- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

Preservation of the Star-Spangled Banner will add 500 to 1,000 years to its life span, says the Smithsonian Institutions "State-of-the-Flag Report" released yesterday on Flag Day.

What began as an 1813 government contract for $405.90 to professional flag maker Mary Pickersgill has evolved into a nationally recognized symbol of American pride and patriotism. The flag, which inspired Francis Scott Key´s "The Star-Spangled Banner," is being restored as part of "Save America´s Treasures," an $18 million public-private project of the White House Millennium Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Scrupulous examination has determined that the 188-year-old flag, housed at the National Museum of American History, is too fragile to hang, so future public displays will be designed with only a slight incline to protect the delicate fabric from stress.

"In order to balance the safety of this American artifact with the people´s desire to view the flag, we are looking at displaying it at no more than a 30-degree angle," said Spencer R. Crew, director of the National Museum of American History.

The conservation team works on the flag in a 2,000-square-foot laboratory with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that nearly 5 million people have walked past since it opened in May 1999.

Approximately 1.7 million stitches that had held a linen backing to the flag since 1914 have been painstakingly removed to make way for a new supporting material. The flag still must be cleaned before it is displayed.

The "Snippings from the Star-Spangled Banner" exhibit, filled with flag fragments collected from historical societies, museums and libraries nationwide, is on display next to the flag preservation work until Sept. 14.

The missing fragments make up more than eight of the flag´s original 42 feet. Still missing is the 15th star, which was bestowed to an unknown recepient by the flag´s former guardians, the Amistead and Appleton families, who gave away pieces of the banner to worthy individuals.

"Their generosity was in conformity with 19th-century thinking about historical relics, which held that a piece of a significant object had almost as much evocative power as the object itself," said Lonn Wood Taylor, historian for the project at the museum.

Eighty percent of all visitors to the National Museum of American History polled say they came just to see the the flag that inspired the national anthem. The children of one family, visiting the nation´s capital from Sacramento, Calif., reflected on the national artifact´s timeless significance.

Ten-year-old Alison Greene says, "The Star-Spangled Banner makes me think of courage because men fought for us so we could be free and make our own decisions." Her sister, 8-year-old Jenny, said, "It´s the flag of our country which makes it special." The eldest sibling, Steve, 11, said, "This flag is a piece of living history that reminds us we have a free country. It´s what America is made of."

In 1873, flag caretaker Georgiana Armistead Appleton said, "Though in heavy reverses of fortune when friends have suggested that I might sell it for a high price I have felt I would rather beg than part with my treasure." Appleton´s family guarded the flag from 1814 until 1907.

Completion of the conservation effort is scheduled for summer 2002, but no date has been set for the public flag display in the museum. The future exhibit will be titled "For Which It Stands."

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