If you happen to find some remnants of woven wool in your attic—in red, white or blue and marked Fort McHenry—the Smithsonian Institution would like to know. Two hundred years after a massive flag was hoisted over the fort in Baltimore that withstood a British attack, Americans from Maine to California may still have fragments from the original "Star-Spangled Banner." Not long after the huge 30-foot by 42-foot flag inspired an 1814 poem by Francis Scott Key that would become the national anthem, its caretakers began snipping off pieces. By the 1880s, about 20% had been lost.
Cutting up a flag today could be considered desecration, but back then, the clippings were given away as keepsakes. "It was such a monumental moment in time that people felt they wanted to hold a piece of that history," said Jennifer Jones, a curator who oversees the flag at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Some are more valuable than others: The 15th cotton star was cut away sometime before 1873, and remains missing. "We'd love to have that back," said the flag's chief conservator, Suzanne Thomassen-Krauss. "That one I might put back on."