The Star Spangled Banner and the War of 1812

star spangled banner actual

This has been an incredible year for anniversary celebrations: 100 years since the start of World War I, D-Day’s 70th anniversary,  50 years since the Freedom Summer and  the signing of the Civil Rights Act (as well as the arrival of the Beatles in the United States) and 25 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Somehow the War of 1812 and its significant events 200 years ago get lost in the shuffle. PBS has an informative video about the War of 1812.

WhiteHouseBurning 1812In April 1813 the Americans captured and burned the Canadian city of York. In August 1814 the British retaliated by burning Washington, DC. We all have heard of the tale of First Lady Dolley Madison saving the portrait of George Washington. A month later was the Battle of Baltimore. Perhaps the memory of that is Francis Scott Key and his composition of the Star Spangled Banner. (A quick history refresher: Key was an attorney sent to negotiate the release of a prisoner of war aboard a British ship in Baltimore Harbor. He was detained aboard ship when the bombardment started. He wrote the poem the following morning when he saw that the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry. The poem was popular immediately but not recognized by Congress as the national anthem until 1931.)

fort mchenry under siegeThe flag has survived! It is housed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Before the museum acquired the flag it was kept by a private family. The family snipped pieces of the flag to give to dignitaries and relatives. If you visited the museum years ago, you might remember that each hour the flag was raised and lowered as patriot music played. Well, years of hanging and rubbing against an opaque screen made more holes in the flag. In recent years the flag has undergone intensive conservation and now is displayed in a specially designed dimly lit room. It is pretty impressive. Check the Smithsonian’s interactive flag display.

star spangled banner handwrittenYou could make a nice road trip to celebrate these historic events. Key’s original manuscript  is entrusted to the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore (it is sometimes on loan during this bicentennial).

 

 

 

 

 

 

fort mchenryThen visit Fort McHenry  to see where the flag inspired Key hung. And finally go to D.C. to view the recently preserved flag itself.

– posted by Brenda, Reference Services

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