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Baltimore gears up for the Star-Spangled Spectacular, a weeklong city-wide celebration

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BALTIMORE - Tall ships, a Blue Angels air show and a majestic fireworks display will be among the highlights of a weeklong celebration of the 200th anniversary of the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner.

The weeklong, multi-million-dollar celebration begins Sept. 10, and will feature musical performances by Smokey Robinson, Kristin Chenoweth and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose Irish rock band, O'Malley's March, is on the bill for Baltimore's biggest bash of the year.

O'Malley joined Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at the Baltimore Visitor Center on Tuesday to help kick off the festivities.

Rawlings-Blake said the celebration will spotlight Baltimore as a historical and cultural hotspot, and that she hopes to attract tourists from around the country.

"Baltimore served as the last line of the defence as our fledgling nation fought against the greatest naval power the world had ever seen," Rawlings-Blake said. "Baltimore's history is full of stories that show the resilience of a people and of a nation. We are going to show off Baltimore like no one can imagine."

The celebration commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore, when American troops protected Fort McHenry from British invasion. Francis Scott Key, a Baltimore-area lawyer, had been sent onto a British vessel to negotiate the release of an American hostage when a 25-hour air strike began. But when the smoke cleared, Key saw that the American flag was still secured above the ramparts at Fort McHenry. So inspired was Key that he wrote the lyrics to what would become America's national anthem.

Fort McHenry will have on display Key's original manuscript and a portion of the original American flag, as well as the national 9-11 flag. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit Fort McHenry on Sept. 14

Bill Pencek, executive director of the Bicentennial Commission, said a similar celebration held in Baltimore in 2012 to launch the multi-year celebration of the national anthem's 200th birthday saw 1.5 million people, one-third from out of state.

But this year's event will be even more impressive: to simulate the "rockets' red glare" and "bombs bursting in air," seven fireworks displays will be launched off six barges across three miles in Baltimore's harbour.

"We are the first generation of Americans in 200 years to see our country's national buildings under attack -- hit and burned," O'Malley said. The anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks falls within the bicentennial celebration.

"There are echoes that come from that time, when it appeared all was lost 200 years ago," O'Malley said. "And as the bombs stopped and the sun came up, Key looked out half-expecting to see a white flag up over the Fort, but instead saw our flag — a flag born in Baltimore."

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