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Visual Evidence

Photo 3: The Star-Spangled Banner Today

[Photo 3] with link to larger version of photo.
(Courtesy of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)

This photo shows the conserved garrison flag that flew over Fort McHenry on the morning of September 14, 1814, now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The flag that Francis Scott Key saw measured 30 feet by 42 feet; it now measures 30 feet by 34 feet.

Questions for Photo 3

1. Few people knew about the Fort McHenry flag before the Civil War and fewer still had seen it. It belonged to the Armistead family, which treated it as a family heirloom, but also cut off “snippings” to give to veterans and other important people as souvenirs. This was a common practice at the time. How much of the original flag is gone? Why do you think it did not bother the family to cut pieces off the flag? Could they do that now?

2. In 1912, George Armistead’s grandson donated the flag to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. He was overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for the flag and answering all the requests to display it. By this time, the flag was an important relic of the nation’s history. Why do you think Americans’ feelings about the flag had changed? What might have contributed to those changes? Refer to Reading 4, if necessary.

3. As the bicentennial of the War of 1812 approached, the Smithsonian Museum of American History collected more than $18 million to restore and conserve the original flag. Why do you think Americans were willing to donate so much money to this project?

4. Many people have called the original Star-Spangled Banner a national “symbol” or “icon.” Look up the definitions of both of these words. Do you think the flag fits the definitions? Explain your answers.

5. Look carefully at this image and describe what you see. In what ways is it like a modern flag? How does it differ? The Smithsonian conservation did not try to make the flag look like new. The intention was to help people see it as “an artifact as well as an icon,” both a fragile piece of 200-year old fabric and a powerful symbol of the nation. 6 What do you think would have been involved in trying to return the flag to its appearance in 1814? Do you think the decision to conserve the surviving original fabric instead was a wise one? Discuss your answers.

Click for a larger version of Photo 3.

6 Taylor et al., The Star-Spangled Banner, 9

 

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