Flag Day Big Time in Manchester, NH: You’re a grand new flag

A big salute to the Manchester's history on Flag Day!

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Old Glory and New Glory. Photo/Carol Robidoux

You’re a grand old flag…

On June 29, 1914, the millworkers from Amoskeag gathered outside Mill No. 11 to pose before the fruit of their labor, what would become known as “The Great Flag.” It was 95 feet long and 50 feet high, and weighed in at 200 pounds, and featured 13 stripes, each 47 inches wide, and 48 stars, representing the contiguous United States at that time, accounting for nine of the 200 pounds.”  [Manchester historian John Clayton,  June 14, 2017]

Great Flag, 1914, Amoskeag Mills/Manchester Historic Association

You’re a high-flying flag…

“It was  unfurled, quite simply, to promote the fact that Amoskeag was in the flag business. And it was a good year – no, a great year for the mill, which in 1914 had its most productive year in the manufacturing business. Harlan A. Marshall, a colorist at Amoskeag, was responsible for photographing the now iconic photograph of the great flag unfurling. The flag was hoisted by ropes to the top floor, and, once in place, covered 36 windows of the western face of the No. 11 Mill.” [Manchester Historian John Clayton, June 14, 2017]

Last-minute arrangements were made by First Sign crew to set up the flag to be unfurled on queue. Photo/Scott Aubertin

And forever in peace do you wave …

“In these times of uncertainty around the globe it’s so important we never lose sight of the need to protect our liberties.” [Arthur Sullivan, June 14, 2017.]

Manchester’ Flag Day observance featured the unfurling of a 95-by-50-foot American Flag hung from the former Amoskeag Manufacturing Mill No. 11 on Manchester’s West Side. Residents were invited to pose for a photo replicating the original scene, of when the first “Great Flag” was unveiled in 1914 with the mill workers who created it, posing in a similar manner. Photo/Bob Lapree

You’re the emblem of the land I love …

U.S. Flag history: Thirteen stripes represent the original 13 colonies that declared independence from England; fifty stars symbolize the current 50 United States. White signifies purity and innocence, red signifies valor and bravery; and blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice. Since its first incarnation in 1777, the American flag has been updated 26 times, with a new star for every state that has joined the Union, each one added to the flag on July Fourth of the year it achieved statehood. The final version was issued on July 4th, 1960,  after Hawaii achieved statehood on January 3, 1959.

Betsy Ross is credited with creating the first American Flag. /History.com

The home of the free and the brave …

“The flag symbolizes so much to so many of us, our patriotism, our devotion to this great country and its democratic ideals, it represents the sacrifice of so many veterans who’ve worn the uniform for this country, who’ve stood up for our freedom and liberty. And through that photo, it represents something else, to me and I think, to all of you: It represents the greatness of this city, it represents the hard work of the people who worked in these buildings and manufactured that flag, and who came to the city of Manchester for a better life for their family.” [Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, June 14, 2017]

Residents sing “God Bless America” during the Flag Day ceremony. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Ev’ry heart beats true ‘neath the red-white-and-blue …

“That flag meant a lot to those people back in 1914, those women who sewed it by hand, who created that flag and unfurled it on the side of that mill building. It represented their journey to America to seek a better life for themselves, their families and their children, and Manchester has certainly provided that. We have many of the descendants of those original flag bearers here with us today. It also represents the hope that people have when they enter the gates of this country. We have many new Americans who are here in the city of Manchester, and so I hope that, as it was back in 1914, this flag on display here will be a source of pride and of hope for those new Americans, as it is for all of us who call the Queen City Home.” [Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, June 14, 2017]

The Big Reveal. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Where there’s never a boast or brag … 

“We also recognize that you can’t talk about Flag Day without paying tribute to our veterans, who protect and uphold everything the flag stands for. The  Liberty House is a non-profit organization that provides housing for  American veterans who are transitioning out of homelessness, right here in our very own city. This organization has helped more than 250 homeless veterans to live fulfilling and independent lives.” [Presentation of $25,000 to Liberty House for their commitment to homeless veterans and remarks by Arthur Sullivan of Brady Sullivan Properties, June 14, 2017.]

Liberty House representatives accept a check for $25,000 from Arthur Sullivan. Photo/Daniel Bérubé

Should auld acquaintance be forgot …

“Long before there was Brady Sullivan, Shane (Brady) and I were just a couple of local boys born and raised in Manchester. Our ties to the city and appreciation for its great history runs very deep with us.When we first purchased our first millyard property back in 1995, the Waumbec Mill, it was a dream come true for us, not only to be a part of Manchester history, but to be part of its revitalization as well. as we gather here today to pay homage to the people and businesses who built this community so long ago we feel it’s important to recognize all those who keep it thriving today.” [Presentation of a $10,000 check for the Manchester Historic Association for all they do to preserve the city’s history and remarks by Arthur Sullivan, Brady Sullivan Properties, June 14, 2017

John Clayton laying down the history – and fate – of the Great Flag of 1914. Photo/Daniel Bérubé

Keep your eye on the grand old flag …

“This project was five years in the making. We planned it five years ago, but  it didn’t happen. So, three months ago I got a call that they wanted to resurrect the idea, and basically we engineered the brackets and the cable system and hired an engineer so we could be sure it would stay up there. We custom fabricated the brackets and had them powder-coated, because those are going to stay on the building so we can hang it anytime we want, and if we want to move it to other buildings, we’ll be doing new brackets specifically to that building. We lined it up right at the base of the upper windows, right where the original one was  – the other one was installed on the other side of the building, on the Catholic Medical Center end. There weren’t really any technical  hurdles, except to make sure the wind doesn’t take it away. That’s the nuts and bolts of it.” [Scott Aubertin, owner, First Sign.]

