The restored and protected Star-Spangled Banner, which can be seen at the National Museum of American History. (National Museum of American History)

In July 1813, Mary Pickersgill began sewing the biggest flag she had ever made. The United States was at war with Britain. The commander at Fort McHenry in Baltimore wanted an American flag so large that the British couldn’t miss seeing it.

Among those helping Pickersgill was Grace Wisher, a 13-year-old African American servant.

The flag took six weeks to make. It was 30 feet tall and 42 feet wide, with 15 stars and 15 stripes — one for each of the 13 original colonies plus two new states, Vermont and Kentucky.

This was the flag that, on September 14, 1814, inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” after he watched the British navy’s failed attack on Fort McHenry.

Saturday is Flag Day. The annual celebration has special meaning in Baltimore, where the Star-Spangled Banner first flew, and in Washington, its home since 1907. Fun events are planned in both cities. Check them out below. And if you own a U.S. flag, wave it proudly on Saturday.

Francis Scott Key’s original poem will be displayed in Washington through July 6. (Maryland Historical Society)
Flag fever in Washington

The original Star-Spangled Banner is a must-see at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Until July 6, visitors get a bonus: Key’s original poem, on loan from the Maryland Historical Society.

There’s a lot more to the anthem than the one verse we sing at sporting events. And because Key had good handwriting, you can read every word! You also can learn about how the historic flag is being kept safe for future generations to see.

At 2:30 p.m. on Flag Day, head out to the Mall for a free concert by a large choir and the U.S. Air Force Concert Band. The show ends at 4 with a coast-to-coast anthem singalong. At 9 p.m., the Smithsonian Channel will air “A Star-Spangled Story: Battle for America.” Ask Mom or Dad if you can stay up late and watch.

A big day in Baltimore, too

A big flag deserves a big movie on a big screen. “Star-Spangled Banner: Anthem of Liberty” opens Saturday on the Imax screen at the Maryland Science Center. The film explores the shelling of Fort McHenry as Key watched. At dawn, when he saw the huge American flag over the fort, he knew the attack had failed.

In the movie version, cool computer graphics show the British fleet sailing into Baltimore. Cannons boom and rockets burst above the audience.

At the real Fort McHenry, the Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and Continental Color Guard will perform Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m.

Nearby, young Grace Wisher’s role in making the flag is highlighted in the exhibit “For Whom It Stands: The Flag and the American People.” The exhibit is at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. At noon Saturday, a local artist will help kids make their own flags. The museum is also celebrating Caribbean-American Heritage Month, so at 4 p.m. a steel drum band will strike up “The Star-Spangled Banner” and join the national singalong.

A few doors away is the Pickersgill house, built in 1793. It’s now a museum called the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House. Step inside and you can almost hear Mary Pickersgill and Grace walking around.

– Marylou Tousignant

Learn more

These Web sites have more information about the activities we’ve listed, including directions and ticket prices. Be sure you ask a grown-up before going online.

Smithsonian Institution: and

Maryland Science Center: .

Fort McHenry: .

Reginald F. Lewis Museum: .

The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House: .