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Original 'Star-Spangled Banner' poem leaves Baltimore for the first time

By Jessica Anderson
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 11:45 PM

After Francis Scott Key scrawled down the four verses of "The Star-Spangled Banner," he left four fold marks from putting the parchment in his breast pocket. Nearly 200 years later, the historic document is handled with far more reverence and care.

It's kept in an argon gas case for preservation. On Tuesday, when caretakers moved it from Baltimore to Annapolis - its first known trip out of the city - they put it in an armored truck followed by two state police cars and a half-dozen Baltimore police officers on motorcycles.

Key wrote the poem in September 1814 during the Battle of Baltimore at Fort McHenry, where it will return Wednesday after the trip to Annapolis for a reception for the General Assembly organized by the National Anthem Celebration Foundation. For three months starting Thursday, the public can view Key's original manuscript at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.

Vincent Vaise, a park ranger and chief of interpretation, said this is the first time that "The Star-Spangled Banner," which did not become the national anthem until March 3, 1931, will return to "the place that gave the inspiration. It's making history again."

Burt Kummerow, president of the Maryland Historical Society, said the group has held the document since the 1960s. He called the parchment "a very, very important document in Maryland history," adding that "we're taking great pains to protect it."

The document has been kept at a historical society exhibit, which is under renovation. The large wooden display case with built-in lights now sits in an empty room where contractors have begun to make way for a new Civil War exhibit.

The original document was preserved under a copy on display for visitors, to help preserve Key's writing. Every hour, a device would reveal the original for a few minutes.

"The thing is priceless,'' said historical society spokesman Marc L. Apter.

The document was removed from the museum case Tuesday for the first time since 2003. The yellowed parchment, with elegant cursive handwriting and the occasional word slashed out, was flattened in a clear frame with numerous locks.

It was delicately lowered into a large case strapped into the truck, surrounded with heavy blankets used as cushions.

Dan Esmond, founder of the National Anthem Celebration, said he worked with the historical society for several months to plan the move.

"To me, this is like the Constitution, but this you can actually read," since the document has been so well-preserved, he said.

- Baltimore Sun

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