This story was published in the Sept. 14, 2001, edition of the Lewiston Tribune.
FORT WORTH, Texas — Marge Hampton began planning weeks ago to have her preschool students create a giant American flag to mark today’s 187th anniversary of The Star-Spangled Banner.
But the terrorists’ attacks on America this week gave Hampton’s flag, the national anthem and the symbolism surrounding the icons an extra resonance.
And the fact that the lyrics were penned soon after an attack on Washington, D.C., in 1814 in which the British burned the White House, adds another parallel to the attack on the capital city this week, said David E. Narrett, a University of Texas at Arlington history professor.
Hampton’s version of Old Glory will be about 9 by 12 feet and made of heavy coated paper. The students, ages 2 to 4, will coat their feet and hands with paint and fill in the blank stars and stripes.
“The little feet prints will make the stripes,” said Hampton, head of Arlington’s First Presbyterian Preschool, “and their little hands will make the stars.”
Though they’ll be too young for a heavy-duty history lesson, the experts can fill in the facts surrounding the origins of the anthem and flag.
Musicologist Mark McKnight of the University of North Texas’ music library said the lyrics were originally written to fit the tune of a drinking song Americans of 1814 would have known, though they might not have been able to sing it easily.
“It is fairly difficult to sing because it goes pretty low and pretty high,” McKnight said. “My boss thinks there should be a constitutional amendment that only the Marine Band should play it. If you don’t have the Marine Band, then you should play their recording of it.”
Notwithstanding the challenge of singing it well, the song became a powerful symbol of unity for a young nation that was trying to weld unity out of sectional rivalries, Narrett said. The song became the national anthem in March 1931.
Paul Plamann, a park ranger at the Fort McHenry National Monument and National Shrine in Baltimore, said some visitors this week have been moved to tears by the display dramatizing the battle that composer Francis Scott Key spent the night watching as he paced the deck of a British ship. Like those who’ve seen the terrorist attacks against New York and Washington this week, Key was a witness to history.
Said Piamann, “Quite a few I’ve seen recently have been choked up and teary-eyed.”
The garrison flag Key saw flying over the fort after a rainy night of bombardment was woven of gauzelike wool bunting and was designed to last just two years, said Marilyn Zoidis, curator of the Star Spangled Banner Project at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
But it has survived 188 years and is being conserved for future display at the museum, she said.