‘The Star Spangled Banner’ Turns 200, Francis Scott Key’s Impact On Bay Area Landscape

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — This year marks the bicentennial of The Star Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics after he was moved by the sight of the flag flying over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore.

Francis Scott Key Elementary School in San Francisco isn’t the man’s only signature on our landscape.

Just take a walk through the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park, where there is a huge monument dedicated to Key.

“I believe it’s the biggest monument in the park,” said historian Christopher Pollock. “A likeness of Key, in bronze he sits in the chair. And then, the finial on top is the Goddess of Liberty.”

But who would give the park such a grand statue of Mr. Key? “James Lick was the benefactor of this magnificent piece,” Pollock said.

James Lick, who died the richest man in California in 1876, has his name is on places throughout the Bay Area. Landmarks such as Lick Observatory and James Lick High School are named in his honor.

But in 1814, Lick was a teenage piano maker in Baltimore. With his own eyes, he watched the perilous fight at Fort McHenry, the very same rockets and bombs that inspired Francis Scott Key.

“It’s an extraordinary come together of small time, small place, little situation that adds up to something big, really, in American history,” Pollock said.

Barely an hour’s drive from that statue, Key left an even more intimate legacy in the Bay Area.

“We have one daughter here and several of their children, so we have five members of Francis Scott Key’s family here in the cemetery,” said Joyce Giles of Mare Island Historical Park.

One of Key’s daughters followed her husband to California, when he was hired by David Farragut to help build the Mare Island Naval Shipyard.

“It’s a little piece of history we throw in, a little piece of United States history,” Giles said.

More from Ken Bastida
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