During the night of September 13-14, Key, Skinner and Dr. Beanes (the prisoner) stood on the deck of the flag-of-truce ship which was anchored eight miles down river, watching the attack. They were well out of the fight, but near enough to see most of the action. During the night the bombs and rockets proved that the city had not surrendered, but now there was an eerie silence, broken only by an occasional distant gun. Key found himself torn with anxiety. He did not know the fate of the city or of Fort McHenry. He hated the war, yet here he was in the middle of it. But he was first and last an American, and in these hours of suspense he fervently - desperately - prayed that the American flag was still flying over the Fort.
The rest of the night the three Americans paced the deck, scarcely daring to think what daylight might bring. Again and again they pulled out their watches, trying to judge when the dawn would come. At five o'clock the first light of day tinged the sky. But there was no sun .. rain clouds hung low .. and patches of mist swirled across the water. It was growing brighter all the time. Finally Key raised his spyglass and he saw it. Standing out against the dull gray of the clouds and hills was the American flag, still proudly floating above the Fort. Turbulent, fervent thoughts raced through his mind. These thoughts began to take poetic shape. Using the back of a letter which happened to be in his pocket, Francis Scott Key began to jot down lines and phrases.
Finally on the evening of September 16, the Americans returned to Baltimore. There would be no sleep for Francis Scott Key that night. Vivid thoughts of the scenes he had witnessed raced through his poetic mind. He had tried to express his feelings in a few lines scribbled down right after the attack. Later he added more lines. He called this poem, The Defense of Fort McHenry. Almost from the start he thought of it as being sung to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven", a popular song of that period. It would be weeks before it would become known as "The Star Spangled Banner".
The song caught the city of Baltimore's fancy right away. It was published in the newspaper and people were singing it. The Fort McHenry garrison adopted it - every man received a copy - and the tavern crowds took it up. The song quickly spread to other cities, as the whole nation rejoiced in the news from Baltimore. Everywhere Key's stirring lyrics struck the right chord - the rare sense of exultation people felt about this totally unexpected victory.
"The Star Spangled Banner" was made the official United States National Anthem by an act of Congress in 1931
Tell about the meaning of the National Anthem and how it was written. This makes for an exciting, impromptu skit. Let part of the backyard become the fort, and the other part become the ship. Each boy can create streamers using a third each of red, yellow and orange tissue paper. No need to make bombs - the boys can supply the sound effects themselves. Let the Den Chief or Denner read the above story. The boys can really get involved in the skit, and learn how the song was written. They will not soon forget this story!
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