America's other flag story well documented at Baltimore attraction

The Flag House and adjoining Star-Spangled Banner Museum don't have anything to do with Betsy Ross. Rather, they honor another famous early-American seamstress, Mary Pickersgill, whose handiwork inspired our National Anthem.

Everyone knows that the first American flag was sewn by a Pennsylvania woman named Betsy Ross. Or, at least that's how the popular legend tells it.

That “first flag’ story is among a handful of tales associated with various versions of Old Glory as it flutters through the history of our country.

Another legendary banner was the star-spangled one that flew over Baltimore's Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Its creation is rooted not in legend, but in fact. And, its creator was also a Pennsylvania woman a native Pennsylvanian, at least.

She was Mary Young, who was born in Philadelphia in 1776. She married John Pickersgill in 1795 and moved with him to Baltimore where she took up what had been her mother's trade. After her husband's untimely death in 1805, Mary set up shop as a signal flag and banner maker for the busy maritime shipping trade in Baltimore harbor.

With a respected reputation for her work, Mary Young Pickersgill drew the attention of George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry. With the threat of attack imminent in the summer of 1813, Armistead ordered a flag “so large that the British will have no trouble seeing it from a distance.’

The flag, and the job, was immense. Mary needed the assistance of several family members and hired hands to complete the 30-by-42-foot banner and a smaller garrison flag. The job was completed in six weeks.

That attack didn't happen until the summer of 1814, when a young lawyer detained on a British ship watched the siege of Fort McHenry and marveled at the flag's endurance during the Battle of Baltimore. He was, of course, Francis Scott Key, and the rest is history.

And, that history comes alive at the Flag House in Baltimore.

It is the former residence and shop of Mary Pickersgill, and it is where she died in 1857.

The original Star-Spangled Banner isn't there it's a few miles down I-95 in the Smithsonian Institution. But, the splendid see-through “Great Flag Window’ at the Flag House is a full-scale exact representation. It is also the facade of the Star-Spangled Banner Museum that adjoins the Flag House.

The circa 1793, National Historic Landmark house is furnished with 18th- and early-19th-century items including several from the Pickersgill family inventory. Opened for guided tours since 1927, it is one of the oldest museums in museum-rich Baltimore.

Various artifacts, exhibits and a video present a vivid picture of the War of 1812 and its impact on Baltimore and American history.

In season, the grounds also house a lovely garden and a walk-on map of the United States.

More than anything else, the house and museum tell of how a humble widowed seamstress, an unknown lawyer, an often-overlooked war and an old English tavern tune all became icons of American history.

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