On April 19, the Washington Post ran an article about a major renovation to the National Museum of American History. Included in the renovation is “a large devotional space for the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem.” Next to the article was a photo of a rendering of the planned space.
The photo seemed to contain an error — the word “bomb” where the word “bombs” should be. But then I started wondering whether my memory was wrong and the word was actually “bomb.” It took me three weeks to look it up, and in the interim all that stuff about the Spanish version of the national anthem showed up. Eventually I looked up the words and, indeed, it was “bombs.”
So I wrote to the author of the article and to Patrick Ladden, the guy in charge of the renovation, whose name I found in the article. I figured maybe tons of people would have emailed about it, or they’d find it before the museum reopened, but at least I’d not be just standing by while taxpayer dollars were wasted in an error.
Today I got a response from the Marilyn Zoidis, senior curator of the Star Spangled Banner project. Apparently, in the original text written by Francis Scott Key, he used the word “bomb” in that stanza! By the time of the first printing (and other early printings), the word “bombs” had replaced “bomb,” and that has become the way it’s sung today.
But “when Key made five autographic copies of the poem in the 1840s, he continued to use the word ‘bomb.’ ” She sent me two links: http://americanhistory.si.edu/ssb/6_thestory/6b_osay/fs6b.html and http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/images/vc05112x.jpg
The Smithsonian is so cool.