Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski
Last week, I spoke at the Start-Spangled Flag House in Baltimore. The museum is truly one of the hidden gems of Baltimore.
Located at the edge of Little Italy and an easy walk from the harbor, the museum preserves the house and memory of Mary Pickersgill and includes a small theater, an exhibition hall and gallery, and courtyard / garden for special events. The house was originally built in 1793; Pickersgill was the seamstress and flagmaker who, in the summer of 1814, was commissioned to sew the Star-Spangled Banner garrison flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.
This year, the museum celebrated its 90th anniversary and offered free admission all day. Its program also included a flag talk by a Mary Pickersgill re-enactor, a flag raising ceremony with the Fort McHenry Fife and Drum Junior Corps, a cake cutting and awards ceremony and children’s author Kristen Fulton.
My own talk “The Collaboration of Colors” focused the evolution of the American flag (we’ve had 27 versions of the official flag of the United States) and the variety of flags being designed and flown during the American Revolution. The talk’s focus was on Francis Hopkinson and his version of the American flag, which is often confused for and clouded by the narratives surrounding Betsy Ross.
Although part of the talk highlighted the idea of collaboration (and competition) surrounding national designs in early America (not just the flag, but of other symbols, songs, etc.), I did emphasize Hopkinson’s many contributions.
Public talks such as these are among my favorites as they serve as a chance to strip away the jargon and theory and much of the historiographical debates and focus on the stories and the essence of these works and relationships (and build new relationships with community members and distant visitors alike).
I had a lot of fun and hope to be back at the Flag House soon. In the meantime, here’s a few photos I wanted to share from the event! Enjoy!