Smithsonian plans Star-Spangled Banner event

By Chuck Springston
The flag that inspired the The Star Spangled Banner.
The flag that inspired the The Star Spangled Banner.
Courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
The original lyrics and the original flag that inspired them will be united in a special exhibit this summer to celebrate the bicentennial of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

     The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, which has the flag on permanent display in Washington, will also be a temporary home June 14-July 6 for Francis Scott Key’s original handwritten version of the song, which normally resides at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.
     Key, a lawyer who wrote poetry on the side, penned the lyrics from a ship in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812 as the British navy bombarded Fort McHenry. The shelling began the morning of Sept. 13, 1814, and continued through the morning of Sept. 14, when the British abandoned the attack and sailed away. Key began jotting down the words after seeing the fort still standing and the flag flying in the early morning light.
     Later, in 1814, a musical score was added to Key’s words (the melody from an English song, “Anacreon in Heaven,” written about 1775 by John Stafford Smith), and the American song was titled “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It became the national anthem in 1931.
     The Smithsonian exhibit, which commemorates the bicentennial of the song, will be the first time the 30-by-34-foot flag and Key’s original manuscript have been displayed together.
     They will both be in a two-story, glass-enclosed gallery that was constructed just for the flag and opened in November 2008. The chamber’s specially designed preservation system includes filtered air, humidity and temperature controls, waterproofing protections and reduced oxygen to prevent combustion that could cause a fire.
     “Both the anthem and the banner are the most recognized symbols of our country,” said John Gray, director of the National Museum of American History, in a press release issued Jan. 8, “and this year, the flag will serve as a lens through which we will present exhibitions, programs and special events to allow our visitors to examine American identity and to celebrate our shared culture.”
     Museum officials will celebrate the opening of the flag-and-song display with an event called “Raise it Up! Anthem for America,” on Flag Day, June 14, when they hope millions of Americans across the globe will simultaneously sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 
     The songfest will be held on the National Mall in Washington, according to the press release, which said the Smithsonian will announce more details in the spring.
     Along with touting the “The Star-Spangled Banner” bicentennial, Smithsonian officials noted that this year is the 50th anniversary of the history museum, which opened to the public Jan. 23, 1964.
     The Smithsonian has more information about the history of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on its website.


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