Star Spangled Banner

This is my first official “Military Monday” post after the most reorganization and redesign of my blog.

This week it concerns the War of 1812 in America.

July 4th is coming up this week.  Independence Day.  It’s one of my favorite holidays, not just because of the numerous fireworks and red white and blue, but because it’s the best flag waving day of the year.  I’ve always been a very patriotic person and, in my opinion, most historians are.

This year the Star Spangled Banner turned 200 years old.  THE flag which is the Star Spangled Banner was sewn to a massive size of 30 by 42 feet in 1814 by Mary Pickersgill at her home in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was commissioned by General George Armistead the year before.  According to Smithsonian magazine, she was paid $405.90 for the flag.  The house in which she operated her flag business is now a museum.

The first time I saw the Star Spangled Banner I was unsure of what I was looking at.  It was my first in-depth visit to Washington DC in 2005.  I was at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, specifically to see Kermit the Frog when I saw the exhibit for the flag.  That’s what I thought it was initially.  A flag exhibit.  Then I read on the plaque on the wall that I was about to enter a (darkened) room that contained the actual flag that was raised over Ft. McHenry after a long night’s battle between the British and the Americans.  The very one that Francis Scott Key eyed from an 8 mile distance (Key, a lawyer, was detained on a British ship during the battle) as he began to develop  a poem that would become our National Anthem.

Being in the presence of this flag  was an event that actually made me gasp and cover my mouth in awe… much like you see on TV for dramatic effect. This unconscious reaction was very much real, as well as the tears that flowed from my eyes once they gazed upon the flag.  I was so moved and deeply touched by this historical artifact.  I was glad the room was dark because I couldn’t stop crying for a while.

I like U.S. history because I am so close to where it happened that I can go and see places for real, and not just read about them in books and watch documentaries about them.  So the following year in 2006, when I returned again to Washington DC, I also planned a trip to Baltimore to visit Ft. McHenry and the Flag House in order to complete my tour of Star Spangled Flag history.  Here is a photograph of me standing in front of the display at the flag house museum.  This representation on the outside of the building shows how big the flag was.  I’m a short 4’10” standing next to it.  I’m 2 stripes tall !!

Flag House

Of special note on the features of this particular version of the flag, it is the only one that has a red stripe below the blue field of stars as well as 15 stars and 15 stripes.  200 years later, the flag is terribly threadbare, but that doesn’t account for missing star on the blue field.  One of the stars was intentionally cut out sometime after the war and presented to General Armistead’s family.  Where it is now, is still a mystery.  History says that it may have been presented to Abraham Lincoln at some point.  The “V” that was attached to the flag, post Mary Pickersgill’s stitching of the original flag is also homage to the success of the defense of Ft. McHenry that night.

The flag was still flying in celebration of the nation’s 100th birthday in 1876 in Philadelphia.  It became weak, however, and had to have a special backing attached to it in 1914.  Since then, after it’s donation to the Smithsonian, almost 2 million stitches have been added to hold it together.  Up until the Autumn of 2006 when the Smithsonian Museum of American History closed for renovation, the flag was still hanging.  Now it is in a temperature and light controlled room on a special tilted platform.  No photography is allowed of this National Treasure.  However, within the museum’s other exhibits, there is a tiny picture frame holding 3 pieces of the dyed wool from the flag.  Touching that frame (carefully so security doesn’t see you) is the closest I’ll ever get to it.

The Star Spangled Banner is an automatic “must see” when ever I’m in DC.  And yes, I still cry when I see it.Flag Scraps


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