It’s the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner; its broad stripes and bright stars surviving the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. (The Ft. McHenry part actually happened in September 1814).
But let’s not get hung up on dates. To mark the 200th anniversary to the start of the War of 1812, Baltimore recently hosted a massive “Sailabration” complete with Navy vessels and tall ships from around the world. Thousands of people packed the Inner Harbor to see these majestic ships. However, we found a way to make this celebration a little nerdy with an excursion to the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, home of flag maker Mary Pickersgill, whose mother was a flag-making “rival” of Betsy Ross when both lived in Philadelphia.
Located just a short distance from the Inner Harbor, the Flag House and Visitors Center features displays about the making of the massive 42′ X 32′ flag of 15 stripes and 15 stars that flew above Ft. McHenry during the famous battle. We learned that the two additional stars and stripes acknowledged the addition of Vermont and Kentucky, which joined the union in 1791 and 1792 respectively.
I am not sure of the flag politics or maybe it was just impractical to add stripes for Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1803) and Louisiana (1812). Maybe it was never discussed, but clearly there was some thought about how to recognize new states. According to USFlag.org, an Act of 1818 “provided for 13 stripes and one star for each state, to be added to the flag on the 4th of July following the admission of each new state.”
We started our tour in the nicely air conditioned Visitors Center and watched what appeared to be a very dated film about the making of the flag. (We guessed it was made in the ’70s but the staff said mid ’90s!) According the film General Armistead, commander at Ft. McHenry, commissioned Mary Pickersgill to make a flag so large the British could see it from a distance, and that’s what he got!
To give you some perspective , the Visitors’ Center has a Great Flag painted window (the same size as the real flag) and it take up two stories. (You can see the actual Ft. McHenry flag at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum).
Here’s another interesting thing we learned, flag making was actually a lucrative career, especially in harbor town such as Baltimore where there are lots of ships that need lots of flags.
Mary Pickersgill (somewhat appropriately born in 1776) lived in Philadelphia until 1806 when, then a widow, she moved to the Baltimore house on Albermarle Street.
Next post: The making of the flag and the unique place where flag construction was finished.