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Stars and Suckers: 1914

Stars and Suckers: 1914

Washington, D.C., circa 1914. "National Museum. Flags -- huge American flag." The tattered flag that flew over Fort McHenry, immortalized by Francis Scott Key in "The Star-Spangled Banner." Guarded by that heroic squid from the rarely sung fifth stanza. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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The Evil Amelia Fowler (Reconsidered)

Before someone rushes out to desecrate Amelia's grave, consider what the conservators may have had to work with in 1998 if she had not performed this treatment in 1914.

Memories, memories

My most salient recollections from the first of countless visits to the Smithsonian, at about age five, remain the Ft. McHenry flag hanging in its case and the giant squid (Papier maché? Who knew?) lurking over the spectators' heads.

Missing Stanza

Oh what in the surf is this under sea troll,
We have tried to lay waste yet so fiercely it resists,
It's eight arms we had seen steal our flag from the 'pole,
Our great guns we have loos'd, it's bestial life still persists,
With a thrust of our spear, it's arms pierced so near,
It heaved back the flag, submerged ne'er more to appear,
Once more does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Amelia Fowler

Pictured must be Amelia Fowler, of Boston, and one of her ten assistants. Fowler, a master “flag preserver” who had patented techniques for the process, also preserved the flags still on exhibit at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

The Star Spangled Banner was conserved in 1914 by stitching it using 1.7 million of Fowler’s patented six-sided stitches to an Irish Linen backing. Charging the Smithsonian $1,234, she claimed the restored flag would "defy the test of time".

At the present time all of her work has been undone as piercing the flag some 10.2 million times did not prove to be a lasting technique. The cost to do that and utilize less destructive techniques to preserve the flag, starting in 1998, was some $18.2 million.

The "Great Devilfish"

It is very likely the giant squid swimming above the flag is the life-size papier-mache model made for the Smithsonian and other museums in 1895, for $750. It was based on a specimen found off Newfoundland in 1877. Though the Smithsonian's squid was ruined in a flood, the model in NYC's American Museum of Natural History is still hanging around.

West Wing

Those windows are a clue - there are rather few Gothic strucures in Washington. This room is the West Wing of the Smithsonian Institution Castle, now known as The Commons.

"The bombs bursting in air, squid flung everywhere"

This is a workroom, judging by the sawhorse table. The squid model (this being pre-Jacques Cousteau when real carcasses just didn't turn up on their doorstep) is probably in need of a buff-up along with the flag. The ladies don't seem concerned about the war that gravity is waging on the squid.

Is that you Amelia?

The linen backing and and patented stitching applied under the direction of Amelia Fowler in this 1914 restoration were all later removed, starting in 1998.


What's with the squid? A camera of some sort, perhaps?

[That's exactly what that is. - Dave]

That takes Lovecraft

That's no ordinary Squid. That's Cthulhu. Preservation requires the most fearsome protection.

Fifth stanza ?!

I know ALL the stanzas of our National Anthem, and not one of them mentions a squid.

What are you talking about ?

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