Star-Spangled Banner: Francis Scott Key’s Handwritten Manuscript To Go On Display

The Star-Spangled Banner manuscript, penned in 1814 by Francis Scott Key, will soon be making an unprecedented public appearance.

The Smithsonian in Washington will be putting both the manuscript and the flag that inspired the song on display for a two-week span this summer, starting on Flag Day and running just past the Fourth of July. This will mark the first time ever that the the Star-Spangled Banner manuscript and the flag have appeared together.

The exhibit marks the 200-year anniversary of the song being written, and Smithsonian officials hope it will help people understand an important moment in American history.

“It’s meant to be emotional. It’s meant to be reflective,” said Bonnie Lilienfeld, a Smithsonian curator who is working on the manuscript’s display.

Francis Scott Key was a 35-year-old lawyer who was watching the British attacking Fort McHenry in Baltimore. After the 24-hour onslaught, Key expected to see that the British had taken over the strategic point, but instead found that “the flag was still there,” signaling that the US troops had held off the enemy.

His poem, originally titled Defense of Fort McHenry, was set to music and later renamed the Star-Spangled Banner. In 1931 it was declared the national anthem.

Those who make it out to The Smithsonian will get to see Key’s creative process in action. He had originally started the poem by writing “Oh say can you see through the dawn’s early light,” but crossed out “through” and changed it to”by.” Museum-goers will also get to see the three other stanzas that Key wrote which did not become part of the national anthem.

The Star-Spangled Banner exhibit will be displayed at The Smithsonian from June 14 through July 6.