Dazzled by the Blast: Francis Scott Key’s Inspiration


Inspiration hits with a flash, stories written on the go. A rumble of laughter and the tale is heard only in echoes. The wind blows me in a new direction. Whom shall I visit next?

Everyone knows about the circumstances under which Key wrote the lyrics to the “Star Spangled Banner” to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven”….or do they?

Key and his pal, boyhood neighbor Ricardo O’Shea, were there watching the battle, and Sergeant O’Shea was anxious to get back to the front. Just as he stood up from the trench and ran out into the battleground, a gigantic blast of light turned the night to brilliant brightness; O’Shea covered his eyes with a cry of pain and fell over onto the ground.

Fearing his buddy might have lost his sense of sight in the blast, Francis Key shouted out, “Hey mate, are you all right?” But there was no answer. Call as he might, O’Shea did not respond, and Key, a mere reporter rather than a fighter, dared not walk out to him. Finally he decided to sing instead. So with a deep breath he took the tune that was running through his mind at the time and put relevant words in: “O’Shea, can you see?”


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