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Red, white and blue thoughts on this Independence Day eve

The Baltimore Sun

THE FLAG over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write 'The Star-Spangled Banner' was immense, 30-by-74 feet."

"This was during the War of 1812 against the British. A Baltimore widow sewed the flag for $405.90. It was commissioned by Maj. George Armistead "in the same defiant spirit that John Hancock once signed his name in bold letters to the Declaration of Independence."

This is from a terrific book titled Union 1812 by A.J. Langguth. And here's something unusual about the national anthem. The author quotes Key's opening stanzas written on the back of an envelope and they are slightly different from what we sing today. They go: "... whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the clouds of the fight, O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming."

If all of us now who love gossip and celebrity so much only loved history more - with all it has to tell us - I know we'd be better off. Happy Fourth of July and long may she wave!

Presidential prose

Did you know that all presidents are not necessarily jealous of one another? John Quincy Adams suggested that James Madison, who was the president after the third, Thomas Jefferson, "despite faults and blunders, has acquired more glory, and established more Union than all the three predecessors - Washington, Adams and Jefferson - put together." And here I have never even given James Madison a second thought.

This puts me in mind of the seventh president, Andrew Jackson. He wasn't a very "couth" man but he was mighty effective. I wonder what he would think today if he could see the depredations made against the Constitution by those now in power? Jackson wrote: "The Federal Constitution must be obeyed, states rights preserved, our national debt must be paid, direct taxes and loans avoided, and the Federal Union preserved."

This and that

In London, the talk of fashionable youth is how does Shirley Bassey, age 70, manage those spaghetti strap evening gowns that show off her impeccable upper arms? Shirley, the queen of the music themes from the early James Bond movies, claims it is yoga, which she took up in her youth. It keeps her sleek. ... Woman of the hour in the United States is Kriss Soterion of Manchester, N.H. She happened to be freelancing her makeup talents for CNN when she chanced to work on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. She did such a good job turning the candidate into a soft, glowy and beautiful vision that people assume Hillary has seen a doctor. Now everybody wants Kriss Soterion.

Get ready

By "pawpular" demand, Broadway Barks 9 will take place in Shubert Alley on July 14 from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore host a star-studded dog and cat adopt-a-thon benefiting New York's animal shelters. On point, if not on paw, will be Angela Lansbury, David Hyde Pierce, Harry Hamlin, Cheyenne Jackson, Michael Cerveris, Debra Monk and Karen Ziemba. Call 212-840-0770.

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