During the month of July, pinwheels and porch flags are not the only patriotic decorations covering our neighborhoods in red, white, and blue. Even our stamps celebrate the Fourth. Here at Southern Living, we hold one stamp with a uniquely Southern story near and dear to our hearts.
The Star-Spangled Banner First Class Mail ® Forever Stamp ®, issued on January 28, 2014, depicts a photograph captured by the talented photographer Gary Clark while on assignment for Southern Living Magazine.
On September 12, 2004, Clark visited Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, Maryland, to cover the state’s annual celebration of Defenders’ Day. The statewide holiday commemorates the day that Fort McHenry withstood British attacks during the War of 1812. The flag that flew over the fort during the attacks later inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
While photographing the state’s annual firework celebration, Clark wanted to capture the holiday’s history in one picture.
“The whole story is about the flag and the fireworks, but you really couldn’t see the flag from outside of the Fort. So I suggested that the better shot would be inside of the Fort with the flag and the fireworks in the background,” he said.
After pulling some strings to get inside of the fort, Clark set up his two cameras and began flying through film. But getting the shot that captured the exact moment that a gust of wind blew the American flag in line with a burst of fireworks wasn’t easy.
“You couldn’t tell which way the wind is going to blow… Out of 360 shots, there were only five that were usable.”
Although the photo would later be printed on over 13.5 billion stamps, Clark was shocked when, three years later, he learned that the USPS was interested in using his photo on a stamp.
“I said, get out of town.”
William Gicker, Creative Director and Manager of Stamp Development, said that his office is always on the lookout for unique flag stamp designs. Clark’s picture captured such an exquisite moment that, upon first seeing the image, Gicker’s office thought it was photo shopped.
“Capturing fireworks is difficult enough,” Gicker said. “But capturing fireworks and a waving flag on a dark night is quite an accomplishment on the photographer’s part. We were very much impressed.”
After years of email exchanges, committee reviews, and artistic development, Clark’s stamp was officially issued in 2014 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The USPS honored the stamp during a special ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Two years later, the stamp remains in circulation as one of the most recognizable of its class, and Clark is still receiving requests for signed copies of his stamp from people all over the country.
So, as Fourth of July approaches, remember: as an American citizen, you are free to decorate even the white envelope holding your water bill. The Star-Spangled Banner First Class Mail ® Forever Stamp ® is available at post offices and online at USPS.com/stamps.