Star-Spangled Music Week: What did 1914 writers think about 2014?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Star-Spangled Music Week
Scientific American 1914 issue with Woodrow Winson quote on the cover

WHAT DID 2014 LOOK LIKE A CENTURY AGO? To many American journalists, the future looked rosy! “The door of opportunity swings wide before us,” Wilson wrote in this 1914 issue of Scientific American. As we see on this cover, journalists 100 years ago also took pride in America’s patriotic symbols.

This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of our national anthem. One-hundred years ago was the Star-Spangled Banner’s centennial.

What did Americans think then about the bicentennial in 2014?

This month, celebrations of the bicentennial abound. We’ve discussed the Smithsonian Institution’s “Raise a Glass to History” event this evening, the “Proudly We Hail” half-time show at the University of Michigan football stadium tomorrow, and the giant panda cub Bao Bao, winner of the Smithsonian’s Summer Showdown of American symbols. Yesterday, the 13th anniversary of 9/11, we paused to remember the victims of the tragedy, and the threat posed today by the jihadist group ISIS.

ISIS and 9/11 were beyond thought and imagination in 1914, even though World War I already was raging among the European powers. The world in 2014—as imagined in 1914—was a much more peaceful place, according to a 1914 editorial in the Baltimore Sun that was just reprinted. In fact, “the most signal advance which the world will make in the next century will be moral and intellectual in character….” Science and sociology would enhance human health and eradicate poverty. And so on.

The Baltimore Sun editorial was right in line with what other major American publications were predicting that year. President Wilson wrote a letter to Scientific American magazine about the nation’s future role in the world. “It will be a signal service to our country to arouse it to a knowledge of the great possibilities that are open to it in the markets of the world. The door of opportunity swings wide before us,” Wilson wrote. “Through that door we may, if we will, enter into rich fields of endeavor and success.” The Scientific American editors were so impressed that they quoted the first line of Wilson’s letter on the magazine’s cover.

Most predictions about the future prove wrong, but the Baltimore Sun writer 100 years ago got one right—and it’s about the Star-Spangled Banner:

“Let our hope and prayer be that a hundred years from now, whatever other changes time may have wrought, the people of 2014 may still see the same banner waving over them that waves over us, and still symbolizing the principles of justice, brotherhood and equality of opportunity.”

How will you mark the bicentennial of our national anthem?

Does it make you feel good to hear the national anthem—or see the flag flying?

Note: In case you’ve been wondering about the outcome of the Raise a Glass to History competition, the winner is Gunpowder Cream—a concoction made of pure maple syrup, aged rum, English Breakfast tea, lemon juice, whipped cream, and cinnamon.

Star-Spangled Music Week: Do alcohol and patriotism mix?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Star-Spangled Music Week
Raise a Glass to History Smithsonian

PATRIOTIC COCKTAILS? Click on these images from the Smithsonian Channel to visit the “Raise a Glass” website.

This weekend marks an historic event in American history: It’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. (You’ll can read more about this historic milestone in Stephanie Fenton’s Holiday column.)

Shall we raise a glass to history?

You can do so at the Smithsonian Institution’s “Raise a Glass to History” celebration on September 12th in Washington, D.C., held at the National Museum of American History. The event features the nation’s top mixologists making cocktails “inspired by our spirited past” like Fort McHenry Flip, Colonial Ties, Of Thread and Theory, This Conflagration Nation, and Pickersgill Cocktail.

Simon Majumdar, the Food Network’s “toughest critic,” will host the event. Music is provided by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. A ticket is $200 because, well, it’s the 200th anniversary. Proceeds cover costs and benefit programming and research.

Francis Scott Key wrote his poem “Defense of Fort McHenry” on September 14, 1814, after witnessing the bombardment of the fort by the British the night before. He was inspired by the Stars and Stripes waving over the fort, indicating an American victory. It was a turning point in the long and brutal War of 1812.

Two hundred years later to the day, September 14, 2014, the University of Michigan features a faculty recital of Poets & Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Conducted by Jerry Blackstone, it includes a chorus and soloists, plus narration by musicologist Mark Clague. The event is free and open to the public. It takes place a 4 PM at the Hatcher Library, Room 100.

How do you plan to celebrate the bicentennial of our national anthem?

How well do alcohol and patriotism mix?

American Symbols: I don’t have the missing star—but I could!

