The American flag was a recurring motif on our 2017 road trip to Baltimore. We’d visited Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” in between cannon fusillades; and we’d visited the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, where seamstress Mary Young Pickersgill sewed the very flag to which Mr. Key wrote his long-lasting ode.
Before Mrs. Pickersgill, and before Mr. Key, there was the trailblazer they followed, the grand dame of Old Glory herself — Betsy Ross.
Well…allegedly. Historians dispute the veracity of some or every aspect of the classic tale of Betsy Ross sewing our first flag at the behest of George Washington Himself. We weren’t at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia to examine the evidence and settle the debate once and for all, or to dispel our illusions and tremble at discovering Everything You Know Is Wrong. The truth is, the House just so happened to be along the path we’d chosen to walk down downtown Philly. It was a second-tier option on our to-do list, ranking mostly because we’d read that Betsy Ross’ own grave is on the premises. Ross wasn’t a solid fit into our “Presidential gravesite” theme, but for history’s sake Anne was mildly interested. And I was game.
In the spirit of the House’s presentation, I shall now refuse to type “allegedly” for the remainder of this chapter lest I bore myself out of writing it. Mentally insert if wherever you feel it should fit for your level of comfort and/or dedication to truthiness.
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. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.
We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…
Elizabeth Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole, a.k.a. “Betsy Ross”, was previously buried in two other cemeteries around town before The Powers That Be ordered her remains reinterred on the grounds of the House in 1975, where she once rented a room while doing her all-important flag work. The move was orchestrated in time for the following year’s Bicentennial celebrations, which I’m sure were a big deal. We assumed her grave would be somewhere beyond the point where we had to pay admission. We walked through the courtyard, Anne looked around for their smashed-penny machine, and then we paid our dues and entered.
The interiors contain some physical updates, but have retained as much of the original 18th-century fixtures and materials. Some of the non-Ross-specific “American history” portions are no different from numerous other historical attractions we’ve visited over the years, but a few of these are lent value-added credence by dint of the Betsy Ross label.
The tour was short. The space was cramped. The halls were few. The admission price was modest, so we didn’t feel obliged to get our money’s worth by loitering in front of every narrative sign for too long. Mostly we wondered with each new turn or door, “Are we almost to Betsy’s grave? How much longer to the grave?”
Moments later we wandered through one last door and found ourselves outside, back in the courtyard once more. We looked around, grimaced, and wondered what we’d missed. Where was Betsy Ross’ grave?
If you squint at the above photos, you might just see a clue. Feel free to take a moment and look. We’ll wait. We won’t even charge you full admission.
Here’s a hint: where would be the best possible punchline?
…give up? That’s okay. No shame in admitting when you’re licked.
COMPUTER, ENHANCE IMAGE:
There lay her remains, in the dirt on the left side of the courtyard, absolutely free of charge to view. Some debate was had in 1975 as to whether or not the bones relocated here were in fact hers. They were definitely bones from her family to some degree. Close enough.
Fun trivia: her first marriage, to the Episcopalian John Ross, got her excommunicated from the Quaker church and was the subject of a Final Jeopardy answer in November 2018 on TV’s Jeopardy! Two of the three contestants couldn’t figure out Alex Trebek was talking about her, even though he was clearly looking for a famous 18th-century woman. Honestly, how many were there to choose from? You didn’t need to step inside her house to guess that one correctly…or to view her final resting place, for that matter. Well, presumably final. We’ll have to wait and see how the mayor of Philly 2076 feels.
To be continued!
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[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 sign-up 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!]