In our continuing series of tiny places in Baltimore, our next stop is the Pickersgill house. OK, it's actually the Star Spangled Banner Flag House and 1812 Museum, but first, it was Mary Pickersgill's house.

I know that if you ask your average man on the street, 'Who sewed the Star Spangled Banner,' 90% will say Betsy Ross.  But even if you believe that Betsy Ross actually sewed the first flag, the Star Spangled Banner wasn't the first flag.  So you'd still be wrong.  It was Mary Pickersgill.

Mary Young Pickersgill was a young flag maker in Baltimore.  Mary was born in 1776, coincidentally.  She married John Pickersgill at nineteen, moved to Philadelphia with him, and then came to Baltimore when she lost her husband in 1807.  She had a widowed mother and a daughter to take care of, so she started a flag-making business. Mary is a fascinating individual.  Here's what the Wikipedia has to say about her:

One hundred and fifty years before American women entered the business world, Pickersgill was a successful businesswoman and philanthropist. She actively addressed social issues such as housing, job placement assistance, and financial aid for disadvantaged women—decades before these issues were prominent concerns in society. From 1828 until 1851 she was president of the Impartial Female Humane Society that helped impoverished families with school vouchers for children and employment for women. Under her presidency the society established a home for aged women in 1850. By 1869 there were forty-eight residents and, in 1863, a Men’s Home was added, with 27 residents. Today the Impartial Female Humane Society is known as the Pickersgill Retirement Community, located in Towson, Maryland, a living testimony of Pickersgill’s humanitarian contributions to society.

The fact that she was able to accomplish all this in 19th century America makes me want sit down for dinner with her right then and there.  I don't care how big a flag she sewed. 

But her big claim to fame is that in 1813, some dudes from the nearby Fort McHenry (Ah, I love it when a plan comes together) came by her business because General Armistead had ordered "a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty seeing it from a distance" to fly over his fort.  And by 'so large,' he meant REALLY BIG.  The actual Star Spangled Banner was thirty feet by forty-two feet.  Even when you see the actual flag in the Smithsonian, it's really had to conceptualize, because it's lying off in a room (or as in old school days, hanging on a wall) and a good portion of the flag is now missing.  Fortunately, the Star Spangled Banner museum has an actual size replica for a good visual.

That's a staircase inside the building you see behind it.

Still don't get the magnitude?  Check out this photo with The Dormouse as scale.

Sure, she's little, but even I barely only rate one more stripe's height.

There's an adult soldier standing in this photo from the flag's centennial in 1914.  You can see that he's not a lot bigger than The Dormouse.

See what I mean? When General Armistead said he wanted a "very large flag," it was only because he was alive in the 1800s and back then they couldn't say "big-assed flag."

Mary and two nieces sewed this flag and charged the United State Government $544.74 for the job. The material was cut out at her home on Albermarle Street and then carried to a brewery that was close by where they actually sewed the strips together.

View of the Pickersgill house - on the corner - from the second story of the museum.

Actual pieces of the flag.  One of the reasons so much of it is missing now is that over the years, people cut off bits of it as souvenirs.

So you know the rest of the story.  The next year, in 1814, it was that flag flying over the Fort that Francis Scott Key watched for when he was sitting on that British ship out in the harbor through the battle.  And it was only because the flag was so damn big that Francis could see it to be inspired by it anyway. So in a way, it was Mary Pickersgill and General Armistead that we have to thank for our national anthem.  But I guess Francis Scott Key did some stuff too.