Museum Looking for Patches of 'Star-Spangled Banner'

Bits of original flag were given away as keepsakes long ago
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 13, 2014 10:12 AM CDT
Museum Looking for Patches of 'Star-Spangled Banner'
In this file photo, people look at the original Star Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem, at the National Museum of American History in Washington.   (Jacquelyn Martin)

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." (Read more American flag stories.)

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