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series American Symbols
Benjamin McKeehan who served in the Kentucky Volunteers in the War of 1812

Benjamin McKeehan who served in the Kentucky Volunteers in the War of 1812

The 15th star from Old Glory—the original flag that flew over Fort McHenry—is missing. I swear I don’t have it. But I could!

Tomorrow is Flag Day, a time when Americans celebrate the beloved American symbol, the stars and stripes. This Flag Day is special because this year is the 200th anniversary of the date when Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that became our national anthem.

So far, we’ve featured a rendition of the anthem as it was sung in Key’s day, courtesy of our friends at Star Spangled Music. We invited you to RAISE IT UP!—the “group sing” of the anthem that takes place tomorrow. We viewed the worst national anthem nightmare, and discussed the mystery of the missing star taken as a souvenir from the flag that survived the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Today, I’ll tell you why I could have the missing star.

I am a descendant of Benjamin McKeehan, a Scotsman who immigrated to the United States in 1810—just in time to sign up for the War of 1812 and fight the British. The Scots and the British were not exactly friends, and Benjamin eagerly joined the fight. He enlisted in March 1812, according to the Roll of Captain Ambrose Arthur’s Company, Boswell’s Regiment, of the Kentucky Volunteers. (My aunt, who lives today in this part of Kentucky, says she knows the descendents of Ambrose Arthur.)

It was theoretically possible that Benjamin got the 15th star as a souvenir—after all, he was there. In fact, there’s an historical marker that commemorates his service. The star could be a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation.

But here’s the best evidence that I don’t have it. As I mentioned in Wednesday’s column, the missing 15th star was “cut out for some official person.” Benjamin, however, was just a private in the army, so it couldn’t be him.

Which American symbols mean the most to you?

Does seeing the flag or hearing the national anthem make you feel good?

Do you have any treasured American symbols?

American Symbols: Do you have the Star-Spangled Banner’s missing star?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series American Symbols
A piece cut from the Star Spangled Banner now back at the Smithsonian

This is one of the pieces cut from the famous flag that now is back in the Smithsonian collection. CLICK this photo to read the Smithsonian story about the restoration effort.

“Do you have the 15th star?”

That’s the question curators at the Smithsonian Institution will ask a visitor who is a descendent from the War of 1812, especially if the visitor is related to the family that owned the flag. It seems that someone cut out the 15th star as a souvenir. Its whereabouts are unknown.

It would be sacrilegious today to cut a piece of an historic flag, but that was a regular and accepted practice in the 1800s. As a result, the original Star-Spangled Banner—yes, the one that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key—is about 20% smaller than it should be, according to an article this month in the Smithsonian Magazine.

The flag was owned by descendents of Lt. Col. George Armistead, the commander at Fort McHenry. They often received—and granted—requests for a piece of Old Glory. Wealthy people and dignitaries got some, as did historical groups, family friends, and household staff, according to the article.

Some swatches will never be recovered, such as the piece buried with a veteran of the battle or the one at the Francis Scott Key Monument (Golden Gate Park, CA). Every now and then, a piece will show up at auction or discovered in a dusty old attic. In its restoration effort, the Smithsonian has even had to place secret bids in auctions, according to the article.

The missing 15th star was “cut out for some official person,” according to Georgiana Armistead Appleton, daughter of the commander of Fort McHenry. But she never said who got it. Its location is a mystery to this day.

Do you have the 15th star from Old Glory?

What do you think of the practice of taking souvenirs?

Is it OK to own a piece of the Berlin Wall? Or, the World Trade Center?

American Symbols: Join the largest “group sing” of the national anthem!

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series American Symbols
Smithsonian Museum of American History Raise It Up Star Spangled Banner

Click the logo to visit the Smithsonian page for the event.

Flag Day is Saturday, and this is a special Flag Day because it celebrates the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s poem that became our national anthem. Events are taking place around the country, but there’s one you can join no matter where you live: RAISE IT UP! Sponsored by the National Museum of American History in our nation’s capital, it’s the largest group sing of the national anthem in history.

Will you sing?

If you want to add your voice, mark your calendar for June 14, 2014, at 4:00 PM EDT. There are many ways to participate:

Find and join a local Anthem celebration in your community that’s registered at the RAISE IT UP! web site. (Click on the logo above.)

Host your own Anthem party. The Smithsonian even provides recipes for making Star-Spangled treats and desserts.  And, the Smithsonian store offers Star-Spangled Banner products, including T-shirts, tote bags, pint glasses, coffee mugs, and more.

