We went to the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. There are 423 national park sites in the U.S. and only one of them is additionally called a shrine (423 National Parks). Within the system there are 63 sites that include “national park” as part of their proper name.
By Presidential Proclamation in 1948 by Harry S Truman, the flag is required to be flown 24/7/365 at Fort McHenry. (By the way, Truman’s middle name “S” doesn’t represent a full name. His parents gave him the middle initial S to honor his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. Since the S did not stand for a name, Harry didn’t use a period after it for most of his life.
When a flag changes, such as when a new one is needed due to the admission of a new state, the new flag is flown for the first time on the following 4th of July at a location designated by the President of the United States. Fort McHenry was the first place that the 50-star flag was flown.
Except for special occasions, a smaller flag is always flown at Fort McHenry to protect the flagpole. The smallest size flag is flown in bad weather and overnight due to the unmanned flag. The rain makes it heavy.
There is an earth cam to watch the changing of the flag at 10am and 4pm every day. We were there to assist in the changing of the flag in the morning.
James McHenry was a founding father of our nation and served as the Secretary of War under Washington and Adams. Fort McHenry built between 1798 and 1800 is the first fort built by the USA. Its purpose was to improve the defenses of the increasingly important Port of Baltimore from future enemy attacks.
The only reason that Fort McHenry has been preserved was because of a catchy tune. In WWI, it served as a hospital. In WWII, it was a training camp for the Coast Guard.
Spangled stars are ones whose points are tilted. This flag is the only flag made with stars in that way. Supposedly, it makes them flicker while waving and resembles twinkling.
The Star Spangled Banner flag measures 30’x42′, about one quarter the size of a basketball court. Each stripe is two feet wide. It is the only American flag with the red stripe directly underneath the field of blue.
The flag was ordered by fort commander Major George Armistead in 1813. Armistead wanted it so large “that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.”
Baltimore flagmaker Mary Young Pickersgill made it, assisted by her daughter, nieces, an apprentice, and possibly an enslaved servant. The flag was so large they had to assemble it on the floor of a nearby brewery.
Additionally, they made a smaller storm flag that flew throughout the night of the battle. It was wool and was heavy with water from the rain and was hanging limp. The whereabouts of the storm flag is unknown but tradition says that one of the soldiers was buried in it.
On September 13, 1814, British ships were outside of Baltimore ready to attack. Francis Scott Key was on the British ship arranging for a prisoner exchange along with the prisoner and a representative of the US government. The three men had been successful but weren’t allowed to leave since they likely overheard battle plans from the British. They asked to be moved to a merchant ship under the American flag. For 24 hours the British bombarded Fort McHenry. One bomb occurred every 40 seconds, and it was pouring rain during that time.
On September 14 at 7:30 am, the British stopped fighting. At the time no one knew why but later learned that they had run out of ammunition. The three men aboard the merchant ship were trading the spyglass to see which flag was flying over the fort.
Every morning at 9:00am, the fort hoists the colors per army regulation. The famous and large flag was hoisted at that time. The fife and drum played Yankee Doodle and the large garrison flag was sent up the flag pole. Such relief!!
Francis Scott Key finished writing the song at his hotel in Baltimore on the evening of September 16, 1814. He showed it to his wife’s brother-in-law, Joseph Nicholson, who handed it out as a broadside sheet. It stated that the song should be sung to the popular tune of “Anacreon in Heaven.” In a matter of hours, the whole city was singing it.
The song’s popularity prompted a more official publishing in a Baltimore newspaper on September 20. By September 22 it had also appeared in a New York City newspaper. Newspapers in at least nine of the 18 states in 1814 had published the song within six weeks, reaching north to New Hampshire and as far south as Georgia.
Thomas Carr of Carr’s Music Store in Baltimore was the first publisher in October 1814, and was responsible for changing the title. The new name, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The popularity of “The Star-Spangled Banner” song made the flag into a national treasure. It was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1912 and is now on display in the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” had perfectly captured everything that the American flag should represent – courage, hope, homeland, and freedom. Americans looked afresh at their flag and saw in it a new sense of who they were and where they were headed.
The flag and the song are inseparable and strengthened a sense of national identity and enhanced the country’s status on the world stage. Never again would America fight as the underdog.