Flag Days — Caring for my Great-Grandfather Barnard’s Flag

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A few years ago I re­ceived the flag that was placed on my Great-Grandfather Barnard’s cas­ket when he died. He fought in World War I and was a POW, twice. The flag hadn’t been prop­erly cared for, stuffed into an old card­board box that was too small to hold it, along with a sheet of pa­per de­scrib­ing how to prop­erly care for the flag, and who is en­ti­tled to one at their fu­neral.

The doc­u­ment is cer­tainly pre-World War II, as it made men­tion of World War I, but noth­ing else. Discolored with age, and some­what brit­tle due to acid con­tent, the pa­per, in con­junc­tion with the an­cient card­board box, had stained the flag.

For sev­eral years I tried to fig­ure out the best way to re­move the stains with­out harm­ing the flag it­self, which is at least 50 and per­haps as many as 90 years old. I wanted to safely re­move the stains, have it prop­erly folded and put it into a flag case. I tried con­tact­ing the Cleveland Museum of Art to talk to a spe­cial­ist in tex­tile preser­va­tion, scouted around on­line & even Asked MetaFilter. I read fo­rums on flag eti­quette and ran across some some­what “ex­treme” views on what con­sti­tutes des­e­cra­tion of the flag (e.g. wash­ing it pe­riod). I didn’t find any­thing con­clu­sive or even some­what help­ful in deal­ing with a flag of ad­vanced age.

So I washed it. And the stains came out! And I when I spread it on my bed to dry, it cov­ered the whole bed, and then some. And I called my mom to tell her about it, and she asked how many stars were on it. And there are only 48 stars on it! 6 rows of 8.

I ended up hav­ing to fold it my­self, and I did a pretty good job at it. The flag case I got for it was too large though & then the glass in it broke. I still don’t have some­thing to prop­erly put it in for dis­play or stor­age. But I feel a lot bet­ter know­ing that it has been suc­cess­fully cleaned and is prop­erly folded.