If you’re in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., you can join the national sing-along at the American History Museum (National Mall between 12th and 14th Streets). If you arrive by 2:30 PM EDT on June 14th, you can enjoy a free concert, featuring guitarist Kristen Capolino, the U. S. Air Force Concert Band, a 400-person choir, and the “Singing Sergeants”—the official chorus of the U.S. Air Force.

If you can’t get to the National Mall, the concert will be live webcast starting at 2:30 PM EDT, also shown later that evening on the Smithsonian Channel.

Do you have a reason to not participate in the celebration of our flag and national anthem?

Will you participate?

Or, is this Saturday simply another day on the calendar?

American Symbols: Why is THIS Flag Day so special?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series American Symbols
American flag on the Moon from United America gallery

INSPIRED by this classic photo? CLICK ON THIS IMAGE to check out Dr. Wayne Baker’s Gallery of American Images, part of the “United America” project.

Flag Day is this Saturday, June 14. It’s an annual celebration of the day the American flag was adopted by the Second Continental Congress in 1777.

Today, I hope you’ll think about this question: What makes this Flag Day so special?

The American flag and the national anthem are both potent symbols. Together, they represent what’s called “symbolic patriotism”—an emotional attachment to country expressed through love of American symbols. Symbolic patriotism is one of the 10 core values I document in United America.

Foreign observers are always amazed at the near-reverence with which Americans embrace their symbols. But if you are American, you understand completely. Seeing the flag fly or hearing the national anthem makes just about any American feel good.

Hearing the anthem this year should make you feel especially good because it marks the 200th anniversary of the writing of what became our national anthem. On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key espied the “broad stripes and bright stars” at the British bombardment of Fort McHenry. It inspired him to write the poem that became our national anthem.

Almost any American can sing the first stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner, though the range of the song makes it difficult for many.

Did you know that the way it is sung now is quite different from the way it was sung in Key’s day?

Care to know how it was originally sung? University of Michigan musicologist Mark Clague, an authority on Key and the Star-Spangled Banner, arranged to reproduce the original tune. You can hear how it was sung in Key’s day in the video clip below. Listen—and tell us what you think!

Mark Clague’s web site—Star Spangled Music—is a treasure trove of facts, history, recordings, and more—all about the 1814 event that figures so prominently in the American consciousness.

What does the national anthem mean to you?

Do you like—or dislike—the say the tune was sung in Key’s day?

Do you care about Flag Day?

Images of America: Lincoln Memorial

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series American Images

Lincoln Memorial with InscriptionMy wife and I spent an anniversary in Washington, D.C., visiting many famous memorials and monuments. For me, none stood out as much as the Lincoln Memorial. At other memorials, visitors walked through the exhibits, pausing to gaze, read inscriptions and reflect–but then hurrying to the next place. But at the Lincoln Memorial, people lingered, often sitting and conversing on the steps. Many seemed reluctant to leave.

Have you visited the Lincoln Memorial? What does it mean to you?

This week, I’ve perused our gallery of 100+ American Images, selecting five of my favorites and describing what each means to me. We began with the image of Buzz Aldrin and the American flag on the moon, and then considered the image of immigrants at Ellis Island “climbing into the Promised Land,” a Stand Down for homeless veterans, and Mark Twain as a critical patriot.

We conclude today with the Great Emancipator.

The Lincoln Memorial is filled with symbolism. It includes the text of the Gettysburg Address and the 16th president’s Second Inaugural Address. Legend has it that Lincoln’s fingers make the letters A and L in American Sign Language, a legend that could be true because the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, had a son who was deaf.

There are many reasons why people might linger at this memorial. It could be its location, the magnificent view from its steps, or its association with other historic events. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from these steps in1963.

His preservation of the union is the most important reason, in my opinion. Lincoln faced the greatest threat the nation has ever seen and, as it says in the epitaph, he “saved the union.”

Our so-called culture war today pales in comparison. It’s not a hot war. It’s not a shooting war. If we could preserve the union when faced with a bloody civil war, how could we not find a way to rise above our polarized politics today?

What does Lincoln mean to you?

If you’ve visited the Lincoln Memorial, what did it stir in you?

Which of the five images we’ve viewed this week your favorite?

NOTE: Be sure to read Duncan Newcomer’s essay on Lincoln and the 10 Core Values, as well as other Lincoln resources we offer. And, visit our inspiring gallery of American Images, along with instructions on how to use these images to have a civil dialogue about American values.