Scott Aubertin, left, whose company First Sign, was instrumental in pulling off the Flag Day reenactment. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Below, full remarks made by Manchester Historic Association Executive Director John Clayton, on the history – and fate – of the original Amoskeag Great Flag:

It is an honor to be here for the re-imagining of an iconic moment in Manchester history thanks to our friends from Brady Sullivan Properties, for it was in 1914 that mill workers from Amoskeag gathered to pose before what become known as “The Great Flag.”

In fact, The Great Flag was first unfurled outside this building – Amoskeag Mill No. 11 – on June 29, 1914. Just to give you some historical context, that was the day after Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo (which, incidentally, precipitated what was known back then as the Great War). The flag was 95 feet long and 50 feet high and it weighed in at 200 pounds.

It was created, quite simply, to promote the fact that Amoskeag was in the flag business. That end of the business got off the ground – so to speak – when the first flag produced by AMC was raised atop Mill No. 11 on Dec. 5, 1913.

Thanks in part to the new flag subsidiary, 1914 became the single greatest year of physical production in Amoskeag’s glorious history. It was almost a given, therefore, that Amoskeag would produce the greatest flag ever made.

There are those who still argue that claim, but I can cite the headline in the Amoskeag Bulletin of July 1, 1914 that proclaimed: “BANNER IS COMPLETED; Amoskeag Company Makes Largest Flag in the World.”

The story had more statistics than a 20-inning baseball game.

Readers discovered the flag would require a 285-foot pole for proper display. Each of the 13 stripes was 47 inches wide and each of the 48 stars – don’t forget, it was 1914 – measured three feet across. The accumulation of stars contributed nine pounds to the 200-pound banner, which the unnamed reporter described as “the grandest sight upon which American eyes ever rested.”
In keeping with Federal mandate, no portion of the flag was allowed to touch the ground during manufacture. Thus, the giant banner was “Amoskeag spun, Amoskeag woven, Amoskeag dyed and Amoskeag constructed – an All-American flag !”

Of course, this might all be the stuff of legend if not for Harlan A. Marshall, a “colorist” at Amoskeag who doubled as chairman of the Textile Club’s camera section. When it was decided that the flag would be displayed here for all to see, it was Harlan who arranged to photograph the event.

The mammoth display was coordinated by a gentleman named Perry Dow. You might say he was the Scott Aubertin of his day.

Two strips of board were clamped to the upper edge of the flag,” according to the Bulletin, “and it was raised by means of two ropes from each window of the top floor. Its weight was about 375 pounds, including the apparatus for hoisting.”

When it was in place, the flag covered 36 windows of the western facade of the No. 11 Mill, and… while some Amoskeag employees peered from windows, 128 of the workers who created it gathered beneath the flag for Harlan Marshall. We have that image on display at the Millyard Museum, and not a week goes by when some visitor doesn’t call me over and point out his or her grandmother or grandfather in the photo.

Ultimately, Harlan Marshall became curator of the Manchester Historic Association, and among the many treasures in our collection?

His original glass-plate negative.

It is the single most reproduced photo in our collection.

The image he captured has been used in countless national ad campaigns. Time-Life used it as a two-page spread in a publication called “This Fabulous Century.” It was used as cover art for an issue of Anton Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” It was in the title sequence for the PBS series “The American Experience,” and let us not overlook appearances in magazines like Forbes, Yankee and National Geographic.

For all we know, the photo has outlived the Great Flag itself.

Shortly after the photograph was taken, the banner was bundled up and shipped by train to Chicago. It came to be owned by Marshall Field & Co., a large department store. Marshall Field eventually loaned it back to Amoskeag in 1916 for the Citizens’ Preparedness Parade in New York City. The massive banner was carried through the streets by 70 men, who were trailed in the equally massive 11-hour procession by marchers from Amoskeag ‘s New York sales office.

And where did it go from there? A few years ago, I tried to track it down.

I reached out to Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago. I spoke with the archivist/historian for the store – a gentleman named Tony Jahn – and this is what he told me:

“I know in 1950, Marshall Field had a flag in the light-well at the store – a 14-story atrium space – and that flag was listed as 100×50 feet,” he said. “That’s pretty close to the dimensions of your flag. Maybe it was that same flag. I just don’t have any documentation to confirm that.

He said, “If I had to guess, I would guess that when Alaska and Hawaii became states (in 1959), the flag would have been disposed of in the proper fashion. I’m sure they would have adhered very strictly to the rules governing that process.”

So in the end, we still don’t know what became of the original Great Flag… but what matters today – fittingly enough on Flag Day – we gather to celebrate a symbolic moment in our city’s history… a moment centered around Old Glory… the greatest symbol of all.

 

About Carol Robidoux 5281 Articles
Journalist and editor of ManchesterInkLink.com, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.