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Where Is the Star-Spangled Banner’s Missing Star?

On Flag Day, Illusionist David Copperfield and the National Museum of American History Blend Fact and Fiction to “Find” the Missing 15th Star
June 3, 2019

In a one-of-a-kind specially created illusion, David Copperfield will attempt to “find the missing 15th star” during an event centered on the 205-year-old flag located at the heart of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The illusion precedes the museum’s annual naturalization ceremony in partnership with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in which 15 candidates will become American citizens.

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Before the 11 a.m. event, Copperfield will join the museum’s Elizabeth MacMillan Director Anthea Hartig, and Curator of the Star-Spangled Banner Jennifer Jones, to talk about the flag’s significance and the wonder of its magic. The Cardinal Shehan School Student Choir from Baltimore, the city where the then 30-by-42-foot garrison flag flew over Fort McHenry, will perform.

“The Star-Spangled Banner is one of our nation’s most treasured objects, a lasting symbol of this country’s promise,” Hartig said. “The Smithsonian and Copperfield partnership allows us to spark the public’s imagination and capture their curiosity to learn more about our flag, especially as we prepare to celebrate both Flag Day and the July 4th holiday.”

Following the naturalization ceremony, Smithsonian and USCIS leaders and 14 newly naturalized American citizens will join the student choir as they perform the National Anthem in the museum’s Flag Hall for the American public.

The National Museum of American History has partnered with USCIS since 2008 to host naturalization ceremonies, and in 2012 the two entities launched “Preparing for the Oath: U.S. History and Civics for Citizenship,” a web-based learning tool designed to help candidates prepare for the civics portion of the naturalization test. Available at http://americanhistory.si.edu/citizenship, this interactive site features videos and multimedia activities that draw from the museum’s vast collections in order to foster an in-depth exploration of American history.

David Copperfield is considered to be the greatest illusionist of all time. He is the first living illusionist to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has won over 21 Primetime Emmy awards for his groundbreaking television specials showcasing some of his most renowned illusions, including “Walking Through the Great Wall of China,” “Flying” and his iconic “Disappearance of the Statue of Liberty.” In addition to being knighted by the French government, he — along with Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Colin Powell — received the Living Legend award from the United States Library of Congress. Copperfield has been named Magician of the Century, Magician of the Millennium and most recently was honored as the King of Magic by the Society of American Magicians. His image is seen on postage stamps in six different countries, making him the only living magician to receive this honor. His live show continues to be a must-see, with Oprah Winfrey calling him “the greatest illusionist of our time.” Copperfield holds 11 Guinness World Records and has sold more tickets than any other solo entertainer in history.

The Star-Spangled Banner is displayed at the center of the museum in a custom-designed gallery that opened in 2008, following an extensive conservation treatment. The Star-Spangled Banner Preservation Project was made possible by major support from Polo Ralph Lauren. Support was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Congress, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the American Express Historic Preservation Fund. The conservation project is part of Save America’s Treasures—a public-private partnership administered by the National Park Service and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

On the morning of Sept. 14, 1814 Francis Scott Key saw the enormous flag flying over the fort and was inspired to write the song that became the national anthem. The flag remained with the family of the commander of Fort McHenry, Lt. Col. George Armistead, after the battle. In the tradition of relic worship, family members permitted “souveniring,” or the snipping of small pieces from the flag. One star was cut out “for some official person” but who that person was is unknown to historians. The family loaned the Star-Spangled Banner to the Smithsonian in 1907 and gifted it in 1912 to be shared with the nation. The flag now measures 30 by 34 feet due to a number of factors, including damage from flying over the fort for at least a year following the battle, the cutting of damaged and frayed ends as part of repairs and the practice of souveniring.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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