Friday, January 21, 2011

The Star-Spangled Banner

As a next step in our ongoing 1812 project (see here and here), we swung by the National Museum of American History to check out that most famous American flag of them all. You know the one I'm referring to. It was made in Baltimore by Mary Pickersgill, her daughter, two nieces, and an indentured servant. It flew over Fort McHenry in the aftermath of the British bombardment in September of 1814. It inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that eventually became the National Anthem.

A pair of facts about the flag.

It is now eight feet smaller in width than it was when it was first made. After the bombardment, the family of Lieutenant Colonel Armistead, the American commander at Fort McHenry, assumed possession of the flag. For decades, the family permitted small pieces of the flag to be cut out and distributed as keepsakes. There is even one star that is unaccounted for and presumably will never be seen again.

For preservation purposes, the flag is kept in a low light, controlled environment. Here is where the story turns embarrassing for me. As we approached the exhibit, there was a full-sized, gold replica of the flag hanging from the ceiling a few feet in front of the wall. As the other three (read: smarter) Ballas headed into the exhibit proper, I wandered under the gold flag, expecting to see the Star-Spangled Banner hanging right there from the wall. In my mind, that was enough protection for this two hundred year old flag. Wrong! Once you enter the actual exhibit (like a normal human being), you get to see the flag in very low light, inside a glass casing. Let's just say that Desi, Julie, and Z had a good laugh at my expense. And, boy, did I deserve it!



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