For the War of 1812 bicentennial, Maryland Historical Society wanted to do something bigger than an exhibit or book: something different enough to capture the public’s imagination, attract media attention, bring people into the museum, and carry the stories to new audiences.
The big idea emerged in 2011: create an accurate full-scale replica of the Star-Spangled Banner flag in the same timeframe as the original construction 200 years earlier, and use the replica as the centerpiece for public programming during the bicentennial. The flag is thematically connected to a prized MdHS artifact: Francis Scott Key’s original Star Spangled Banner manuscript. The big idea became a big project. The thirty by forty-two foot flag required a large volunteer corps of stitchers to hand-sew the replica in a six-week period. More than two hundred experienced stitchers from all parts of the country registered to help, among them two descendants of the original flagmaker Mary Pickersgill.
Phase I of the project, the production phase, created the replica flag in the summer of 2013. Phase II, the traveling phase, used the flag in hands-on programs throughout the state. An effective communications plan generated international interest. All told, 218 volunteer stitchers logged 3,736 hours of work in July and August 2013, and MdHS visitation increased 111% during public stitching days. More than 160 people donated $10,600 in the 31-day Kickstarter campaign, MdHS’s first attempt to crowd-source project funding.
Following a public procession through Baltimore, the flag was hoisted for the first time on Defenders Day 2013, kicking off the travel phase of the project. To date, the flag has been seen by an estimated 16,050 people at twenty-one events in fifteen counties, plus two sold-out crowds at Baltimore Orioles baseball games estimated at 45,000 each. The flag was also featured in the state’s bicentennial events, which had significant economic and educational impact for Maryland. The Stitching History program makes history come to life in an accessible and tangible way. People of all ages make a hands-on connection as they help to unfold and refold the banner during an interpretive program. With a grant from the Maryland Heritage Area Authority, the traveling program continues in 2015.