History comes alive in 1812 flag
espite the aroma of freshly painted walls and the buzz of new construction outside the windows, history came alive on June 14 at Old Fort Niagara.
of a permanent display
case for the garrison flag that flew over the Youngstown fort during the War of 1812 brings a story of the past within reach of the Western New York community.
The fort's new Visitor Center, where the flag has found its permanent home, allows for this collision between past and present to be a learning experience for everyone.
"The installment of this flag marks the completion of a project that has occupied my brain for more than 12 years now," said Deborah Trupin, textile conservator for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.
It was 12 years ago, on a winter night in Buffalo, when the historic flag began its initial journey home. On this night in 1994, a caravan of vehicles gathered at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport awaiting
This American Flag was captured during the War of 1812 by British forces during a predawn attack on Fort Niagara and had been abroad for almost 200 years.
"We were nervous the flight would be delayed because of the snow," said DeCroix.
But, in true Western New York fashion, the airplane, and the Stars and Stripes it carried, landed safely in Buffalo despite the snow. The crew from Old Fort Niagara loaded the flag into a truck and prepared to carry it back to its native soil.
"We followed the River Road up from Lewiston because that is the way the British came back in 1813," DeCroix said. "Members of the community lined the road with lanterns to welcome us home."
The journey was not yet finished for the flag, which was worn by time and by a 1969 fire that destroyed the castle in which the flag had been kept. The flag needed to be restored,
a long and cumbersome job that was taken up by Trupin and her small team of conservators.
"I was first introduced to this flag in 1994 and began conservation in 1995," Trupin said. "It presented a difficulty not so much because of its condition but because of its size."
The flag measures 28 feet long and 24 feet high. The new room that was built to permanently house the flag is 16 feet high, so the flag stands at about a 30-degree angle on a flat display board.
"We couldn't stand it straight for two reasons," Trupin said. "One, the force of gravity would be too strong and two, it wouldn't fit in the building."
The parts of the flag that are original stand out in dark-tinted areas in the fabric. Textile conservator Gwen Spicer said about 40 percent of the original flag remains intact. After the 1969 fire that swept the Megginch Castle, where the flag was kept, the daughter of the family who owned the flag carefully cleaned it.
"The flag was saved by the heroic efforts of that family," Trupin said. "Normally I would encourage people not to wash historical fabric, but in this case it was the best thing she could have done."
The flag's long journey began in 1812 when it flew over Fort Niagara. It was captured by the British in 1813 and taken to Europe before making the return trip almost 200 years later.
Kathryn Vedder, the campaign director who helped raise money to bring the flag to Old Fort Niagara, emphasized how the flag and its story are true history lessons.
"The flag itself has 15 stars and 15 stripes, showing how in 1812 they added a stripe and a star for every new colony," she said. "That is something that they had to stop once it became impractical."
Vedder also said the relic symbolizes how the capture of a fort's garrison flag is a matter of pride. The display shows the sheer size of garrison flags.
"Kids will walk around the corner and see this flag looming over them," said Vedder. "And it is something that I think they will really remember."
The new visitor center that houses the flag opened to the public Saturday, June 24, were discounted tickets will be available at the fort. Tickets are $7.50 for adults and $4.50 for children.
For more information, call Old Fort Niagara at 745-7611 or visit www.old fortniagara.org. Page design by Gloria Cinotti