Old Lyme — Raised aloft on a sail mast improvised as sturdy dowel, a 13-feet-tall by 18-feet-wide American flag with 34 stars fluttered in the breeze on Lyme Street as the Memorial Day parade streamed by on Monday morning.
Constructed in 1861, the flag belongs to Polly Merrill, of Old Lyme, who inherited it from her uncle, Frederic DuBois, in the 1980s. DuBois made a tradition of displaying the flag on Independence Day in front of his home in Des Moines, Iowa, and was photographed with the flag flying from a rigged-up clothesline for an article in the Ames Tribune in 1975.
Now it’s becoming a tradition to fly the flag on Memorial Day at 20 Lyme Street, a former Masonic temple now owned by Old Lyme resident Dini Mallory.
“We’re really proud and happy to bring it out once a year,” said Merrill, who said the practice started a few years ago, with a few gaps when the parade was rained out.
“We’re friends with Dini and one day I was describing this great big flag and she said I bet we can hang it in front of our house and that’s how we started,” Merrill said. “I would say this is the third time we’ve hung it from their front door, just a guess.”
The flag, constructed from linen, was originally purchased in 1861 by DuBois’ great-grandfather, Samuel Evart Sproulls, who was born in Charleston, S.C., and reputed to be a cotton broker who was living in New York during the Civil War.
“To establish himself as a loyal Union supporter, he obtained the largest flag he could find, flew it regularly,” said DuBois in the Ames Tribune article.
In 1861, the American flag added one star, representing Kansas, bringing the total number of stars to 34. The thirteen stripes, which the present-day American flag has, represent the thirteen original colonies.
After Abraham Lincoln was elected President on November 6, 1860, seven southern states seceded from the Union. However, even after the South seceded, Lincoln would not allow any stars to be removed from the flag. The 34-star flag flew from July 4, 1861 to July 3 1863 when a 35th star was added after West Virginia joined the union on June 20, 1863.
Dubois inherited the flag in 1924 when he was 18 from his great aunt, Fannie Sproulls. The flag is now registered as the Sproulls Family American Flag with the Textile Conservation Workshop in South Salem, N.Y.
Merrill said she jumped at the chance when offered the flag.
“My uncle Fred had no children so he wanted to give it to one of his nieces and nephews and I said that would be great,” she said.
Her family also has the original Civil War foot locker where the trunk was stored for years. Now it’s stored in acid-free paper to conserve the fabric, Merrill said.
“I think we’re really lucky to have it and we’re going to try to be good caretakers of it,” she said.
Photo Credit: Richard Wyman