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July 4 trivia: Who sewed the star-spangled banner that inspired the song?

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Andy Nelson / Christian Science Monitor / File

(Read caption) In this file photo, conservationists work to document their efforts on the famous American flag Francis Scoltt Keys saw flying over Fort McHenry, inspiring the words to 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' The flag was sewn by Mary Pickersgill, Baltimore's best-known flagmaker of her time.

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Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That’s something every US schoolchild learns. But who made the star-spangled banner itself? No, not the song – the flag that inspired lawyer and amateur poet Key to write what became the US national anthem.

The answer to that is Mary Pickersgill, a Baltimore widow and noted flag seamstress who created the giant Stars and Stripes that floated in air above Fort McHenry on Sept. 14, 1814 – “still there” the morning after a ferocious British bombardment.

Pickersgill is not exactly an unsung hero of the banner story. Her former home has been preserved as a small, charming museum in Charm City’s downtown.

But she’s certainly less sung, compared with Key. This July 4, the Maryland Historical Society is aiming to boost her profile. It's kicking off an effort to sew a reproduction of the star-spangled banner using materials as close as possible to those Pickersgill used, in the same amount of time she needed to complete the original.


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