Thursday, September 11, 2014

What so proudly we hailed

What Key saw by the dawn's early light!
Two hundred years ago this weekend, the British, still smarting from their defeat in the Revolutionary War, showed up in Baltimore Harbor for The Battle of Baltimore. The War of 1812 had gone into overtime, and the British were attempting to get to Washington by taking the Baltimore-Washington Parkway invading the port of Baltimore by land and sea.  The battle had actually begun here in Baltimore County, at North Point, where the American forces had to retreat, but not before they slowed the enemy forces down enough to allow the people at the port of Baltimore to prepare for battle. As that battle raged on the night of September 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key stood on the deck of a British ship and watched the American resistance "by the dawn's early light" and wrote a poem he called "Defence of Fort McHenry," which, set to the music of the then-popular song "To Anacreon in Heaven," became "The Star-Spangled Banner," the national anthem of the United States of America.

Why was Key, an American lawyer, aboard the Royal Navy vessel? Well, at the time, lawyers were not allowed to advertise their services on television.  Reasons given for this ban generally include the sad fact that even those who had TV sets in 1814 had no electric outlets anyway. So Key got legal work as he found it, and had to go aboard HMS Tonnant, as the guests of three British officers, as he negotiated the release of prisoners. One of the prisoners held by the British was Dr. William Beanes, of Upper Marlboro, MD.  Beanes had put "rowdy stragglers" under citizen's arrest in what is today Baltimore's fabulous Inner Harbor, a worldwide mecca for rowdy stragglers.

Not really my license tag
So this weekend, Baltimore will celebrate the 200th anniversary of all this.  Most of us have the special Maryland license tags commemorating the writing of the anthem which is played before games just several long fly balls away at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a few long punts away at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens.

One of these kids was my maternal grandmom, Mary Elizabeth Willis! 1914.
2014 human flag being formed
Somehow, some brave people got 7,000 schoolchildren to wear red, white, or blue plastic ponchos and stand still long enough to form a human flag, a repeat of the human flag that schoolchildren did on the same spot a hundred years ago, when one of the kids was my grandmother.

That same summer of 1914, Baltimore's own George H. "Babe" Ruth, who grew up one long fly ball away from OPACY, went to work for the Boston Red Sox, beginning a legendary pro baseball career.

History follows cycles, and it's interesting to me to reflect on them.  It's fascinating to think that the kids in this year's Living Flag might have descendants around in 2114 to see it done again.

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