WASHINGTON – Beyond the main entrance of the National Museum of American History is a new gallery housing the 30-by-34 foot Star Spangled Banner,the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key in 1814 to write the national anthem.
Right around the corner is the relocated Woolworth lunch counter from the 1960 Greensboro, N.C.,civil rights sit-in.
Behind that,on loan from the White House,in a special display,is one of only five copies of the Gettysburg address penned by Abraham Lincoln.
The exhibits are all part of the 44-year-old museum on the National Mall,re-opening to the public Friday after a two-year,$85 million renovation. Among the changes are new sky-lit atrium at the main entrance,a grand staircase and new displays for many of the museum's 3 million historic artifacts.
President George W. Bush helped dedicate the museum at a ceremony Wednesday.
“Ever since President James K. Polk laid the Smithsonian's cornerstone in 1847,it has been one of our nation's greatest centers of knowledge. And since it opened nearly 45 years ago,the Museum of American History has been one of the Smithsonian's most popular institutions,” Bush said.
Bush dedicated the Gettysburg Address exhibit 145 years to the day when Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous speech in Pennsylvania.
“With only 10 sentences,he strengthened the bonds of our Union – and rededicated our nation to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Bush said.
Among those who spoke was acclaimed historian David McCullough. He said the museum offers genuine artifacts of times past in an age when so much else is artificial.
“History teaches us how to behave,” McCullough said afterward. “It's an encyclopedia of examples of human response.”
A representation of an American flag – 40 feet long,19 feet high and composed of 960 reflective tiles of polycarbonate material – dominates back wall of the atrium. Behind the wall,the Star-Spangled Banner,under restoration since 1998,sits in a special,darkened glass enclosure. To reduce stress on the fabric,the flag that flew during the Battle of Fort McHenry is displayed on a 10-degree elevation,under a constant temperature of 68 to 72 degrees and relative humidity of 50 percent,the Smithsonian said.
He said natural light was used sparingly in the original design. Now,light pours through the atrium,which acts as a “town square.”
“It's such an emotion-producing project,” Haney said. “It really gets into you after you work on it.”
Five new U.S. citizens were naturalized at the event and greeted by the president. Museum director Brent D. Glass said the museum plans to host other naturalization ceremonies in the future.
In addition to the changes,many popular exhibits are returning,including the desk Thomas Jefferson used to draft the Declaration of Independence,an Edison light bulb and the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in the “Wizard of Oz.”
Colin L. Powell will help dedicate the museum at its official opening to the public Friday.