- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

BALTIMORE — Now covering more than a city block, the Maryland Historical Society Museum reopens tomorrow with more space, new exhibits and an aim to entertain.

Visitors will find two new exhibits: a timeline of Maryland history with interactive features and a visual arts collection portraying the state’s land and its people.

The society spent $30 million — most of it from donations — to buy three buildings and renovate its campus. A new entrance, built entirely of glass, is on Park Avenue.

Historical Society Director Dennis Fiori said the society, with a collection of 5 million items, started in the early 1990s to raise the money.

“Roofs were leaking. The buildings had not been as well maintained as they should have been. The collections were deteriorating. We did not have a lot of storage space. Staff was too small and the funding was inadequate,” he said.

The result of the campaign is a three-story museum housing the new exhibits: “Looking for Liberty: An Overview of Maryland History,” and “Maryland through the Artist’s Eye.”

The society also will open an exhibit on Baltimore’s fire of 1904 in February and one in June displaying furniture made and used in Maryland through the centuries.

The overview exhibit on the first floor features paintings, artifacts and oral histories that trace Maryland’s pursuit of liberty and the state’s role in the development of the nation, particularly in the areas of religion and as a border state during the Civil War.

The exhibit is broken down into themes of liberty, such as land and property; worship and belief, and defense and protection. The latter section is the home of the original document of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” by Francis Scott Key.

“This is really not only an opportunity for Marylanders to understand their history, but it’s for Americans to understand their history,” said Nancy Davis, deputy director for the museum.

A case holding a reproduction covers the original poem Key wrote on Sept. 14, 1814, when he saw an American flag still flying over Fort McHenry after the British attacked it in the War of 1812. The case retracts for 10 minutes at the top of every hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to display the authentic version.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is the museum’s top draw, but there are many other notable pieces, including a Mason-Dixon stone marker, circa 1767, from the line that divides North and South, and a fired-clay storage pot from between 500 B.C. and 200 B.C.

To help visitors make connections, the new exhibits display objects with related paintings. For instance, Charles Willson Peale’s “Washington and His Generals at Yorktown,” circa 1784, is accompanied by Tench Tilghman’s Revolutionary War uniform, which is pictured in the painting.

In the landscape exhibit, Peale’s “Exhuming the Mastodon,” circa 1806, shows a man holding a large bone from an excavation pit. A few bones from the mastodon are encased below the painting.

“It’s really engaging when you see the bones of the mastodon and then it being brought out of the murky pit,” Miss Davis said. “We have ways of approaching an object that make it come alive in the sense of depth.”

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