Oh, say can you see....

In February of 1776 Mary Young Pickersgill was born. She became famous in our history as the maker of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.

After becoming a widow, she moved back to Baltimore and made flags, a skill taught to her by her mother. Mary also made other fabric items for the military, eventually earning enough money to buy the home she rented for herself and her daughter Caroline.

While we were visiting our nation's capitol last week, we had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian's Museum of American History. The flag that Mary Pickersgill created, and that flew over Fort McHenry, is on display at this museum. It went through an 18 million dollar restoration and is now on special exhibition.

After going through the flag exhibit we noticed a lady coming through the lobby with a wheelbarrow. It was an actress portraying a young Mary Pickersgill and she was discussing the making of the flag. In this picture you can see my daughter, Toots, and the actress holding some of the stars that they will lay on the canton.

Many children in the lobby became involved and the actress did a wonderful job providing information about the flag and how it was created. Mary was paid $544.74 for making the flag and she used 400 yards of fabric. It took the work of Mary, her two nieces, and two servants to make the flag.

At this point in the presentation a toddler ran onto the canton, picked up a star, and dashed down the hallway with it. Both toddler and star were retrieved.

Although this is not a clear picture, it does show how the stripes were rolled out to be sewn together.

Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner while being held captive on a British ship at Fort McHenry. He saw the flag waving and was inspired to write, what has come to be, our national anthem.

Long may she wave!


  1. The restoration process was really neat. The restorers were on a rolling platform elevated above the flag that was moved back a few millimeters as they completed each section. Stabilizing antique fabrics is difficult, especially red, because the dyes tend to be harder on the fibers.

    Preservation involves carefully controlled environmental conditions that take the lighting, climate control, air quality, exposure times, etc. into consideration. The best cinematic example I can think of is "National Treasure", since there's a lot of innacuracy in "Angels and Demons" for the sake of plot.

    Can you tell I miss being an archivist?

    Happy Fourth, and thanks for taking the children to see something so essential to our national heritage. To SAM and his twin, thanks for defending it!

  2. I can't imagine flying a flag this large!

  3. Yes! Long may she wave. I love the actresses costume. Are you saying that the cost of restoring the flag was $18 million.....(I hope not) or the cost of museum was $18 million?

    - Suzanne

  4. Isn't history the coolest thing ever?

    What a wonderful thing that you could take your daughter to the Smithsonian. Someday... I'd love to see it, too! :)

    Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful history.

  5. Suzanne - It really did cost 18 million to restore the flag. Shocking, for sure.

    AiredaleGirl - I did see some pictures of the archivists on the rolling platform. I can't imagine doing that kind of tedious work. Although, I thought the flag looked great on exhibit.

  6. this is a very cool post, I love learning like this. you'd make a good home schooling mom, an opportune moment.
    happy 4th of July!


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