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Repnow: ‘O say can you see by the dawn’s early light’

By Staff | Sep 12, 2014

What can be more American than apple pie, baseball and hot dogs? Well, perhaps the song which is played, and hopefully sung, before the baseball game starts.

Sept. 14, 2014, marks the 200th Anniversary of the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” by Francis Scott Key. While in Mrs. Vonderheide’s seventh-grade class at Underwood Public School, she took the time to explain, sing and also have us commit to memory our national anthem.

We strolled from our second story, light-blue classroom down to the front entrance of the gym. The choir bleachers and piano were there – yes, right in front of the blonde trophy case. Mrs. Vonderheide sat down at the piano, and we assembled on the bleachers. She played the national anthem, and she sang with us. When we were done, there was a visible tear in her eye for which she responded, “I never play and sing this piece without shedding a tear. I think of the blessings that have been showered on our land and I hope someday you, too, will truly realize this and feel it as well.”

There is never a time when our national anthem is played that I don’t feel that tingle of pride that skitters up my spine as the American flag is visible and “The Star-Spangled Banner” is being played. I took her words to heart, and now as an adult, I do sing when our national anthem is played. It is amazing when you are the one to start singing, before long, another person joins in and then another. It gives one some idea of what inspired the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Our national anthem was written by Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and a volunteer in a light artillery company during the War of 1812. A physician friend of Key, Dr. Beanes, was taken aboard Admiral Cockburn’s British squadron because it was said he had interfered with British ground troops. Key and a man named J. S. Skinner went to the squadron under a flag of truce, carrying a note from President Monroe, and asked that Dr. Beanes be released. Admiral Cockburn agreed, but since the British fleet was on its way to bombard Fort McHenry at Baltimore he detained all of the men, first on the H.M.S. Surprise, then on a supply ship in the Chesapeake Bay. Key’s vantage point aboard the ship is said to have offered sweeping views of the ensuing battle.

As we learned in class, the bombardment by the Royal Navy began at 7 a.m., Sept. 13, 1814, and continued for 25 hours. During the siege, the British fired more than 1,500 shells. On the smoke-infused dawn of Sept. 14, the tattered American Flag still waved proudly over Fort McHenry (the land of the free and the home of the brave). This flag would have had 15 horizontal red and white stripes as well as 15 white stars on the blue field. The two additional stars and stripes represented Vermont and Kentucky entering the union. The original flag was 30 by 42 feet in size.

During the bombardment, the men apparently slept very little. They were very excited about the battle – if Fort McHenry was taken, the British would capture Baltimore. Key wrote a stanza on the back of an envelope. When he was freed from the supply ship the next day, he completed the poem. Although the poem has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today. It was later set to an existing piece of music. Key later made copies, and these original copies are on display in the Library of Congress, another in the Pennsylvania Historical Society, and the third in the Maryland Historical Society.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was ordered played by the military services by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. It was officially designated as our country’s national anthem by Congress March 3, 1931, and it was signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Key was born in western Maryland – some say Aug. 1, 1779 and some say it was Aug. 1, 1780. His parents were of middle class, and he lived on a farm. He went on to study at the academy in Annapolis and then to St. John College. After college he studied law with Judge Jeremiah Chase. That was the way you learned to be a lawyer back then – by studying with one. He studied with fellow student Roger Brooke Taney. Later, Mr. Taney became a famous chief justice of the Supreme Court. Before this, however, he played an important part in the printing and distributing of Key’s poem. Back then the only way to get a message to everybody was through the newspaper or by handbills – no Internet or Facebook, and, amazingly, they survived! People were afraid that Baltimore was going to be lost to the British. So when Taney heard of Key’s poem, he decided to put out a handbill called “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” On the back of it, to pep up everyone, he put Key’s poem. It is said that a printer stayed up all night to set the type and get the handbills run off. In time, it was set to music and the tune chosen for it was “To Anacreon in Heaven,” an English drinking song that was popular around Baltimore. The same melody had been used as a military march and then later a political song called “Adams and Liberty.”

It did consume the public – much like the “Color Me Beautiful-Find my Season” book does at a Mary Kay convention. The colors red, white and blue have proven to be popular for all seasons. They make daily appearances in classrooms, government buildings, yards with white picket fences, farmyards, on the back of motorcycles and even in Ann Nicole Nelson Auditorium, where Minot Symphony director Scott Seaton asks those who have served to stand when their branch of the Armed Services Hymn is played.

It was the spectacular dawn that brought forth the image of these very colors that gave Francis Scott Key the inspiration for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” so proudly we hail.

There is nothing as American as apple pie. However, these apple bars, run a close second. With a harvest of apples soon to be picked, here is a recipe in which they would be delighted to appear. This recipe came from my mom’s files, and she received it from her sister Marjorie Scholl. It has crushed soda crackers mixed with the cornflakes to add a nice touch.

Danish Apple Bars


3 cups of flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening

Milk as needed

1 egg yolk, beaten


1 cup crushed cornflakes

6 finely crushed soda crackers

8 large apples, pared, sliced

cup white sugar

cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg white, beaten


1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons water or light cream

Crust: Sift together flour and salt; cut in shortening until crumbly. Add enough milk to egg yolk to make cup. Add flour mixture, blending until moistened. Divide dough almost in half, making one section slightly larger than the other. Roll out larger portion; cover bottom and sides of 15x10x1 inch jelly roll pan with dough.

Filling: Sprinkle crust with cornflakes and soda cracker crumb and arrange apples slices over the top. Combine sugars and cinnamon, sprinkle over apples and see how content they are.

Roll out remaining dough. Fit over top of apples. Moisten edges of dough with water; seal. Cut steam vents in top. Brush with stiffly beaten egg white. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour or until golden brown.

Frosting: Combine confectioners’ sugar, water or light cream, mixing well. Spread over bars while still warm.

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