It was 1814 and the War of 1812 was still raging. A Washington lawyer was in Baltimore to negotiate the release of an American prisoner when a bombardment began at Fort McHenry. Hours later, he saw something that inspired him to write a four-stanza poem that would, in 1931, become the country's national anthem.
This Saturday is Flag Day and this year marks 200 years since Francis Scott Key saw the flag "gallantly streaming" through the "rockets' red glare." The actual anniversary isn't until Sept. 14, but Flag Day is as appropriate a time as any to pay tribute to the flag and the song it inspired.
In celebration, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History has set a goal: to beat the Guinness World Record for largest collective national-anthem performance. The current record-holder is Bangladesh with 254,537 singers.
In "Raise It Up! Anthem for America," groups and organizers across the country are invited to sign up and host parties. At 3 p.m., participants will join in and sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."
In Arkansas, the place to join in is Arkansas Flag and Banner in Little Rock.
"Were the only official location in Arkansas," says marketing director Tammie McClure.
Flag and Banner hosts a Flag Day event every year, but the activity list usually starts and ends with a flag retirement ceremony conducted by Girl and Boy Scouts. Not this time.
This year Flag Day falls on a Saturday, and that gave them the perfect opportunity to make it "the biggest we've ever had."
"I decided if we're going to do this, we're going to do it big," McClure says, calling the party "more a block party-type atmosphere."
The official flag retirement will still take place, but there will also be face painting, caricature drawings, games, prizes and lines of food trucks. They'll have a radio remote broadcast with KMJX-FM, 105.1. And there will be art.
"The kids will be given sidewalk chalk and they can draw all over the street," McClure says. "We'll have the street shut down so they'll be able to do whatever they want."
To help give people some background and history, there will be posters and take-home materials full of Flag Day history and facts. For instance, "the largest consumer of American flags besides us is Mexico."
To make sure everything's perfectly official for Guinness, they'll count everyone who attends and have them sign in. All singers will get a sticker, "kind of like an 'I voted' sticker."
McClure expects many veterans and active military personnel and their families to attend the party and ceremony. She points out that the Flag and Banner building has a military tie. It was the site of a USO for black soldiers from Camp Pike during both world wars.
"As far as I'm concerned, I think everybody should remember what our flag stands for," she says. "It's not just something that waves over federal buildings everywhere. It means a lot to our soldiers. They fight for that flag. A lot of them have died for that flag. For us to honor it, I think it's a very important thing to do because it also honors their memory."
Weekend on 06/12/2014
Print Headline: Flag Day to mark 200 years since anthem’s composition