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Star-Spangled Banner Gets New Flagpole

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

National Park News

The Star-Spangled Banner still waves by the “dawn’s early light” – but on a new flagpole. On June 19th, the existing pole, dating to 1989, was removed. A temporary aluminum pole ensured that the flag continued to wave for 24 hours a day at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine until the new wooden flagpole was placed two weeks later. Moreover, visitors still had the opportunity to participate in flag changes and see a period flag with 15-stars 15-stripes.

“Historically, Fort McHenry has gone through a lot flagpoles,” says chief of interpretation Vincent Vaise. “The first known replacement was in 1810, four years before the bombardment. It was struck by lightning and blown apart. Nature had better aim than the British.”

The new flagpole, which will stand at 87 feet, is made of Douglas fir. Resembling a ship’s mast, the pole is constructed in two parts for stability and to make it easier to perform maintenance.

“They used to build sailing ships in Baltimore,” says ranger Scott Sheads. “If you wanted something that tall for a flagpole, you likely built it as a mast.” 

Visitors to the fort during this project were able to view the flag from another historic location on one of the fort’s bastions. The location of the temporary flagpole was where the flagpole was located historically during the American Civil War and the First World War.

The new flagpole is a blend of modern technology and 19th century craftsmanship. Steven Wagner and Son, of Center Valley, Pennsylvania who have been making flagpoles since 1989, were busy shaving, cutting, and blending vintage iron hardware, much as their historic predecessors had done. However, modern epoxy and paints will ensure that the pole weathers the elements for a long time. The company, a family business, specializes in custom projects. They installed the main flag pole at the U.S. Naval Academy, the flagpole on the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, and designed and fabricated exhibits at Ellis Island in New York.

“It is a great sense of pride to be doing something awesomely symbolic of our nation’s history,” said Steven Wagner.

Acting maintenance chief Wayne Boyd discovered hidden rot in the existing flagpole, prompting the need for a replacement.

“I was taking part in a special National Park Service maintenance training program,” says Boyd. “Part of the program was to make a careful assessment of park facilities and historic structures. That’s when I noticed that there was some rot in the center of the pole.”

This discovery made it essential to install a new flag pole to ensure visitors safety.

“Often visitors only see the park rangers giving tours,” says Vaise. “They don’t know that a major part of what we do is preserving the buildings and structures in a park.”

During the project the fort was closed for a non-consecutive total of four days. During these days, fees were suspended and rangers offered a wide variety of programs.


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