• The Great American Flag at its unveiling at the Evansville, IN airport.

Cosmosphere auctioning off giant flag

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

She is called Old Glory for good reason, and she is meant to be flown with pride. But when she weighs 7 tons and measures 210 feet by 411 feet -- the size of 1 football fields -- finding a place to fly her presents a challenge.

Since securing the Great American Flag in June 1995, Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center officials have displayed it only once, on Memorial Day, 1997, in Lakeview Cemetery in Wichita.

The flag, currently housed in storage at the Cosmosphere, will go on the auction block on eBay and the History Channel on Friday.

Proceeds from the sale of the flag will help pay for a new flag plaza on the Cosmosphere's southwest side.

The minimum reserve bid for the flag is $5,000, said Karen Siebert, Cosmosphere marketing director. The bid will include the specially designed trailer to move the flag, but the buyer will have to assume the costs of moving it to its new home.

Potential bidders can view the one-of-a-kind flag and submit their bids on www.ebay.com/history and www.HistoryChannel.com beginning Friday. The bidding will end at 10 p.m. July 5. The winning bid will be announced on July 6.

"It's too big for most people to use," said Omer Kimpler, the American Legion Lysle Rishel Post No. 68 sergeant of arms. "As long as whoever gets it treats it right, I guess it would be okay. The alternative would be to destroy it."

Not all veterans agree.

"I really hope they don't sell it," said Jim Beyer, quartermaster at the Bob Campbell VFW Post No. 1361. "We had hoped to make it part of the future Reno County Memorial to be built on our site."

The Great American Flag originated during the nation's Bicentennial in 1976. The first flag, approximately half the size of the current one, was draped from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to welcome the tall ships into New York Harbor for the Bicentennial celebration. However, it was shredded just weeks before the planned festivities by winds of only seven miles per hour.

Len Silverfine, a business and modern-day patriot from Bakersfield, Vt., began a campaign to construct a new, improved flag to hang from the bridge. He secured the donation of heavy-gauge knit polyester material from a South Carolina fabric manufacturer. Anchor Industries of Evansville, Ind. -- a maker of tents and pool covers -- agreed to donate the time and labor to construct it.

The mammoth flag was completed in February 1980 by eight employees who worked for two months on the project. It was never hung from the bridge, however, because of its weight.

After being first displayed in Evansville on March 22, 1980, it became part of the homecoming ceremony for the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran. On Flag Day in 1983, it was displayed on grounds near the Washington Monument and was then presented to President Ronald Reagan. In March 1991, the flag was displayed in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the return of the Desert Storm troops.

Cosmosphere President and CEO Max Ary purchased the flag from federal surplus property in June 1995.

At the time, Ary said the flag was "hoisted" on the Cosmosphere, and the space center had no specific plans for its use.

There were numerous suggestions offered on what to do with the massive flag -- including some generated by a six-member committee appointed by then-Hutchinson Mayor Dan Deming for that specific task and an entire book of ideas submitted by the eighth-grade class of Helfrich Park Middle School in Evansville.

The decision to sell the flag on eBay resulted from a Cosmosphere staff brainstorming session when members were looking for some creative ways to raise funds for the flag plaza. They wanted to follow flag etiquette without destroying the Great American Flag, Siebert said.

"We want to find a good home for it," she said. "We also want to be able to fly the American flag on a daily basis."

The Great American Flag will be featured on History's Lost & Found Auction Block, during the last two minutes of History's Lost and Found, airing from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday on The History Channel.

"Selling it is probably a step in the right direction," Kimpler said. "I wonder who would bid on something like that. The thing is it's just too big."

The Cosmosphere's new flag plaza will feature three flagpoles that will fly the U.S. flag, the Kansas flag and the Cosmosphereflag. These surround an F-1 rocket engine that powered the Saturn V rocket, which took American astronauts to the moon. It will be elevated so visitors can walk underneath it and view its huge exhaust chamber.

"A granite marker dedicating the plaza to Greg Buckingham will be set near the rocket," Siebert said. "Buckingham, who died in January, restored the Apollo 13 and the Liberty 7 space capsules. He is a U.S. Army vet, as well, and is very deserving of the honor."

The dedication ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. July 3.