Monday, September 19, 2011

Stars and Stripes: An American Story Exhibit Opens at the Heinz History Center


Ned Schano

Brady Smith


History Center Exhibition Presents the Story of the American Flag Major exhibit includes a fragment of the Star-Spangled Banner and other items from the Smithsonian, as well as objects from the collection of Pittsburgh native and noted flag expert, Dr. Peter Keim

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 8, 2011 – We pledge allegiance to it, we parade it, and we display it on occasions both solemn and celebratory. The American flag represents the nation and its people, patriotism, and pride, even during times of war and strife.

Next weekend, the Senator John Heinz History Center will open a major exhibition, Stars and Stripes: An American Story, sponsored by BNY Mellon, which details the stories of the people behind the more than 200 year history of our nation’s most enduring symbol.

The 7,000 square foot exhibit, which was developed by History Center museum staff in conjunction with Dr. Peter Keim and historians including Marc Leepson, will open with a special ceremony on Sat., Sept. 10, at 9:00 a.m. which will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Stars and Stripes: An American Story will include objects, images, and archival materials from the History Center’s collections, as well as items on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, The Warhol Museum, The National Gallery of Art, and private collectors.

 “For more than 200 years, the American flag has symbolized the democratic ideals of our nation and its people,” said Andy Masich, president and CEO of the History Center. “This major exhibition examines the people and events which contributed to the flag’s endurance over the past two centuries, throughout the nation and here in Western Pennsylvania.”

Beginning with the nation’s first flag, Stars and Stripes: An American Story will help unravel the myths and reality surrounding its creation, including the mythical story of Betsy Ross developing the first American flag. In addition to Ross, the exhibit will reveal the stories of Americans who have influenced the flag’s legacy, including:

• Joseph E. Fennimore, a soldier who handmade an American flag using a Nazi flag, a blue dress uniform, and salvaged red fabric while in Germany during WWII

• Michael Strank, Franklin Borough, Pa., resident and one of the soldiers who hoisted the American flag in the iconic image from the Battle of Iwo Jima

• John MacFarland, a Pittsburgh native who took the Confederate Stars and Bars flag from the New Orleans Customs House during the Civil War in 1862

• John Michael O’Cilka, an artist from Cambria County whose “Miners with Coal Police” painting portrays a group of striking coal miners holding an American flag and demonstrates the worker’s appreciation of the freedoms granted in the U.S.

• Jay Apt, a Squirrel Hill, Pa., astronaut who displayed the American flag on his helmet during more than 847 hours (35 days) in space

• Thomas Burnett, a passenger on Flight 93 whose family left five American flags each inscribed with a personal message for him at the Shanksville, Pa., crash site following the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001.

A Grand Union flag and a selection of 13-star flags from the Keim collection will offer a look at the inspiration for early flags. A fragment of the Star-Spangled Banner, on loan from the Smithsonian, is featured along with a rare fifth-edition sheet music of Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which eventually became the U.S. national anthem.

Additional sections of the exhibit will examine the flag during times of conflict, as a symbol of pride and power to some and a symbol of oppression to others. A 12-foot Confederate “Stars and Bars” flag will be shown alongside an American flag from the Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War. WWII flags on loan from the Smithsonian include one of the first American flags to enter Berlin following V-E Day in 1945, as well as the Fennimore flag.

Posters from WWI and WWII and an original Uncle Sam costume worn by East Liberty war bond salesman John Peake will show the role of the flag during wartime as the preeminent symbol of our nation, both for our allies and our enemies. Flags representing the Civil War and the civil unrest of the 1960s and 70s will illustrate the flag as a divisive symbol as Americans battled over identity, unpopular wars, and issues of equality at home.

Modern depictions of the flag are also included, such as “Moonwalk” pop artwork from Andy Warhol and a unique lead relief flag created by Jasper Johns.

Throughout Stars & Stripes: An American Story, several interactive stations and video presentations will help bring the symbolism of the flag to life for visitors. Highlights include touch interactives on materials used to create flags, a section on proper flag etiquette and folding techniques, and a recreated grand entrance of the Centennial Exposition hall in Philadelphia.

9/11 Component Includes Items from Flight 93 Memorial

The exhibit includes a special section on the role of the American flag during the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001. Flags and items left at the Flight 93 crash site will be on display, as  well as the clothes worn by WABC New York reporter and Uniontown native Nina Pineda while covering the terrorist attacks at Ground Zero; helmets from the Eureka Fire Company from Stewartstown, Pa., who sent a team to Ground Zero; and pieces of the Pentagon following the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C.

Stars and Stripes: An American Story is on display in the History Center’s first floor McGuinn Gallery through June 17, 2012.

For updated exhibit information and related events, including photo galleries and videos, please visit

The Senator John Heinz History Center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and the largest history museum in Pennsylvania. The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum is a museum within a museum, comprehensively presenting the region’s remarkable sports story through hundreds of artifacts and interactive experiences for visitors of all ages. The History Center and Sports Museum are located at 1212 Smallman Street in the city’s Strip District, and are open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information is available at

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