Old Glory

Conservators check stitches inside the glass-walled Star-Spangled Banner conservation laboratory at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. in this 1999 file photo. (Pete Souza / Chicago Tribune / May 27, 1999)

Francis Scott Key's handwritten manuscript of lyrics for the "Star-Spangled Banner" and the flag that inspired him to write them will be displayed together for the first time this summer.

The reason for the special exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.: the 200th birthday of the flag, called the Star-Spangled Banner, that flew over Baltimore's Ft. McHenry in 1814. It was the flag Key saw from a ship several miles away "in the dawn's early light" that withstood the battle as British ships withdrew in defeat.

The Star-Spangled Banner is one of the top five items people come to see at the museum, said Valeska Hilbig, museum spokeswoman. "We want people to know that on its bicentennial...the flag is 'still there,' as Francis Scott Key would say," she said.

The original lyrics will be on loan from the Maryland Historical Society and displayed at the museum from Flag Day (June 14) until July 6. Visitors can see the exhibition for free on a first come, first served basis, no special tickets required.

More celebrations are planned too. In an Anthem for America event, the museum is asking Americans everywhere to sing the national anthem simultaneously on Flag Day to honor the flag and the song. Details on what time and what celebrity artist will be leading the vocal charge will be revealed in the spring, Hilbig said.

The flag now measures 30-by-34-feet (it was bigger but about 8 feet was snipped off and given away as souvenirs) and lives in its own environmentally controlled chamber that was unveiled in 2008. Visitors who enter the dimly lighted room can get close-up views of one of the nation's most popular artifacts. 

Info: Smithsonian Star-Spangled Banner FAQs, Anthem for America

Mary.Forgione@latimes.com
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