And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
~ Francis Scott Key 1814
This flag was photographed waving atop a 600ft rock formation in Castle Rock, Colorado. It’s majesty and gentle sway against the electric blue mid-afternoon sky literally stopped me in my tracks. I took a few moments to recite in my head, a few lines of the Strar-Spangled Banner.
As I gazed up 90 degrees at this tri-colored canvas that symbolizes the history of our great country, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat “transported” back in time. I wondered how this star-spangled banner (literally defined as marked or decorated with stars) came to be.
In a historic moment in time–specifically the summer of 1813 at Fort McHenry, whereby the commander, Major George Armistead, asked for a flag to be constructed so big that “the British would have no trouble seeing it from a distance” — two officers answered the calling: a Commodore and a General. They were sent to the Baltimore home of Mary Young Pickersgill, a “maker of colours,” and commissioned the flag. Mary and her thirteen-year-old daughter Caroline, working in an upstairs front bedroom, used 400 yards of best quality wool bunting. They cut 15 stars that measured two feet from point to point. Eight red and seven white stripes, each two feet wide, were cut. Laying out the material on the malthouse floor of Claggett’s Brewery, a neighborhood establishment, the flag was sewn together. By August it was finished. It measured 30 by 42 feet and cost $405.90.
This flag ~ this star-spangled banner, became the ultimate symbol of great perseverance when on the morning of September 13, 1814, at 7 a.m., the British bombardment began, and the flag was ready to meet the enemy.
As usflag.org recounts, “…the bombardment continued for 25 hours–the British firing 1,500 bombshells that weighed as much as 220 pounds and carried lighted fuses that would supposedly cause it to explode when it reached its target. But they weren’t very dependable and often blew up in mid air. From special small boats the British fired the new Congreve rockets that traced wobbly arcs of red flame across the sky. The Americans had sunk 22 vessels so a close approach by the British was not possible. That evening the connonading stopped, but at about 1 a.m. on September 14th, the British fleet roared to life, lighting the rainy night sky with grotesque fireworks.
Francis Scott Key, Col. Skinner, and Dr. Beanes watched the battle with apprehension. They knew that as long as the shelling continued, Fort McHenry had not surrendered. But, long before daylight there came a sudden and mysterious silence. What the three Americans did not know was that the British land assault on Baltimore as well as the naval attack, had been abandoned. Judging Baltimore as being too costly a prize, the British officers ordered a retreat.
Waiting in the predawn darkness, Key waited for the sight that would end his anxiety; the joyous sight of Gen. Armisteads great flag blowing in the breeze. When at last daylight came, the flag was still there!”
I don’t know about you, but I get quite choked up when I read this. I’m not a historian, nor am I someone who is a self-proclaimed Democrat or Republican. What I am is an American, who honors, reveres and feels a deep sense of humility when I allow myself a moment to appreciate that which has taken place in this country before I arrived–the sacrifices made for our freedom.
Now, as we fast forward 200 years, I can’t help but ponder the words of a dear friend and great citizen of our beautiful country:
“It is FATE to be born free; it is a PRIVILEGE to live free; but, it is a RESPONSIBILITY to die free…”
Thank you, star-spangled banner…