08/12/2009 - The Star-Spangled Banner yet waves at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, thanks to an undertaking supported in part by Pew. The preservation project, which included a state-of-the-art gallery for the nearly 200-year-old flag, was part of a two-year, $85-million renovation of the entire museum, to better showcase the fabulous treasures of the building fondly known as “America’s attic.”
To see the flag, visitors walk into a five-story, sky-lit atrium and beneath an “abstract” sculptural representation of the flag made of 960 pixels of reflective polycarbonate. There, displayed behind glass and horizontally in conformation with the U.S. flag code, lies the original Star-Spangled Banner. All support structures and mechanisms are hidden from public view, so that it appears to be floating.
As Edward Rothstein reported in The New York Times, “The flag, 30 by 34 feet of wool and cotton, is stunningly laid out on a tilted metallic slab in its own, dimly lighted, environmentally controlled chamber, protecting it from anything remotely like the rockets’ red glare that Francis Scott Key saw at Fort McHenry in 1814 before writing the national anthem.”
The banner’s story is told with sound, video and objects, with an interactive table allowing visitors to research key details. The exhibition explores the flag’s history as a family keepsake in the 19th century, the Smithsonian Institution’s efforts to preserve it since 1907 and ways Americans have used the Star-Spangled Banner—both the flag and the song—to express diverse ideas of patriotism and national identity.
People who can’t get to the exhibition can see it online at the museum’s site, www.americanhistory.si.edu.