Unflagging Dedication




It’s a famous image of a simpler time: the 1914 display of the “Great Flag” created by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. And it’s a good image to gaze at from time to time, especially in times like these. “The largest American flag ever made” hangs proudly, surrounded by the mill workers who wove the cloth and stitched it all together. That giant grid of 48 stars (each one three feet wide) was so simple and pleasing. I suppose the acquisition of Alaska and Hawaii can’t be blamed for the more complicated world we now inhabit. Still, this black and white image does create a yearning for a time when our country had contiguous borders with friendly allies above and below, and when vast oceans on either side were sufficient to protect us. And it would be good to have a clear sense of purpose, like the people in vintage photos always seem to have. My in-laws bought me my print of the Great Flag, as an office-warming gift when we first moved our company to the Manchester Millyard. I’ve often wondered where the picture was taken in the red brick jungle of the mills. I also wondered what happened to that flag. Turns out someone else had pondered the same question and done the research. The Union Leader’s John Clayton, the Queen City’s official chronicler, traced the fate of the Great Flag from its ceremonial display at Building 11 (across from what is now Catholic Medical Center) to its likely final home: the Marshall Field & Co. department store in Chicago. The facts are a bit sketchy — in spite of the fact that Marshall Field actually has a staff archivist — but apparently, after two more stars were added to Old Glory, the store disposed of the now out-of-date Great Flag in “the proper fashion.” At least the image still survives, thanks to the foresight of Harlan Marshall, the chairman of a camera club at the mills who took the photo, and to the Manchester Historic Association, where Harlan Marshall later served as curator. The gift shop at the Millyard Museum still sells postcards of the photo for 50 cents, but the posters are harder to find. A museum staffer said that you can order them from National Public Radio’s “Wireless” gift catalog, but searching the Internet for that catalog turned up a Web address that redirects the browser to, no kidding, the Marshall Field’s Web site. Here, once again, the trail ends. A quick search of the site found lots of flags, but no “Great Flags.” Here’s a thought. It’s ten years until the centennial year of the original display of the Great Flag. That seems like plenty of time to organize the creation of another flag, this one with 50 stars, to hang from the same mill building and close the loop. I suspect that, by the year 2014, we might all need another shot of patriotic pride. Anyone want to head up the committee? NH
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