"Star-Spangled Banner" manuscript travels to city

Francis Scott Key's original poem leaves Baltimore the the first time

-Capital Gazette Communications

By LIAM FARRELL, Staff Writer

Published 03/02/11
The words of the national anthem are more powerful in their original form.

Divorced from sporting events and off-key, error-plagued renditions of the music, "The Star-Spangled Banner" is most effective when read from a brown piece of paper, frayed at the edges and covered in an ornate scrawl.

The original manuscript of "The Star-Spangled Banner" left Baltimore and came to Annapolis for the first time yesterday as part of a private reception hosted by the National Anthem Celebration Foundation and the Maryland Historical Society.

"It is very important to be able to teach the story behind the song," said Dan Esmond, the founder and president of foundation. "There are a lot of people that don't even know this document exists."

The event comes as Maryland prepares for the bicentennial celebration of the War of 1812 and in the same week as the 80th anniversary of "The Star-Spangled Banner" becoming the official national anthem.

"What better time than that to have an event?" Esmond said. "Wewanted to get out ahead of some of the other celebration activities."

The poem "The Defence of Fort McHenry" - transported yesterday by armored car and police escort - was written by Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old Maryland lawyer and amateur poet who graduated from St. John's College in Annapolis.

While securing the release of a friend who had been captured by the British, Key was detained by them during the Battle of Baltimore and the shelling of Fort McHenry.

Inspired by the successful American defense, Key wrote the poem that later became an integral part of the nation's identity. The poem was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song.

Until 1931, "Hail, Columbia" "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and other songs were commonly played at patriotic event. U.S. Rep. Charles Linthicum, a congressman from Anne Arundel County, worked for 13 years to pass legislation making "The Star-Spangled Banner" the national anthem.

State Sen. James Robey, D-Howard, helped arrange the event. Robey said he was unaware of the manuscript's existence despite his seven decades in Maryland.

"It is not only about the United States of America, it is about Maryland," he said. "I got goosebumps when I took a look at it … How can you not?"

The document was scheduled to be taken from Annapolis to the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, where it will be for the grand opening of a new visitors' center tomorrow. The document will be displayed there for several months.

Read the full story on hometownannapolis.com.