As Francis Scott Key watched the smoke clear and the sun rise above Baltimore’s Fort McHenry after witnessing its bombardment by British naval ships during the final months of the War of 1812, he had every expectation of seeing a white flag of surrender. To his surprise, he saw the tattered, but still flying, remains of an oversized American flag that had been commissioned just months earlier by the fort’s commander Major George Armistead.
Key was so moved by the by sight of the flag and by the Americans’ protection of their fort that he penned the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” That poem, eventually set to music and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” became the national anthem of the United States of America.
In honor of the upcoming 200th anniversary of Key’s poem on September 14, a new Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail was officially unveiled today. The trail provides visitors the opportunity to explore more than 500 miles of land and water routes where British armies and American defenders traveled and fought in the Chesapeake region of Maryland, Virginia, and the DC. It threads together hundreds of national and state parks, historic sites and museums that tell the stories of the events, people and places that contributed to the birth of America’s national anthem.
The new trail is part of a series of anniversary-related celebrations. From June 14 to July 6, for the first time the original poem written in Key’s hand will be united with the “broad stripes and bright stars” of the Star-Spangled Banner for a special exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. In addition, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Fort McHenry, located just 3 miles southeast of the harbor, will play host to Star-Spangled Spectacular, a free festival from September 10 to 16. Tall ships, Navy gray hulls and the Blue Angels will be part of the schedule. The festival’s main event will be on September 13 and include a patriotic concert and an extraordinary fireworks display over the harbor and fort.
Visit the Star-Spangled 200 website for a complete schedule of celebratory happenings.
– BY TROY PETENBRINK