It’s been a star-spangled summer in Baltimore leading up the the 200th anniversary celebration of the writing of America’s national anthem.
Tall ships, naval vessels and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels are expected to arrive in the city’s beautiful Inner Harbor for a week of special events, Sept. 10-16. The celebration features a red, white and blue fireworks extravaganza, a star-studded concert with Motown’s own Smokey Robinson among the performers and other activities commemorating the night Francis Scott Key watched the British bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and, “by the dawn’s early light,” was inspired to write his immortal tribute when he saw the nation’s flag still flying.
Drafted on Sept. 14, 1814, “The Star-Spangled Banner” later was set to music and, though hugely popular, didn’t officially become the national anthem of the United States until 117 years later, in 1931.
“O Say Can You See?” Key wrote, crafting an anthem that came to be recited by generations of U.S. school children and citizens. It’s routinely played at baseball games and other sporting events. (Jimi Hendrix even played it at Woodstock). These days, weather permitting, an enormous flag matching the original 30 foot by 42 foot version flies over Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, where many of the Bicentennial activities are taking place.
Whether in Baltimore for September’s special celebration or any time, visitors may tour Fort McHenry and, if their timing is right, join the crowd and help raise the enormous flag.
Baltimore also boasts plenty of related sites, including the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, where flag-maker Mary Pickersgill (not as well-known as that other early American flag-maker, Betsy Ross), was commissioned to create the giant flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes. She and a handful of assistants finished it in six weeks of dawn to dusk work, using 400 yards of bunting that came, in one of history’s great ironies, from Great Britain. The flag was so huge that no looms were big enough and the women had to lay it out on the floor of an abandoned brewery nearby.
Another popular stop on Baltimore’s Star-Spangled Banner Trail is the Maryland Historical Society where once an hour, for 10 quick minutes, visitors can see Key’s actual handwritten manuscript, in dramatic fashion, when the lights dim and a screen slides back to reveal it.
There’s even a movie about the anthem, “O Say Can You See: The Star Spangled Banner in Sports,” showing regularly at Baltimore’s Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum.
For information about the anniversary events and a Bicentennial Passport, check http://www.starspangled200.com. For details about Baltimore hotels and attractions, check www.baltimore.org or call (800) 343-3468.