Fort McHenry park ranger portrays Francis Scott Key at Charlestown Retirement Community

"Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light," reverberated throughout a room at Charlestown Retirement Community Friday, marking the 200th anniversary of the day "The Star-Spangled Banner" was written by Francis Scott Key.

Friday's singing of what became the national anthem occurred in Catonsville, less than 10 miles from Fort McHenry, the site that inspired the lyrics.


Park Ranger Jim Bailey, of Catonsville, re-enacted the historic events that prompted Francis Scott Key to write the famous poem that became the national anthem. Bailey has been a park ranger at Fort McHenry for 16 years.

"Defenders of our country deserve a song," Bailey (as Key) said, tears forming in his eyes, "And without thinking I took out some paper I had and a pen and I began to scribble as my emotions started to tumble out."

Francis Scott Key, a well-established Georgetown attorney who served in the War of 1812, wrote the song after witnessing 25 hours of continuous bombing of Fort McHenry as a passenger of an American ship behind the British fleet, which was about eight miles away from the fort, according to U.S. National Park Service information.

The British were unable to destroy the fort, and when Key saw that the flag was still flying in the air, he was moved to to write the song.

It was handed out as a handbill titled, "Defence of Fort McHenry," which was later renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner" and was written to music, according to U.S. National Park Service information.

"We sometimes allow trivial things to divide us and yet, in times of great crisis or tragedy, we find that we can stand united because we're all the same — they did it 200 years ago," Bailey said. "On the anniversary, it's an appropriate time to mark that and to remind ourselves that whatever is happening, even if it seems insurmountable, that our greatest strength is standing together."

Bailey said that, as a park ranger, he has developed a greater understanding of what Fort McHenry means to visitors.

"It's a site that people all over the country and all over the world pilgrimage to, to understand what it means to be an American," Bailey said.

Bailey's grandmother Doris Bailey and great aunt Norma Files, both Charlestown residents, were among those in attendance Friday.

"We're very proud of him," Doris Bailey said of her grandson.

After his re-enactment, a 30-by-42-foot replica of the flag that flew above Fort McHenry was unfurled by Bailey and Charlestown residents while more than 400 voices sang the national anthem. The song was led by Charlestown resident Eugene Langbehn, 86, a 2014 recipient of the Governor's Leadership in Aging award for performing arts.

Langbehn said everyone in the room left with more knowledge about the historic event.

"It was very inspiring and filled in a lot of the blank spaces for us," Langbehn said. "Everyone walked away with a greater understanding of the conflict."