COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – Wearing latex gloves, a team of people carefully lifted the fragile material of the over 150-year-old flag as they slipped it from its display table to the floor atop a sheet of plastic.
The 36-star flag is an artifact to some, and in remarkably good shape for its age.
This is no ordinary 9-foot by 22-foot flag, though. This flag has significance and a storied history that is as rich as it is incomplete.
The flag was originally given to David Nevin Murray for his service to the Union after the Civil War.
Murray, unable to fight in the war, watched his sons go off to fight. He would not be deterred from serving his country, however, and modified his tool and machine shop into a cannonball factory.
After the war, he was honored for his efforts. The Ohio Congressional Delegation took him to Washington, D.C. and gifted him the flag.
The family has learned it was proudly displayed on Fourth of Julys hung between two trees along the Ohio River where steamboat captains would blow their whistles as they floated by.
But, they weren’t all days of celebration for this wool flag held together by cotton threads. Less than a week after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the flag was brought to Columbus and flown as one of four flags around Capital Square the day he laid in repose, and 50,000 Ohioans came to pay their respects.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the flag was lent out to be displayed, sometimes even carried in parades.
Then, as the family tells it, the flag’s gravitas waned, the country was moving on from the Civil War and the flag’s significance faded in importance as two world wars were fought.
The last time the family can remember the flag being out in public was in the early ’70s.
From then until 2016, it was rolled up and wrapped in a white linen sheet, stored in a box for more than 40 years.
On February 26, 2016, that box was opened and the flag was given to the Ohio History Connection, who has been restoring it ever since.
Now in good enough condition to safely display for a short time, the flag was placed on a slanted table in the rotunda of the Ohio Statehouse 154 years after it flew just a few dozen yards away.
The event coincides with the annual commemorative celebration of when President Lincoln laid in repose.
Once the flag is fully restored, it will be once more displayed permanently in the Rotunda, where it will continue to fly over the replica casket each April 29.
Descendants of Murray say that while the flag was a family heirloom, its importance to Ohio and its symbolism needs to be shared with everyone.
The flag was created at a time when there was great division in our country, far deeper than we see today and far bloodier.
While the divisions of today echo those of the past, the family hopes people who see this 36-star flag will remember that it represented then what our flag does today, we are all one people.
“We live and work in Washington, D.C. and it’s tough to hear all the different opinions and almost hatred of one another and that’s just crazy,” said Emma Norland, Murray’s great great granddaughter. “I just think that we’re always going to have disagreements among ourselves, and that’s why it’s important to have symbols like the flag that we can see way back when we had such a terrible disagreement, that we were able to patch it up, if you will, and we’re still patching it up. And I think we can learn from that.”