Our 2017 Road Trip, Part 32: Broad Stripes and Bright Stars II

Flag House Flag Wall!

30 feet tall. 42 feet wide. It’s a replica, but the measurements are right.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…

As one of the original thirteen American colonies, Maryland has a treasure trove of history to share, as we’d seen here and there throughout the week. Back on Day Three, our tour of Fort McHenry had given us an in-depth look at the place where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the summer of 1814, while the War of 1812 was waged all around him. Over his head flew the eponymous flag that inspired it, wool and cotton, exactly the dimensions shown above. It was put together late enough to include Vermont and Kentucky, the first new states to hop aboard the America bandwagon after the first thirteen.

Just as the songwriting backdrop for our national anthem has its own tourist attraction in Baltimore, so does the home of that flag’s designer. Conveniently for us, the Star Spangled Banner Museum and Flag House is on the same block as the African American History Museum. It’s not entirely fancy, but it was a cost-effective coda to Fort McHenry.

Our lead photo is the visitors’ center with adjacent exhibit space, added next door in 1952. The “Flag House” itself is a bit more modest and weathered.

Flag House!

Holding up well considering it was built in 1793.

Key Plaque!

The TL;DR version of this entire entry.

Mary Young Pickersgill was a seamstress who moved into the house in 1806. Unable to wrangle all 1,260 square feet of the Star-Spangled Banner herself, she had help from two nieces along with a young black woman who was either a “free apprentice” or an “indentured servant” depending on which Wikipedia entry you believe. It weighed fifty pounds, flew from a 90-foot flagpole, and earned her and her team the princely sum of $405.90, which in 2017 figures would be roughly eleven billion dollars, I think.

Visitors have the option of touring Ms. Pickersgill’s place, which still contains some of her original possessions, but also contains a few replicas like her possessions. This is an important distinction for Anne, who favors authenticity and is more than happy to see historical “replicas” just by Googling stuff for free at home. We arrived early enough in the day that the docent at the front desk let us borrow a tour guide binder so we could walk around the Flag House at our own pace but still learn some context. Unfortunately we were a bit too slow and wound up having to share the cramped two-story dwelling with a large senior citizen tour group. We joined them for a few speeches, but mostly dodged around them the best we could without being too distracting (we hope).

Flag folded!

Giant folded flag in repose.

dollies etc!

Other sewing projects in progress included a pair of cloth dollies, the perfect gift for a girl born 260+ years before you could buy her action figures for Christmas.


Authentic 18th-century doggie toy, I think. We weren’t allowed to keep the binder, so I can’t verify this just now.


Full disclosure: some historical homes can be dull to tour if they’re just a series of ordinary rooms with ordinary furniture whose only peculiarity is their oldness. For those who love random bedroom suites more than we do, here one is.

bedside bathroom!

And for those who love antique bedside bathroom facilities, here one is.

The Visitors Center is a newer, shinier facility with exhibits that place Pickersgill and our flag in the greater context of the War of 1812, and educate all-ages audiences on the flag in general. There’s also a modest gift shop, but no smashed penny machine.

Mortar Bomb!

One of the thousands of 186-pound mortar bombs that pelted Fort McHenry over the course of Sir Key’s stay.

snare drum!

Actual snare drum played alongside our 19th-century troops, back in the days when bands were willing and ready to play live on battlefields. 200 years later, Green Day would refuse to return Blackwater’s calls.

table service!

What’s left of Ms. Pickersgill’s own table service. No, you can’t borrow it.

Mary Young Pickersgill!

The esteemed seamstress herself.

Flag Height!

How do you measure up to the actual-size stars and stripes? Dare we even try to measure up?

flag-raising tutorial!

Now you too can try your hand at raising the flag, rallying the troops, and being the beacon of freedom and liberty for everyone around you. No pressure.

To be continued!

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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