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Cleaning 'Star-Spangled Banner' Birthplace Takes Special Approach

April 16, 2007
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BALTIMORE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Every day, by the dawn's early light, a crew from Coverall Cleaning Concepts of Northern Maryland arrives at the historic Fort where the national anthem was written to clean everything from the visitors' center to the soldiers' barracks. Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore has been Franchise Owner Kevin Thomas' cleaning account for three years, and it presents an entirely different set of challenges than the typical client.

“Usually we clean offices or other businesses. Here we clean things like a bomb shelter, a stockroom where they used to store gunpowder, and glass displays that hold historic artifacts," Thomas says. "I've had dozens of accounts in 18 years of owning this franchise, but this is the only one that dates back 200 years, has 630,000 visitors a year, and where I get a history lesson every time I visit."

Until he added the Fort to his roster of clients, Thomas had been there only once on a field trip with his Washington, D.C. high school class. That's when he learned the basic history of the site -- including its role in defending Baltimore from British naval attacks during the War of 1812, and how the attorney Francis Scott Key penned the poem that became "The Star-Spangled Banner" after he saw the flag still waving over the Fort during heavy bombardment as he sat on a ship in the harbor waiting to negotiate the release of a civilian prisoner of war in 1814.

But Thomas forgot most of the history until he started visiting the Fort three or four times a week on business. He began hearing more of the story from the rangers whom he calls "walking encyclopedias" on the Fort's past, and he developed a personal as well as professional interest in maintaining the property.

From October through May, Thomas dispatches a four-person crew to clean the Fort every morning except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day. From June through September, when traffic soars and battle reenactments bring in hordes of extra visitors, he sends three crews a day in morning, afternoon and evening shifts.

Each team cleans the Fort's museum, theater, offices, administration building, bathrooms, parking lot and picnic area as well as the historic areas. These range from the officer's and commander's quarters to the underground rooms where the soldiers took shelter during bombardments and the paved V-shaped "ravelin" that protected the entrance of the star-shaped Fort from direct attack.

Thomas' other accounts range from banks, private schools and healthcare facilities to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, the Mid-Atlantic Coca Cola Bottling Company and Rukert Terminals-- a 16-year client that is one of his most challenging cleaning jobs because of the nature of the business. "They unload huge ships of raw materials like magnesium, pig iron and road salt," Thomas notes, "so we're constantly switching mopping and cleaning methods based on the kinds of chemicals and associated debris that arrive on any given day."

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