Sunday, May 30, 2010
Celebrate Memorial Day with a Salute to the Stars and Stripes
In June 1813, Mary Young Pickersgill, a Baltimore flagmaker, was commissioned to create two flags. One was to fly over the garrison at Fort McHenry. She charged $405.90 for the larger of the projects.
Mary was, in temperment, a fitting creator for this emblem. She had devoted her life to improving the lot of her fellow Baltimore residents. As every handcrafter knows, a work like this is endowed with the hopes and dreams of its maker. So we can only suppose that as Mary sewed, she thought about this young nation, and the country we might one day become.
According to an article in The New York Times (July 3, 2003), one of Mary's flags was so large that "the sewing had to be completed on a brewery floor." This was no small banner, no tiny marker of a newborn nation. No, Mary's flag was 30-by-42-feet in size, whereas modern garrison flags are only 20-by-38-feet. A flag large enough that Francis Scott Key could see it "by the dawn's early light" when the British retreated from Fort McHenry in September 1814.
Today, Mary's work is a fragile artifact, but the conservation efforts of the Smithsonian have preserved this enduring symbol of our nation. It is impossible to walk by the flag in its large display area without feeling an intense wave of patriotism, which is spurred by the realization of how this icon represents the countless brave men and women who have given their lives for our country.