Banner days for the flag

Pride: Baltimore's star-spangled shrines feel the effects of a surge in patriotism.

September 28, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's famous flag shrines have been working overtime since Sept. 11, filling many orders for Old Glory, taking calls from as far as Europe and providing patriotic inspiration and solace to visitors.

At the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House at 844 E. Pratt St., where the flag that inspired the national anthem was made in the household of seamstress Mary Pickersgill, callers are pleading for flags and asking about the finer points of flag etiquette.

"They asked how to display flags, if they could fly them in the rain and at night, how to hold them at half-mast," said Sally Johnston, director of the Flag House museum. "An overwhelming number desperately wanted to display their love for the country. They would pay anything; they wanted them overnighted."

She has fielded calls from New York, Michigan, Connecticut, Ohio, California, North Carolina, among other states, and received a voice-mail message from a woman in France who signed off by saying, "God bless America."

Across the water in Fort McHenry, where an early morning glimpse of Pickersgill's huge flag moved lawyer Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem in 1814, pretty much the same thing is going on. "I'm sold out since the Friday after the attack," said Karol Clark, an employee at the Fort McHenry gift shop, referring to the 3-by-5-foot flags for $29.95 that she stocks.

All she has left are desk flags with 15 stars and 15 stripes, not what most people are looking for. And none to snap on cars, either.

Hugh Manar, the supervisory park ranger at Fort McHenry, said visitors sought solace beyond buying flags.

"The mood has been quiet, reflective, introspective perhaps," Manar said. "Some visitors drew parallels between our national situation today and the threats of the War of 1812."

He has noticed larger crowds at the windswept fort, a national monument, in the two weekends after the attacks.

This week, a family of six visiting from Boise, Idaho, stood under a tree discussing their freedom to travel and visit the place that inspired the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," the star-shaped fort where American soldiers defied a British naval bombardment in a battle that took three days, starting Sept. 12, 1814.

In sticking with their plans, "It's almost like, we're not going to let them [terrorists] take that away," Paul and Linda Patchin both said.

In Baltimore for a conference on homeschooling, they took their two teen-agers, Tom and Emily, and two younger boys, Daniel and Jeremiah, to see the sight that filled Francis Scott Key with heart in 1814 "that our flag was still there."

Parallels from history

Holding up the current conflict to the light of history, Paul Patchin saw a parallel: "The media completely forgot our capital was attacked in the War of 1812," he said, noting the British marched on Washington and sacked and burned some of the young republic's sacred targets: the White House, the Capitol and the books belonging to the fledgling Library of Congress. "So this situation is very relevant."

"I'm really glad we didn't stay home," Linda Patchin said. "We're drawing together as a country."

Several other people who watched the video at the visitors center, which concludes with the anthem and a curtain opening on the flag flying over the fort, said they were stirred by the image.

"This is almost bringing a tear to my eye," Alyssa MacMiller, 31, said. "It's a strong moment."

Recently transplanted from New York to Baltimore with her husband, she visited the fort Tuesday with her in-laws from California and her infant daughter, Kirby.

Inside the heart of the fort, schoolchildren from Grace Bible Baptist Christian School in Catonsville - decked out in broad stripes and bright stars T-shirts they tie-dyed as a class project in the aftermath of the attacks - made merry with facts and lyrics they had just learned about the flag.

Unfurling a 42-by-30-foot flag, they saw the original dimensions of the flag ordered up by the commander, Col. George Armistead: a flag so large the British forces will have no difficulty seeing it, he declared. The original wool bunting flag is undergoing a restoration at the Smithsonian Institution.

Pride from visit

The previously planned day trip to the landmark took on a new meaning in light of the attacks, said Wendy Savoy, an aunt of a student who accompanied the group.

Jose Schimming, 27, of Minneapolis, who was visiting the fort with his friend, Army Spc. James Garrett, 27, said they came away "more proud to be Americans."

The two longtime friends said they became conscious of the echoes across years - "the danger to the homeland when they tried to take out the White House and symbols of significance," said Garrett, who is stationed at Fort Detrick in Frederick. "That one struck me real deep."

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