On this bike ride as I was riding east in the protected bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, I happened to see a small plaque on the front of a building. Out of curiosity I circled back and stopped to see what it was. And as it turns out the plaque, located 601 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), commemorates the location where “The Star Spangled Banner” was sung in public for the first time.
The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States. It was recognized for official use by the United States Navy in 1889, and by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. And it was made the national anthem by a Congressional resolution on March 3, 1931, which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.
The song’s lyrics come from a poem entitled “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, which was written in September of 1814 by Francis Scott Key, who just a few block past the western end of Pennsylvania Avenue has a memorial park named after him. Key was inspired to write the poem by the sight of a large American flag flying above Fort McHenry during its bombardment by the British Royal Navy during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. The words were later set to the tune of a British song which was already popular in the United States entitled “To Anacreon in Heaven”, written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London.
Despite the fact that the song is notoriously difficult for nonprofessionals to sing because of its wide range, The Star Spangled Banner today is traditionally sung most often at the beginning of many public sporting events in the United States, as well as other types of public gatherings. But on this bike ride, I discovered where the patriotic song was sung in public for the first time a little over two hundred years ago.
The plaque reads, “On this site in 1814, “The Star Spangled Banner” was first sung on public. The most famous of several hotels on this block was Brown’s Marble Hotel (1851 – 1935), an innovative greek revival landmark, where John Tyler and Abraham Lincoln were guests. In the 1830’s, Beverly Snow, a free black, operated the epicurean restaurant on the corner of 6th Street. The Atlanta Coast Line Railroad Building was completed at the same location in 1863. Its façade was incorporated into the present office building, erected by the B.F. Saul Company in 1985.”