Historic Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapses After Ship Collision in Baltimore

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In Baltimore, a sprawling bridge with a significant historical backstory collapsed after being struck by a ship. This bridge was named in honor of an American figure synonymous with national patriotism–Francis Scott Key. Best known for his transformation of a riveting wartime experience into what would later become America’s national anthem, Key was a central figure during the early 19th century.

Key held prominence as a distinguished attorney in the mid-Atlantic region during the initial half of the 19th century. Another dimension of his multifaceted character came to light in September 1814. With tension brewing between the United States and Britain in the backdrop of the ongoing War of 1812, he found himself on a ship to negotiate the release of an American prisoner. Here, he became an eyewitness to the 25-hour British assault on Fort McHenry.

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Stationed strategically on the Patapsco River, the then 35-year-old Key experienced an awe-inspiring sight. Despite hours of unrelenting darkness and attack, the American flag soared defiantly over the fort. The dawn revealed the flag still fluttering spiritedly at the pinnacle of the fort. This inspiring sight sparked the shores of Key’s poetic prowess.

The originality of Key’s prose, “And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,” still reverberates with patriotic valor. Key’s original single rocket and bomb later multiplied into rockets and bombs.

A poem first known as “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” it was paired with the melody of a British tune before it was rechristened “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The 19th century saw its soaring popularity as a patriotic song leading up to March 1931, when President Herbert Hoover heralded it as the country’s official national anthem. The bridge paying tribute to him graced Maryland’s landscape since 1977.

Among the four stirring stanzas of the anthem, the first verse manages to capture the most recognition. However, the third stanza intriguingly references a slave. Key, ironically, belonged to a family who owned people and himself was an enslaver. While he supported the idea of resettling free Black individuals in Africa, he strongly opposed abolishing slavery in the U.S., as info from the National Park Service’s Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine suggests.

These complexities have led to Key becoming a figure of controversy in some circles, culminating in the removal of his statue in San Francisco in June 2020. Key’s life journey came to a close in 1843. The bridge, bearing his name and a testament to his complex legacy, now stands as a testament to the resilient threads weaving the history of a nation.