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Francis Scott Key Monument

Eutaw Place at Lanvale Street,
Baltimore

Unveiled May 15, 1911. The sculptor was Jean Marius Antonin Mercie, of France.

Don’t necessarily believe what you see either in print or on the face of a monument — in this instance the south face. Mr. Key first saw the light of day in the year 1779, not 1780.

The sculptor’s concept places the thirty-five year old lawyer (1779-1843) at a sea wall, addressing the symbolic figure of Columbia, who holds aloft the gilded National Banner. Key’s right hand originally grasped a torch to illuminate the Flag, but the torch has vanished. For some years until 1973 the sailor’s right oar was another casualty, but has now been restored. The suppliant’s left hand grasps a manuscript, presumably that of his poem, which by Act of Congress was proclaimed the National Anthem a mere 117 years later (March 3, 1931)!

The City of Baltimore owes this imposing structure to the beneficence of one man, tobacco importer Charles L. Marburg, who had long been an admirer of the Maryland poet. In his will Marburg stipulated the then princely sum of twenty-five thousand dollars for the erection of the monument, but died shortly before it was completed. He had, however, named his brother, the diplomat Dr. Theodore Marburg, as trustee for completion of the project; and this was done.

At the ceremonies an American Flag was unveiled from the figure of Key by his granddaughter, Mrs. William Gilmor, assisted upon the platform by little Charles L. Marburg (of today’s “Torch Hill,” near Lutherville, and son of the diplomat), whose most vivid memory of the episode is that his new pair of white shoes pinched his toes unmercifully. The principal address was delivered by the Hon. W. Stuart Symington, Jr., a judge on the Supreme Bench of Maryland. Among the dignitaries present was James, Cardinal Gibbons.

It must be conceded that our monument is a relative latecomer to statuary honoring Francis Scott Key. Here are a few others that claim one’s attention:

1887Golden Gate State Park, San Francisco
1898 Mount Olivet Cemetery, Frederick, Maryland, where Key lies buried, with President William McKinley orator of the occasion
1915Estate of “Terra Rubra” (“Red Land”), near Keysville, Carroll County, where Key was born
1922Monumental figure of Orpheus strumming his lyre, at Fort McHenry, by Charles H. Niehaus, dedicated on Flag Day (June 14) that year, with President Warren G. Harding orator of the occasion

As a boy I used to derive much satisfaction from scrambling all over this lofty pile whilst my father was attending his patients at the Baltimore Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital, which used to occupy the building on the southwest corner opposite. I can, accordingly, say amen to all but the opening clause of the observation that follows from Francis F. Beirne’s The Amiable Baltimoreans (New York, 1951), p. 102:

Although it may not rate high as a work of art, it is an unending delight to little boys, who keep an eye out for the cops while they join Key and the sailor in the boat.

The monument underwent major renovation from 1996 until 1999. The then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoken at the monument in 1998 during the renovation on the importance of preserving historical monuments.

Sources

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