Forgotten flags found in attic
Living in a historical home was one of the things that appealed to Barbara Beittel and her husband when they purchased their house on Washington Street in Marietta in 1980.
Over the years they worked to maintain the residence in its original Victorian style and find out about its history, learning it was constructed in 1890 by one of the founders of the local Otto Brothers Department Store.
But this week, Beittel, 87, discovered a little more history in her attic.
“While cleaning out the attic, I found, in the dark, under the eaves, wrapped in brown paper, five American flags with 42 stars,” she said.
Stars on the flag, of course, represent the number of states. A little research showed Beittel that Washington was the 42nd state admitted to the union. That happened in November of 1889, the year before her house was built.
Beittel and her late husband, the Rev. Dale Beittel, former pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, stored items in the attic and were up there numerous times in the more than three decades they owned the house.
“But I had not cleaned out in the back part under the eaves,” Beittel said.
The flags were attached to thin wooden poles, although some had come partially or completely loose over the years. The white stripes have faded and the fabric is frayed at the edges, but the flags seem to be in pretty good shape if they are as old as Beittel believes – 123 years.
A flag with 42 stars would have been accurate for less than a year, and, according to rareflags.com, a website maintained by flag collector Anthony Iasso, the Flag Act of 1818 established that stars would be officially added to the banner on the July 4 following a state’s admission.
The flag had 38 stars in 1889, when North and South Dakota, Montana and Washington were all admitted in a span of less than two weeks in November. According to a post on the website of the North American Vexillogical Association, a group devoted to the scholarly study of flags, “by late spring 1890, Congress had adjourned for the summer and manufacturers made all the 42-star flags they could in anticipation of the (Fourth) of July.”
But on July 3, 1890, Congress admitted Idaho as the 43rd state, making 43 the official number.
Beittel believes the obsolescence of the 42-star flags led to their being stored away so long ago.
“When this house was first occupied in 1890, these flags, very soon in that year, would have been stored in the attic because they weren’t legitimate anymore,” she said.
Because of the timing of Idaho’s admission, the 42-star flag was never official under law, but Iasso’s site notes that “flag manufacturers often disregarded the ‘official’ star count, and produced flags and sold flags that were current regardless of the official national star count. “
“There is no 42-star flag,” said Sylvi Caporale, owner of American Flags and Poles in Marietta. “(But) people could make whatever they want.”
The North American Vexillogical Association site notes the 43-star flag may have been official, but it didn’t remain current for long – Wyoming became the 44th state a week after Idaho was admitted.
“In fact, the correct flag of the period, the 43-star flag, is very scarce and far more valuable than the 42,” it says, noting fewer of those were made.
The flag with 44 stars was used from July 4, 1891, to July 3, 1896, the NAVA site says.
Beittel said she was “thrilled” by her discovery as well as the timing – she found them on Thursday, the day before the one-year anniversary of the death of her husband. Beittel thinks he would have been equally excited about the flags.
“I miss him every single day,” she said.
Beittel said she hopes the Campus Martius Museum might be interested in displaying the flags, so children could see them and hear their story.
“Kids now, naturally, think the whole 50 states were always here,” she said.
Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state in 1959.