Baltimore to Keep, Clean Defaced Francis Scott Key Statue

Colin Campbell and Sean Welsh, The Baltimore Sun, September 13, 2017

Mayor Catherine Pugh says she has no plans to remove the Francis Scott Key monument in Bolton Hill that was vandalized before dawn Wednesday and has directed art preservation experts to determine the cost of cleaning it.

Exactly 203 years after the Maryland attorney wrote the poem that would later become the national anthem, the city awoke to find the words “Racist Anthem” spray-painted on the Eutaw Place monument and red paint splashed on it.

The third stanza of Key’s poem includes a reference accusing the British of encouraging American slaves to join the fight against their masters.

City officials said they know of no way to prevent future vandalism, short of catching the person or people responsible. Police don’t have any suspects or surveillance footage of the incident.

“Ultimately, it’s going to come down to them being caught and charged,” police spokesman T.J. Smith said.

Officers make periodic checks on city property during their patrols, but the department does not plan to place the Key monument under constant police protection, Smith said.

“We can’t ensure it’s not going to happen again,” Pugh spokesman Anthony McCarthy said. He said, however, the mayor does not plan to take it down and wants to see it restored.

Of the vandalism, McCarthy said, “We understand the freedom of expression, but there certainly has to be a more constructive and productive way to have a conversation about history.”

The city spent $125,000 to restore the Key monument in 1999, after the monument went neglected for years, with cracked concrete and a broken fountain, according to an article in The Baltimore Sun at the time.

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The vandalism comes weeks after a monument to Christopher Columbus was damaged in Northeast Baltimore. That incident occurred a week after the city removed three monuments honoring Confederate figures and one honoring former U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.

Pugh ordered those statues removed during the night, following a deadly white supremacist rally against the planned removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville.

Protesters at the University of Virginia this week covered a statue of President Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder and founder of the university, with a black shroud, criticizing officials’ response to the violence. Charlottesville officials had previously shrouded the statues of Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

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The monument at Eutaw Place was donated to the city by Charles L. Marburg, a wealthy tobacco merchant who founded the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore. It was built for $25,000 by French sculptor Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercie and was dedicated in 1911.

A statue of Columbia, the personification of the New World, stands at the top holding an American flag, and a barefoot sailor rows a boat at its base, in which Key is depicted presenting the finished poem. The two gold-leaf panels show the bombardment of Fort McHenry and the guns and ramparts of the fort.

Half of the 1999 restoration was paid for by Target Stores, the nonprofit Heritage Preservation in Washington, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art. State and local funding partners matched those gifts.

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