Sharing history of our Star-Spangled Banner

We published a news item last week about the dedication of a flag retirement pit in Champion’s Clarence Darrow Park. The project had been undertaken by Trumbull County resident and Eagle Scout candidate Blaine Helmuth, 18, to create a place where torn or tattered American flags could be respectfully retired.

The photo reminded me that in just a few days, on Wednesday, we will mark Flag Day, and of course, just a few weeks after that will be the midsummer holiday marking America’s 241st anniversary of independence.

Unfortunately, many misconceptions exist about the origin of our national symbol, and I thought this might be an appropriate opportunity to share some history.

The “original” star-spangled banner — the one that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to the song that has come to inspire Americans about the value of our flag and eventually became our national anthem — is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

I remember visiting there on a school trip when I was in the sixth grade and being disappointed because I was unable to see that actual flag. As I recall, at that time, the giant flag had been covered — unveiled only a few times a day in order to help preserve and protect it from the harsh lighting and camera flashes.

When I returned to our nation’s capital a few years ago with my own children, I was adamant that we would not miss out again on seeing the flag.

The 200-year-old 30-by-34-foot flag had undergone an amazing, albeit tedious, process of preservation in the late 1990s and now is displayed in a special environmentally controlled chamber.

If you’ve never been there, I urge you to put the trip on your bucket list.

Upon entering this exhibition, visitors are immersed in the Battle of Baltimore, which inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” lyrics.

According to historical accounts, the words were crafted by Francis Scott Key when, in the “dawn’s early light” of Sept. 14, 1814, Key, who was aboard a ship several miles away, could make out an American flag waving above Fort McHenry after the War of 1812 battle. British ships were withdrawing from Baltimore, and Key realized that the United States had survived the battle and stopped the enemy advance. Moved by the sight, he wrote a song celebrating “that star-spangled banner” as a symbol of America’s triumph and endurance.

It wasn’t until March 3, 1931, that a measure passed Congress and was signed into law formally designating “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem of the United States.

Many people mistakenly believe that Betsy Ross, a well-known flagmaker in American history, made this flag, but it actually was created by Baltimore flagmaker Mary Pickersgill. This giant banner originally measured 30 x 42 feet, but nearly eight feet were snipped off the end and given away as souvenirs in the 19th century.

That, obviously, was well before the Smithsonian obtained the then-100-year-old national treasure in 1914.

According to the museum, this star-spangled banner had first been saved by the commander of Fort McHenry, George Armistead.

He gave it to his wife, Louisa, who passed it down to her daughter Georgiana Armistead Appleton.

On her death, it was inherited by her son Eben Appleton, who finally donated the flag to the Smithsonian in 1914.

And that’s how it came to be.

According to USFlag.org, while the Fourth of July is traditionally celebrated as America’s birthday, the idea of an annual day specifically celebrating the American flag originated in 1885.

As terrorists around the world bear hatred and attempts to tear us down as citizens of this great nation, we must keep in mind the important things that our flag represents. Our American flag, of course, is a symbol of hope, liberty and patriotism for all Americans.

If you don’t have one, there is still time to go get an American flag for your home. Please fly it proudly Wednesday — Flag Day — also on July 4 and every day that the weather permits.

God Bless America.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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