We all know the line from our national anthem: “Oh, say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” The very flag that Francis Scott Key struggled to see at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 is now on display in the Smithsonian’s (Great American Things, April 15, 2009) National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
George Armistead, the commanding officer of Fort McHenry, had ordered two extra large flags for display at the fort. He got one made by a Baltimore flag maker that measured 42′ x 30′ and had 15 stars and 15 stripes (Vermont and Kentucky had joined the Union).
After the war, Major Armistead kept the flag for many years. After his death, the flag passed to his daughter, and then to his grandson. It remained in the Armistead family for 90 years. It remained in a safe deposit vault for seventeen years before finally being donated to the Smithsonian in 1912.
The flag has undergone several restorations, most recently one that began in 1998 and just recently completed. Instead of hanging in the large open room, it’s now in a climate controlled chamber tilted at a precise angle of 10 degrees for best viewing and structural integrity.
“And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there!”