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.