O! Say Can You See. In this post, we will see more from our tour of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House in Baltimore. Flag maker Mary Pickersgill and a team of eight other women, including indentured servants, took just six weeks to sew the mammoth flag that survived the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, inspiring attorney Francis Scott Key to pen a poem that would become our national anthem.
One year into the war, Ft. McHenry’s General Armistead commissioned a huge 32′ by 40′ flag that would eventually span two stories and weigh nearly 100 pounds.
So how did these industrious women get this big job done in a small Baltimore house built in 1793? Talk about American ingenuity! They finished the work in a nearby brewery, which seems somewhat appropriate since this flag inspired a poem set to the tune of British “drinking” song. Actually, the well-known tune for “To Anacreon in Heaven” originally celebrated the Greek poet Anacreon who celebrated women and wine in his works.
So the anthem has the melody of a British song, and you may recall that it was the British firing on Ft. McHenry in September 1814. And get this, the flag itself was made with British wool and needles! The fabric was not wide enough to accommodate General Armistead’s massive request, so the flag makers had to sew pieces together to make the two-foot wide stripes. (The stars were also two feet from tip-to-tip).
One of my favorite parts of the Flag House tour was seeing the original bill of sale for the Star-Spangled Banner Flag: $405.90. (I can’t remember if they said how much that would be in current dollars).What an amazing piece of history!
On the tour, y0u’ll see several rooms in the Pickersgill home, while learning about the flag’s construction and Mary Pickersgill herself as well as life in the early 1800s in the United States. The Visitors Center has more displays about the flag (also known as the Great Garrison flag), and the history of the Star-Spangled Banner, which became our national anthem in 1931.
The Flag House staff was extremely nice and knowledgable. On a very hot day, they were especially accommodating to my friends who had their dog Tavish with them (dogs are not permitted in the house or visitors center, so we took turns looking at the exhibits. You can read about Tavish the “Intrepid Pup’s” impressions of the Flag House in his own blog post).
The Flag House experience was an excellent “mini Nerd Trip” that took about an hour-and-a-half (the house tour lasted about 30 minutes). As always, we learned a lot. You should go see for yourself!