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'Star-Spangled Banner' manuscript gets star treatment

Jun. 13, 2013 - 01:15PM   |  
Memorial Day Ceremony
The original manuscript of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' is making a historic fanfare-filled visit to Frederick, Md., home of its author, Francis Scott Key. (Philip Hall / The Enterprise-Journal via AP)
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FREDERICK, MD. — Dawn’s early light and rockets’ red glare seared a song into a man’s heart in 1814 and moved his pen to create what became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Not since the bombs fell at Fort McHenry has so much excitement surrounded the national anthem, whose original manuscript is making a historic fanfare-filled visit to Frederick. Frederick County native Francis Scott Key’s handwritten draft is to arrive Friday — Flag Day — to spend two days on public display.

Army musicians, mounted police and a World War II veteran are lined up to celebrate when the document makes the unprecedented visit to its author’s final resting place at Mount Olivet Cemetery, said John Fieseler, director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County.

Carrying out the two-day event, called “Anthem and Author Reunited,” has never been possible before, Fieseler said.

During the War of 1812, Key witnessed withering bombardment at Fort McHenry on Sept. 13 and 14, 1814, and penned the poem a day later after seeing the “flag was still there,” Fieseler said. The story goes that Key handed the draft to his brother-in-law and did not see it again.

The song became popular but did not become the national anthem until 1931, 88 years after Key died. Frederick played a role in its rise to national prominence, Fieseler said.

After the unveiling of one historic marker and special ceremony, the 199-year-old document will go on public display from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday at City Hall, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

The tourism council and others are sponsoring a weekend of banner-related activities to make the song’s existence more personal for historians and benefactors, tourists and the community.

Buried among graves near Key are regular people who served in the militia that assembled at Frederick’s Hessian Barracks and defended Fort McHenry. New historic markers at the barracks and around town recognize them and other important facts, Fieseler said.

On Saturday, before the graveside events at Mount Olivet Cemetery, the council is offering two walking and biking guided tours, departing at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Later, the Army Old Guard, horse-mounted units from the National Capital Park Police and the Colonial Fife and Drum Corps will escort the original manuscript for the culmination of the two-day tour. The entourage will accompany the document to Key’s grave for a 3 p.m. ceremony, featuring professional musicians, local dignitaries and historians.

“I think the escort will be pretty cool,” Fieseler said.

The two-day event heralds next year’s 200th anniversary of the song.

The manuscript, which is on loan from its permanent home at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, will return there for safekeeping after Saturday’s festivities.

Next year, it is to go on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

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