Saturday, June 21, 2014

"Star-Spangled Banner" Manuscript

Where: American History Museum

When: through July 6, 2014

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 (which lasted until 1815) and timed to begin with Flag Day and end with the Fourth of July weekend, the American History Museum is displaying the original manuscript of the Star Spangled Banner.  It's in the display area with the flag itself, as you might expect, and if you're going to the museum any time soon, you'll want to make a point of seeing it.

When I was a child on class trips in the 1970s, American History was my favorite of the museums.  One of my most vivid memories is of the flag hanging from the ceiling, tattered, but "still there."  A number of years ago, it was determined that what the British couldn't manage, wear and tear (and some very bad treatment early on) would do, and the flag was taken off display to be restored.  If my memory serves me correctly, visitors were able to watch the conservators at their work.  As I mentioned in my write up of "The Rex Room" at Natural History, I can't imagine anything worse than people gawking at you as you try to get things done.

Now, the flag has been preserved and re-displayed in dim light, behind glass, safe for future generations to see.  I hadn't been in the exhibit in quite a while, and I was reminded that when the Smithsonian wants to devote a lot of time and money to a display, they can turn out a show stopper.  The explanations of the War and the history of the flag are great.  The other objects displayed in the area complement the text admirably.  It's all very well done and an example of what you can do to make history (even the War of 1812, not the most exciting of American wars) of interest to visitors.

Adding the manuscript is a nice touch.  It does feel a bit "added on," which of course, it is.  It's in front of the flag itself, also encased in glass.  I actually missed it when I went through and had to go back to see it!  It's on loan from the Maryland Historical Society, so thanks to them for sharing one of their treasures. Frankly, it's an old piece of paper with writing on it, so it's not very scintillating to look at, but it's a piece of history, so worth seeing - even if only to say later that you've seen it!

Note that, if you're planning on a "Star Spangled Banner"-themed visit, you can also see the gown Renee Fleming wore when she sang the national anthem at the last Super Bowl.  I'm not much of a fan of these displays of clothing (Marion Anderson's outfit from when she sang at the Lincoln Memorial being an exception).  If I were more of a girly girl, maybe I'd feel differently, and if you love to look at dresses, have at it.  It's on the 2nd floor not far from the flag display.

Verdict: A great way to celebrate the nation's birthday - have a look before it returns to Baltimore.

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