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Smithsonian Museum Opening Nov. 21

For the first time in more than two years, history buffs in Washington will be able to get a glimpse of the flag that inspired the national anthem.

The National Museum of American History announced this week that it will open its doors in November after being closed for an $85 million renovation to its interior. The Star-Spangled Banner and other relics of American history were put in storage in September 2006 when the museum began the lengthy renovation process.

“Over the past two years, everywhere I go people ask, ‘When will you open?’” said Brent Glass, the museum’s director. “I’m thrilled to announce that we will open on Friday, Nov. 21, 2008.”

The museum was originally slated to open this summer, but the discovery of asbestos and lead paint slowed the process. The construction is 80 percent complete; night and weekend crews have been added.

“When we reopen, we will shed new light on American history,” Glass said before touting the museums new, brighter displays.

The marquee attraction will be the new Star-Spangled Banner Gallery to house the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key. The gallery cost about $30 million and will tell the tale of the Battle of Baltimore and the significance of the War of 1812. It will also feature an abstract flag comprising 960 tiles hanging above the entranceway. Visitors will be able to read the story of the anthem’s composition and then view the tattered flag in lighting similar to what inspired Key.

“The Star-Spangled Banner has become synonymous with the museum,” Glass said. “What I’m very pleased about is for the first time we will be able to provide a permanent historical context for the flag.”

There will also be more open space in the center of the building, with an atrium where the famed Foucault Pendulum once hung. The pendulum, which was removed in 1998 to make room for the previous Star-Spangled Banner exhibit, swung in different directions to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. Glass has described the soon-to-come atrium as a “town square” where naturalization ceremonies, musical performances and speeches can be held.

“Our opening coincides happily with the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address,” Glass said, adding that the occasion will not go unnoticed.

In celebration of the museum’s opening and Lincoln’s famed speech, first lady Laura Bush will loan the White House’s copy of the address, handwritten by the 16th president, for display through Jan. 4.

While much of the interior of the museum has been gutted, the exterior of the 44-year-old building has changed only slightly. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the project cost $85 million, $45.9 million of which came from federal funding

The museum, the most popular of the Smithsonians with an average of 3 million visitors each year, will still be home to many of the same exhibits and artifacts, though there will be some new touches. For instance, glass cases will line the walls of the atrium to display more of the museum’s collection.

“The mission of this museum is to tell the story of America,” Glass said. “We want visitors to come away with a better understanding of the American dream and what it means to be an American.”

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