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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Preserving the colors

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Rose Mary Price, left, and Historical Society guest speaker, LaVonne Waldron display Price's 48 star flag at last night's meeting.

Do you have a piece of the Star Spangled Banner? According to LaVonne Waldron, guest speaker at last night's Historical Society meeting in the Museum's basement, that's a possibility.

Waldron is a Clay City native. Her brother and sister, Bud Travis and Theada Morris, still live there. The Clay County Genealogical Society member belongs to the Daughters of the American Revolution. As the flag chairman for the DAR, Waldron prepared a program narrating the beginning and history of the flag that inspired Frances Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner".

During the War of 1812, preparation began for the defense of Baltimore. Fort McHenry, commanded by Maj. George Armistead, was the city's primary defense. Armistead ordered a flag so big that "the British would have no trouble seeing it from a distance."

Mary Young Pickersgill, a widowed, professional flag maker from Baltimore, was commissioned to make a garrison flag 42 by 30 feet at a cost of $405.90.

Mary and her 13 year-old-daughter, Caroline, made each of the 15, two feet wide, red and white stripes and the blue union field, of quality wool bunting. The 15 two feet stars were made of cotton, a luxury fabric at the time. It took six weeks to complete the flag which was eventually raised over Fort McHenry.

After the burning of Washington DC, in route to Baltimore, the British captured Dr. William Beanes, a friend of Frances Scott Key.

Key visited the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay to negotiate the release of Beanes and two other friends. Key secured their release but he was detained on ship over night during the bombing of Fort McHenry.

As long as Key could see the flag flying, he knew America was still fighting. However, during the dark of night, he couldn't' see the flag.

He anxiously awaited through the rainy, stormy night. At the dawn's early light, when he saw the broad stripes and bright stars still flying, he knew that America had prevailed victorious.

He was so moved at the sight of the flag waving over the Fort that morning, he started writing a poem on the back of an envelope to commemorate the occasion. It was originally titled "Defense of Fort McHenry" but later was changed to "The Star Spangled Banner" and sung to the tune "To Anacreon in Heaven", an English drinking song.

"Key write the words to the song in 1914 and it became our National Anthem in 1931," Waldron said. "After all that time, we're still trying to sing it."

According to Waldron, within days of the battle, President Madison promoted Major Armistead to Lieutenant Colonel citing his gallant conduct during the bombardment.

Eventually Armistead acquired possession of the flag. After his death in 1818, it was given to his widow, Louisa Hughes Armistead. When she died in 1861, it was willed to their daughter, Georgeanna Armistead Appleton, who passed away in 1878.

The flag then became the property of her son, Eben Appleton who gave it to the Smithsonian Institute in 1912. But by that time it had lost eight feet of the fly end. Two hundred forty square feet have been cut away as mementos, given to families of soldiers who defended the fort or other patriots or celebrities.

Many Americans wanted a piece of this precious national treasure. Some pieces turned up and were given to the Smithsonian. Some were given to and still remain with Historical Clubs. Others remained buried with veterans.

But there may be pieces, unaccounted for, in existence today. A piece could be up in someone's attic. One may be in an old, infrequently opened keepsake box. Another could be packed in the back of a drawer in a seldom opened chest.

Look around judiciously. You have a piece of "The Star Spangled Banner".

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