The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • LV Times columnist: Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner

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  • Another Flag Day draws near, and quite likely will once again go largely unnoticed by the majority of Americans.
    But, perhaps that should not be the case this year as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
    It was two centuries ago — this September to be exact — that Fort McHenry resisted capture by British forces in the War of 1812.
    Some argue it was somewhat less than a glorious victory, as those same British troops burned most of the nation’s capital and sent government officials, including President James Madison, fleeing into the countryside.
    But, it was a victory nonetheless, and that led to one of American history’s most memorable events.
    The successful defense of Fort McHenry was witnessed by Francis Scott Key, who was so moved by what he witnessed he immediately put his joy to verse.
    Inspired by the sight, “at dawn’s early light,” of the American flag continuing to fly above the fort after bombardment throughout the night, Key wrote “Defense of Fort McHenry.”
    He subsequently put the verse to the tune of a popular British song — used as a drinking song upon occasion — which was immortalized as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
    The flag that inspired Key, by the way, has been on display since 2008 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History following a $7 million restoration.
    The restoration was necessary not only because of age and deterioration, but also because of a common practice in the 1800s — in the years before laws preventing such “desecration” of the flag — wherein owners of valued objects like a flag cut off pieces and gave them away as mementos.
    In the case of “The Star Spangled Banner,” the practice began almost immediately, when Lt. Col. George Armistead, commander of the fort, took possession of the flag, and it continued until a family member donated it to the museum.
    That was in 1912, on the 100th anniversary of the firing on Fort McHenry. By then the flag had been reduced by about 20 percent of its original size.
    The flag was sewn by Mary Pickersgill of Baltimore.
    Pickersgill fashioned it from red, blue and undyed wool, plus cotton for the 15 stars, representing the 15 states of the U.S. at the time.
    The cost was just over $400, which was a bargain, not only for what the flag would come to symbolize, but also because the flag was enormous, measuring 30 by 42 feet, large enough that it was hoped to be seen by any British warships that might find their way into Baltimore Harbor, which, of course, they did.
    For those interested in this story, I recommend a recently published book by Steve Vogel, "Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks that Saved the Nation."
    Page 2 of 2 - Bryan Le Beau is a historian and the University of Saint Mary provost.
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