History always provides us with a fascinating series of “what if’s?”
With Key, we can wonder -- what if he had chosen to live and work in Frederick instead of Georgetown? If so, would he have been asked to negotiate Dr. Beanes’s release? If Key didn’t write his famous poem, who would we be talking about as the author of our national anthem? Questions beyond my pay grade, so let’s stick to the matter at hand.
Although Key did choose to work and live in Georgetown, Frederick played a role in his life. He practiced law there from 1800 to 1804. Weybright notes he worked on land-conveying issues and other routine matters.
The family and Key visited the town often. Fredericktown, as it was known then, had a population of about 2,500 and served as the center of activity in the county. It was the second largest city in the state, second only to Annapolis. Worried about the British, the U.S. Government tabbed Frederick as the alternate site for the capital.
It's safe to say the town loved the family. From 1799 to 1800, the newspaper, "The Key," was named for Key’s father.
"Frank," as some close friends called him, stumped in Frederick for Andrew Jackson in his Presidential run in 1824.
Frederick remembers Key in several ways. The traveler coming in from the south on I-270 might notice a mall, named after him. About a mile north is Harry Grove Stadium, home of the Frederick Keys (class High A affiliate for the Orioles).
A few steps to the west of the ballpark lies Mount Olivet Cemetery where Key and his wife Mary are buried. A monument stands just inside the front gate. At the rear of the statue lies a large historical marker etched with the all the stanzas of the Star Spangled Banner. A short walk away lies the Key Memorial Chapel with a time capsule.
In 1876, General Edward Shriver first suggested a monument in Frederick (Myers). Several years later, Folger McKinsey editor for the "Frederick News" picked up the cause. Designed and sculpted by Pompeo Coppini, the statue was christened on August 9, 1898. Other ceremonies took place there for the centennial and sesquicentennial. The monument was restored and re-dedicated on June 7, 1967. Although San Francisco claims the honor for first honoring Key with a monument, Myers notes this one is the most renowned.
Although the statue and chapel are the main spots, no Key trip to Frederick would be complete without a visit to the historical district, which is a short drive from the cemetery and the ballpark. Several interpretive markers near the intersection of Patrick and Market give some flavor of 19th Century life. As a lawyer, Key spent time in the Court House, just a short walk from Market, the main street.
The Visitor Center, which recently moved to S. East Street, is a good starting place for info, although not a lot on Key there.
Unfortunately, we did not have time to see the Taney House and the Historical Society of Frederick County. When I visit Terra Rubra, I hope to return to Frederick and see these two places. I also need to go inside the Chapel to see their displays.
Key loved the county of his birth, and the nearby city. I have no doubt he got homesick easily. Our trip to Frederick showed me why.