Dealing with valuable relics is delicate work. There are tens of thousands of qualified professionals working hard every day to ensure that our past is not forgotten and our treasures stay safe for generations to come. But occasionally, someone much less appreciative of historical wonder will get a hold of one of those treasures, cut a neckhole in it, and wear it as a chili bib. Here are those stories.
6Ripping Apart the Star-Spangled Banner
The most treasured possession of the Smithsonian Museum is the Star-Spangled Banner, one of the very first American flags to be manufactured during the Revolutionary War. Back then, the flag was made with 15 stars, but count 'em up, and you'll only spot 14:
Did they cut it out with a weed eater?
What happened there? Was it flying over some desperately defended American fort when a British cannonball pierced its noble hide ... yet still it waved on in defiance? It's a scene that would bring a single majestic tear to a bald eagle's eye. But it's not reality. The real story is this: All those missing pieces were cut off with scissors and given away as stocking stuffers.
Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images
"Oh look, a tiny, centuries-old scrap of fabric. Um ... thanks, Santa."
After it flew proudly over Baltimore during the final battle of the war, Lt. Col. George Armistead took the impressively huge 30-foot-by-42-foot flag home as a keepsake, while Francis Scott Key wrote the shiny new nation's anthem in its honor. When Armistead died, he passed it on to his wife, and when she died in 1861, it passed again to their daughter, Georgiana Armistead, who thought it was so lovely, she couldn't bear to keep it all to herself.
Georgiana began to shop the banner around to museums that wanted to borrow it, but it wasn't enough for people to just see it on display -- they wanted to own a piece of history, too. And so, bombarded with requests for fragments of the flag, Georgiana began snipping pieces off of it and handing them out to whomever she deemed worthy. It was considered a great honor, usually bestowed on worthy folks like war heroes and famed politicians -- but she was still tearing off pieces of the Star-Spangled Banner like they were tabs at the bottom of a "Free Guitar Lessons" flier.
Except that people actually had an interest in the flag.
By the time horrified Smithsonian conservationists halted Georgiana's all-you-can-snag flag buffet in 1907, more than 200 square feet of it had been removed and mailed off to collectors, including one of the stars. Legend says it was gifted to none other than Abraham Lincoln. But the recipe for most good legends is two parts bull to one part shit, and Georgiana was far more sympathetic to the Confederate cause, so it probably landed in the pocket of some racist buttwad. So if your great-great-great-grandpa was a giant wad of racist butt, maybe give your attic a check for something blue and pointy that's not an old Stabby Smurf doll.
Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Although we imagine ol' Stabby is also worth a fortune on eBay.