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Archive for August, 2012

On August 5, 1926, Harry Houdini successfully performed a variation the Buried Alive stunt that had nearly killed him 11 years earlier.  Houdini was locked inside a coffin and lowered below the waters of the swimming pool at the Shelton Hotel in New York City where he remained submerged for an hour and a half.  The stunt was performed in response to Rahman Bey’s claim to have channeled supernatural powers in order to survive in a sealed casket for one hour.  Having survived the stunt himself, Houdini attributed his own success to controlled breathing. Houdini performed the stunt once more in the summer of 1926 and had planned to incorporate a stage version into his 1927 performance season.  Unfortunately, Houdini died of a ruptured appendix on October 31, 1926.

Harry Houdini, 1926. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

You can find more images of Houdini and other American performers at Opening History.

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On August 1, 1779, Francis Scott Key was born on his family’s plantation in Maryland.  He studied law at St. John’s College, and it was in his capacity as lawyer that he witnessed the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812.  Key had been aboard a British ship negotiating the release of American prisoners when the British initiated their attack on Fort McHenry on September 13, 1814.  He was retained on board and witnessed the bombardment from the HMS Tonnant where he remained watchful throughout the night for signs that the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry.  At dawn he reported to the prisoners below deck that the flag was still there.

Painting of Francis Scott Key, oil on canvas by DeWitt Clinton Peters, 1902. Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society via Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage.

Six days later, Key published a poem called “Defence of Fort McHenry” in the Patriot, which he had composed on his return to journey to Baltimore. The poem with written to correspond with the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven”.  Once set to music and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, Key’s patriotic song gained popularity throughout the United States.  Key continued to practice law and write occasional poetry until the end of his life in 1843.  It wasn’t until 1931, however, that “The Star-Spangled Banner” was adopted as the American national anthem through a Congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Printed broadside of the Defence [sic] of Fort M’Henry [sic], 1814. First printed version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the song by Francis Scott Key. Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society via Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage.

You can learn more about the War of 1812 through Opening History, which includes such collections as the Paul Hamilton Papers from the University of South Carolina, the War of 1812 collection from the Maryland Historical Society, and the War of 1812 collection from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

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