SHEFFIELD -- The U.S. flag, torn in places and slightly faded, is still grand, thanks to its massive proportions -- 12 feet wide and 26 feet across -- and speaks of a very different time in America. With only 44 stars, the flag can be dated to between July 1891, a year after Wyoming entered the union, and January 1896, when Utah became the 45th state.
"It's very unusual because of its size," said Barbara Delmolino of Sheffield, a member of the Sheffield Friendly Union Library Association, the organization that administers Dewey Memorial Hall, where the flag was discovered. "It's suffered very little damage [but] it's very fragile."
Delmolino believes the flag is made of a combination of cotton and linen.
It was discovered last year in a desk drawer in Dewey Hall during renovations following the town's Council on Aging moving out of the building.
It will be on display there this Memorial Day, only the second time since its discovery that it has been available for public viewing. It was exhibited last September for the 125th anniversary of the hall.
While the flag's origins remain a mystery, according to Priscilla Cote, president of the library association, they believe the flag may have ties to the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Civil War veterans.
In Sheffield, the local GAR chapter, which was integrated, was the Gen. J. G. Barnard Post 210, named for Gen. John Gross Barnard, a Sheffield resident who served in both the Mexican-American War and as a general in the Civil War for the U.S. Army. He was the chief engineer for the Army of the Potomac, the Department of Washington and finally, for the armies of the field. Barnard, who was present at Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Va., was given the honorary rank of brevet major general and is buried in Sheffield, according to Eagle archives.
The GAR chapter was very active during the time frame in which the flag was believed to have been made.
"We know the GAR chapter met at Dewey Hall," said Cote. "Hopefully some day we can make that connection."
The 1890s in America, known as the Mauve Decade and the Gay Nineties, was a time of industrial and technological growth, spiraling economic problems and the final days of the frontier and the American Indian wars.
In 1892, Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist and Baptist minister, wrote the Pledge of Allegiance, which was published in a popular children's magazine. It was officially recognized by the U.S. Congress in 1942.
Bellamy later recalled that "at the beginning of the nineties patriotism and national feeling was at a low ebb...The time was ripe for a reawakening of simple Americanism."
On Monday, May 27, Delmolino will be hosting the Memorial Day flag display at Dewey Hall, which will be open beginning at 9 a.m.
She will be selling pillows made from recycled flags which have flown over veterans' graves with the proceeds going to the flag restoration project. She said she hopes they can raise enough money to preserve the fragile flag, keeping it from degrading further, and eventually having it restored.
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