Vietzke said the park service chose to put a greater spotlight on Key because it was a good way to put a human face on history, and because visitors have long said there wasn't enough information about Key in the old center.
"We had a lot of feedback from the staff and public that that was really missing," Vietzke said. "That is why this place is preserved. It inspired Key."
Key was born in Frederick, educated at St. John's College in Annapolis, and worked in Washington and Baltimore. There is no evidence that he ever visited Fort McHenry after the 1814 battle he witnessed, Vaise said.
Strategically placed at the tip of the Locust Point peninsula, the star-shaped fort was named for James McHenry, a Baltimore resident who was secretary of war under Presidents George Washington and John Adams. It served as a fort until 1912 and became a national park in 1925. Fort McHenry was designated a national monument and historic shrine in 1939 — the only park in the country to have that double distinction.
Construction of the new visitor center began in 2009. Money to build the 17,655-square-foot center came from a variety of sources, including an $11 million federal grant and money from private donors. Vietzke said the fort has plans to upgrade exhibits inside the fort by June 2012.
Admission to the visitor center and grounds is always free. There is a charge for adults who want to tour the fort itself. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer.
Key's manuscript will be on loan until Flag Day, June 14. After that, the fort is planning to bring in other artifacts, including a slightly newer manuscript of Key's poem from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Fort stewards note the irony of using a British company — Haley Sharpe Design of Leicester, England — to design the exhibits that tell the fort's story. "We made sure that the Americans still won the battle, though," Vaise said.