The Star-Spangled Banner and Fireworks
Most of us have heard the Star-Spangled Banner sung in more ways that we ever wanted to. Once or twice, I have heard it done in ways that were down right despicable, all in the name of entertainment. Consider the consider the conditions in which the words were written because, of course, the song did not spring fully done as a song for your enjoyment on a record one day.
First, this is what was happening. On a rainy September 13, 1814, British warships sent a downpour of shells and rockets onto Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, relentlessly pounding the American fort for 25 hours. The bombardment, known as the Battle of Baltimore, came only weeks after the British had attacked Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol, the Treasury and the President’s house. It was another chapter in the ongoing War of 1812. American lawyer Francis Scott Key sat on a ship and watched on September 13 as the barrage of Fort McHenry began eight miles away.
“It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone,” Key wrote later. But when darkness arrived, Key saw only red erupting in the night sky. Given the scale of the attack, he was certain the British would win. The hours passed slowly, but in the clearing smoke of “the dawn’s early light” on September 14, he saw the American flag, not the British Union Jack — flying over the fort, announcing an American victory. Key put his thoughts on paper while still on board the ship.
Okay, there’s the tidy description. Now imagine the screaming of the men dying in the blasts and the fires. The stench. The moans of the suffering. The fear of Mr. Key as he huddled in the dark all night. Scratching down words on whatever piece of paper in whatever light he could. Wondering if any of his friends serving on the American ships were dying. Fearing for the fate of his country in this battle. War is never pretty, and this was brutal and nasty and worse than any nightmare Stephen King could ever come up with. For this was real.
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 watched, 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?
So next time you stand up with your hand over your heart or saluting while some one warbles, raps or otherwise tries to do some other awful rendition of this song of fear and wonder, think of each phrase this courageous man scribbled throughout a frightful night 204 years ago. Close your eyes and remove yourself from the crowds at the ballgame where you are and try to think of the dark, loud, smelly place he was in and appreciate the words like you never have before. THEN, play ball.