Editor’s Note: Upon hearing that Angela Packer McGhie and her son were involved in the record breaking living flag as part of the ongoing celebrations at Fort McHenry for the Star Spangled 200th, we invited her to write this guest post on her experiences.
By Angela Packer McGhie
I was sitting at home the last week of August and wishing I was at the FGS Conference in Texas. My friends were posting messages on Facebook about the conference, and the competition between four genealogy celebrities to raise money for the War of 1812 “Preserve the Pensions” Fund. I had done my part and donated money to the cause, but still felt a little left out. When my son came home from school that day, he told me that his 4th grade class was invited to a “once-in-a-lifetime” historic event. They would be taking a field trip to Fort McHenry in Baltimore to be part of a “living flag” commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812, the Battle of Baltimore, and the writing of the Star Spangled Banner. I thought that chaperoning this field trip would be a great way for me to honor my ancestor, George Augustus Neal, who served in the War of 1812.
On the morning of September 9th we drove to the school early so that we would be ready to join all the other 4th and 5th grade students on the field trip. The kids were so excited! They knew this was an historic day and they were eager to participate. The 100th anniversary celebration in 1914 had included a living flag, and this event was going to set a world record with over 6,600 people participating.
Watching the educational program on the jumbotron while waiting to be placed in the living flag. Courtesy Angela Packer McGhie.
The excitement continued as we arrived at Fort McHenry and watched the educational program on the jumbotron. They had a historic re-enactor portraying Francis Scott Key and telling the story of the writing of what would become the Star Spangled Banner from a ship in the Baltimore harbor. Another told the story of Mary Pickersgill who was commissioned to sew the giant 30 by 42 foot garrison flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814. This was followed by a War of 1812 fife and drum corps that played for the students, and other education and entertainment while we waited our turn to join in the living flag.
View from the center of the “living flag” where Angela and her son were sitting. Courtesy Angela Packer McGhie.
They called one school at a time to gather on the grass in front of the Fort and gave every student a shiny red, white, or blue poncho to wear as they filled in their section of the flag. We were toward the end of the procession, and were given red ponchos to wear as we became the second red stripe under the stars. Once everyone was in place, we had several pictures taken from the helicopters hovering above us, and the photographer on top of the visitors’ center. The official program (which was broadcast live on YouTube) included speeches from the mayor of Baltimore, a local congressman and the governor of Maryland. The students were excited that the governor was there to address them.
The living flag as seen from above. Photo courtesy Friends of Fort McHenry.
To me there were two highlights of the day. The first was learning that Myrtle Sanders was in the front row, and she had been part of the human flag in 1914! She was just a baby in her mother’s arms at the time, and now at age 100 she was participating again with us (you can see her the video link below). The second highlight was when they invited all 6,600+ students, teachers and chaperones to join in singing the “Star Spangled Banner” while we were in the flag formation. It brought the significance of the event to life.
You can see a brief news report of the event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F0ZBz09hxk
Fort McHenry’s Star-Spangled Banner Living Flag is one of a weeklong series of events celebrating the 200th anniversary of our National Anthem. For additional information on other events, visit www.starspangled200.com
The team at Preserve the Pensions War of 1812 would like to thank Angela for her gift of time and for sharing her day at Fort McHenry. Please donate today to save the fragile documents that make up the War of 1812 Pension Files; preserving them digitally forever.