we sing is only one of four verses to the entire song. The last verse is so very special and inspiring, too.
It is also interesting to note that the song Key penned and put to music was not officially adopted as our national anthem until 1931. My parents were ten years old at that time. Kind of brings it all into perspective for me a little bit more. We are still a young nation.
The anthem is not an easy song to sing or perform on a wind instrument. My son is a trumpet player, and he has played the national anthem on several memorable occasions. One of the most special occasions was at his own high school commencement ceremony, where he stood on stage in the huge arena and belted it out solo. His classmates and everyone in the audience brought the house down as he finished. I know they were proud of his performance, but I also know that it was once again a recognition of our fervent pride in our country, too. He put his heart and soul into it, and it showed. It was a magic moment. His mother… well, she couldn’t hold the tears back… didn’t even try.
I am probably in a minority, but I still fight tears every time I sing the national anthem at a public gathering. I watch the flag going up the pole, and I think about Frances Scott Key looking out over the water to see that fort and that huge flag getting bombarded… and all he could do was watch… and start penning the words to our future national anthem.
Please go see the Star Spangled Banner at it’s beautiful home at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D. C. sometime. You can’t miss it because it sits just inside the main entrance of the building… totally appropriate.
Read up on the conservation (not restoration) project, too. The painstaking detail work done is just incredible. I was privileged to see the flag and some of the workers during the conservation project in the spring of 2001, and I finally saw the flag in it’s new home in the spring of 2009… memories that I will always treasure.
I think Frances Scott Key would be proud.