A first edition sheet music for The Star Spangled Banner (Getty)
The flag featured 15 stars and 15 stripes (representing the 15 states then in
the Union), weighed 75lbs and measured 30ft x 42ft. To give you an idea of
how big that is, the stars-and-stripes window on the side of the modern
museum building alongside Mary’s house is precisely the same size. The irony
– one they delight in pointing out in the museum – is that the new “ensign”
was made from English wool bunting: “enemy fabric”!
Fort McHenry received its new flag on August 19 1813, and a little over one
year later British forces, having burnt and looted Washington DC, turned
their attention to the port city of Baltimore. “A nest of pirates,” they
called it, because privateers from Baltimore had been nobbling British
merchant ships along the Atlantic seaboard. And, when I visited, it seemed
the pirates had never gone away. Fell’s Point, the historic harbourside
quarter of cobbled streets and pleasantly grungy bars, was swarming with
revellers in tricorn hats, carrying cutlasses and wearing plastic parrots on
their shoulders. It turned out this was the weekend of the annual Privateer
Festival, an excuse (as if Fell’s Point ever needs one) for some serious
drinking and loud, live music. This honorary representative of Jack Tar felt
obliged to do his bit. So I had a couple of pints of Cutlass Amber Lager in
Kooper’s Tavern on Thames Street before turning in early for my date with
destiny at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine the
There was no rest for the British on the night of September 13 1814. All
through the small hours Royal Navy ships rained down rockets and bombs on
the star-shaped Fort McHenry from their position on the Patapsco River. Also
out on the river that night was a Maryland lawyer, and amateur versifier,
called Francis Scott Key. He was observing the battle from the deck of a
“truce ship” – an unarmed, neutral vessel – and, as dawn broke, he watched
anxiously for signs of which side had prevailed.
The Baltimore harbour (Fotolia/AP)
The bombardment stopped about 6.30am and, at 9am – hardly “dawn’s early
light”, as the anthem has it – there was movement in the fort. Something new
was appearing, but what was it? The answer, my friend, was blowing in the
wind: “What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep, /As it
fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?… ’Tis the star-spangled
banner! O long may it wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the
“There’s debate whether Francis Scott Key could actually see the flag,”
admitted Ranger Vaise, the “Chief of Interpretation” at Fort McHenry, as he
showed me around the simple barrack blocks and brick-and-earth
fortifications. But word soon got out that the British onslaught had been
unsuccessful, and what’s not in doubt is that Key started to write a
rousingly patriotic poem in honour of the defenders of Fort McHenry.
When he got back to Baltimore, Key found a publisher for the poem, then called
“Defence of Fort M’Henry” (the original manuscript can usually be seen at
the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore but will be on display at Fort
McHenry in September), and it was soon set to music and given the punchier
title we know today. The tune, incidentally, was that of a well-known
English drinking song. The Star-Spangled Banner was quickly adopted by the
US armed forces and in 1931 it became America’s official national anthem.
That large piece of finest English wool bunting, meanwhile, became America’s
most precious historical object and is now on permanent display at the
National Museum of American History (part of the Smithsonian Institution) in
Washington DC. “It’s really the words that make the flag the cultural icon
it is today – the almost religious veneration Americans feel,” said Ranger
Vaise. “It’s a comforting symbol – the guy who flies it over his used-car
lot is not going to rip you off!” And he looked up at the flagpole,
Francis Scott Key circa 1956 (Getty)
The Star Spangled Banner: in full
O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Francis Scott Key, 1814
For the latest on anniversary events and the Star-Spangled Spectacular
of Sept 6-16 visit baltimore.org/national-anthem
When to go
Heat and humidity – and domestic tourism – peak in July and August. September
is pleasantly warm with cool nights.
Flying time and time difference
About 8hrs direct. GMT/DST -5hrs.
Baltimore is just 40 miles from Washington DC and is well connected by both
road and rail to DC, New York and other east coast destinations. America As
You Like It (020 8742 8299; americaasyoulikeit.com)
offers four nights’ b??b at the Homewood Suites, Inner
Harbor, and return flight on BA from £855, sharing.
The Charm City Circulator (charmcitycirculator.com)
is a fleet of 30 free shuttle buses that run every 10-15 minutes on four
different routes – including the Banner Route from Inner Harbor to Fort
The Water Taxi service (9410 563 3900; baltimorewatertaxi.com)
connects various points around Inner Harbor and the Patapsco River including
Fort McHenry: adult day pass $12 (£7), child pass $6 (£3.50).
The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House (410 837 1793; flaghouse.org)
is at 844 E Pratt Street near Inner Harbor. Open Tues-Sat 10am-4pm; $8 (£5)
Fort McHenry (Alamy/Getty Images)
Fort McHenry (410 962 4290; nps.gov/fomc)
is at 2400 E Fort Avenue. Open [from Sept 2] 9am-4.45pm daily; $7 (£4.50)
The Maryland Historical Society (410 685 3750; mdhs.org)
is at 201 W Monument Street. Open Wed-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm; $9
The Reginald F Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History Culture
(443 263 1800; rflewismuseum.org)
at 830 E Pratt Street features an exhibition on the flag, For Whom It
Stands. Open Wed-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm; $8 (£5).
The American Visionary Art Museum (410 244 1900; avam.org)
at 800 Key Highway in Federal Hill is celebrating the anniversary with an
outdoor exhibition. Open Tues-Sun 10am-6pm; $15.95 (£9.50).
Also worth a visit
The BO Railroad Museum (410 752 2490; borail.org)
is at 901 W Pratt Street. Open Mon-Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm; $16/£9.50
(2-12s $10/£6). The War Came by Train exhibit, marking the 150th anniversary
of the Civil War, runs until April 2015.
The Edgar Allan Poe House (poeinbaltimore.org),
where the writer lived in the mid-1830s, reopened this year at 203 N Amity
Street. Open weekends 11am-4pm; $5 (£3). He is buried nearby, in Westminster
Burying Ground, at the corner of Fayette and Greene streets.
Where to eat
Baltimore is famed for its seafood. Two good places are the upmarket Oceanaire
Seafood Room (443 872 0000; theoceanaire.com)
at 801 Aliceanna Street, with great oysters from $3 (£2) and mains such as
tilefish with white crabmeat for $30-40 (£18-24); and the unpretentious John
Steven Tavern (410 327 5561; john stevenstavern.com) at 1800 Thames Street
in Fell’s Point: crab cake starters $12.95 (£8), seared scallops $25.95
Baltimore Visitor Centre at 401 Light Street on Inner Harbor has an exhibition
on Maryland in the War of 1812. Open 9am-6pm daily until the end of
September, then 10am-4pm until May. See also baltimore.org,
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Article source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/northamerica/usa/11047941/Baltimore-The-Star-Spangled-Banner-bicentenary.html