Flag Day, a historical aside

Today is flag day. Garrison Keillor has an article up about the poem, The Defense of Fort McHenry, or The Star Spangled Banner as it would be later known as.


But, you may think, how did that become our anthem?

Well, the music is from a song called “To Anecreon in Heaven” which was the official song of the Anecreontic Society in London. Now I have no idea what this society did in general, but they did drink.

And this song was not a ‘drinking song’ but rather a sobriety test. See, as we know from this year’s super bowl, this is a hard song to sing! So, when a society member wanted another drink, they had to sing a verse IN KEY to prove they were sober enough to continue.

Thankfully I’ve never had to do this, as I can’t stay on key singing “twinkle Twinkle Little bat”

So then what? Well, Key’s brother-in-law somehow noticed that this poem worked perfectly with the music to this not-quite-drinking song he just happened to know and got the paper to print it together. Even Washington Irving thought it was a good idea and reprinted it in his paper.

Next thing you know people are singing it all over.

It would be a be a while before it became our anthem, though. 1889 the Navy decided it would be the official tune played during the raising of the flag. In 1916 Woodrow Wilson ordered it be played at military occasions.

Two years later, 1918 it was played during the World Series, but not at the beginning, rather during the seventh inning stretch. I suspect it was moved to the beginning of the game since we all know you sing “take me out to the ball game” during the seventh inning stretch (which was written in 1908).

It would be 1931 before President Herbert Hoover signed the law to make the “Star Spangled Banner” our national anthem.

But hey, don’t believe me, go look! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star-Spangled_Banner

Two minor things. One: the flag that Francis Scott Key was writing about had 15 stripes, rather than 13, since at the time we were adding a star and stripe for each new state. Since that would have made the current flag look like a bar code, I for one am glad we stuck with just stars.
Two: there don’t seem to be many Woodrows anymore. Maybe it is time.

Author: jake

poet, editor, kilt wearing heathen. he/him