Do you know the Star-Spangled Banner?
Last week marked the 200th anniversary of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was written in Baltimore, Maryland. The city pulled out all the stops. There were fireworks, historical reenactments and live performances.
Here are five things to know about America's national anthem and its birthplace:
WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH BALTIMORE?
Pretty much everything. The War of 1812 was in large part defined by the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814. This battle marked a turning point in the United States' war with England. America turned away the British forces despite the heavy bombardment of Fort McHenry. After U.S. commander George Armistead refused to surrender, British troops retreated. That's when American troops raised the American flag.
Shortly before the attack began, the U.S. sent a young attorney (and amateur poet) named Francis Scott Key to negotiate the release of American hostages. They were held aboard British naval ships. The British agreed to release the hostages. But Key and the others had to wait until after the bombing of Fort McHenry to return to shore. When the smoke cleared, Key saw the stars and stripes of the garrison flag. Right there, on Sept. 14, 1814, he wrote the verses of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It was soon put to music. The tune was borrowed from a British anthem.
FRANCIS SCOTT OUT-OF-KEY
"The Star-Spangled Banner" is one of the nation's best-known songs. It's belted out with more frequency and greater gusto than any other in American history except, maybe, "Happy Birthday." But Key never had written a song. There's a good reason, according to historian Marc Leepson. "He was an amateur poet, but not just any poet he was a bad amateur poet," Leepson said. "And he never wrote a song in his life. Why? His family described him as 'unmusical.' But that probably means tone deaf. There's a good chance the author of our country's most famous song was tone deaf."
SHAKESPEAREAN ROOTS, LASTING LEGACY
The phrase "Star-Spangled" was made famous through Key's text. But historian Marc Ferris said first references in literature were made much earlier. William Shakespeare twice used the turn of phrase. It was included in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" ("by spangled star-light sheen") and again in "The Taming of the Shrew" ("what stars do spangle heaven with such beauty").
But Key did coin one phrase. Ferris said: "In God We Trust" was inspired by a line in "The Star-Spangled Banner's" fourth verse.
Key owned slaves. His descendants were supporters of the Confederacy. But during the Civil War, 46 years after the War of 1812 was won and 18 years after Key died, Northern soldiers adopted "The Star-Spangled Banner" as their unofficial national anthem.
Key's family members denounced the "Star-Spangled Banner."
A PARTICULARLY PATRIOTIC ANNIVERSARY
This year's anniversary coincides with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Fort McHenry will host a ceremony that includes raising the national Sept. 11 flag. It's a patchwork stitched onto the flag that flew above the the site of the World Trade Center attacks. In June 2012, threads from the original flag that soared above Fort McHenry in 1814 were sewn onto a patch. Now it's attached to the national Sept. 11 flag.
Critical thinking challenge: Francis Scott Key coined a phrase that appears on U.S. currency but does it appear on a coin?