2014 marks the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the lyrics for which took shape on the back of a letter. This got us thinking: What other remarkable accomplishments originated as notes on envelopes, napkins, and the like?
Here are a few noteworthy stories about just this topic from The 2014 Old Farmer’s Almanac.
When Inspiration Strikes, Take Notes
The Key Moment
During the War of 1812, on the evening of September 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and poet, was negotiating the release of an American prisoner with British Navy officers in Baltimore’s inner harbor. Key watched as the British attacked Fort McHenry in an attempt to capture the city of Baltimore. Early the next morning, Key saw the tattered United States flag flying over the fort, indicating victory. Inspired, he wrote a poem on the back of a letter, describing the battle and his relief at seeing the flag. This soon became what we know as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Volumes of Verse
Upon her death in 1886, Emily Dickinson left hundreds of unpublished snippets of verse scribbled on bits of paper and stored in boxes in her attic. Her sister, Lavinia, discovered 40 unpublished booklets, nearly 400 poems, and drafts of poems written on scrap paper. She and other relatives subsequently published the poems. Although Dickinson is now regarded as a prolific American poet, only 10 of her poems are known to have been published during her lifetime.
First Act Fillers
Aaron Sorkin, who won an Oscar for Best Writing for an Adapted Screenplay for The Social Network in 2011, wrote his first Broadway play, A Few Good Men, while tending bar at a Broadway theater in New York City. He served patrons before the curtain went up and then again at intermission, leaving him time during the whole first act(s) to pen his play—on cocktail napkins. Several years later, he was asked to write the screenplay for the movie, and the film success of A Few Good Men in 1992 launched his career.