Since tomorrow is the 90th anniversary of Utah’s Jan. 4. 1896 entry into the Union as the 45th state, let’s reflect on the little-known story of a giant-sized American Flag made for the statehood celebration.
The impressive emblem – 78 by 160 feet with six-foot-wide stripes – was claimed to be “the largest flag ever made as of that time. Just to lift it required eight strong men.”
Four states besides Utah also commemorate statehood this month. Michigan became the26th state Jan. 26, 1837. Kansas the 34th, Jan. 29, 1861; New Mexico the 47th. Jan. 6, 1912; and Alaska the 49th. Jan. 3. 1959.
Statehood for Utah came alter a long wait. A telegram announcing that President Grover Cleveland had signed the necessary proclamation touched off bell-ringing, whistle-blowing and firing of guns in Salt Lake City and spreading across the state.
On Monday, Jan. 6, nearly 10,000 people jammed the Mormon Tabernacle for a celebration and inauguration of state officers. “Thousands of others, unable to find seats, stood outside,” wrote historian Milton R. Hunter. Many had hurried from outlying parts of the state in surreys, wagons, or on horseback.
Numerous flags were displayed that day but all eyes lifted to the mammoth one suspended as a “ceiling” about nine feet below the concave dome of the tabernacle.
Margaret Glade Derrick, who at 20 had been the youngest of six women assigned to make the flag: wrote in 1956:
“When the air circulated through the space below the dome, it caused the flag to ripple – a beautiful sight! I felt the flag was saying, ‘Proudly I wave over you, home of the free and land of the brave.”
For one and a half years the great flag remained in the tabernacle, Mrs. Derrick said. Then for Pioneer Day July 24, 1897 – 50 years after the arrival of the first Utah Pioneers – it was displayed outside on the south wall of the Salt Lake Temple.
“We last saw it adorning the temple,” she said. The flags ultimate disposition was unknown to her.
Mrs. Derrick’s article, written for her family when she was about 80, is a historical gem since facts on the flag are quite skimpy in history books. It was read by Marian Craig in 1984 before “Camp Etaw” of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. l am indebted to Teton H. Jackman for loaning a copy to me.
Making the flag took the six women a full week, “working 8 to 10 hours a day.” High-powered machines in the ZCMI clothing factory were used. “Placing of the six-foot stars on the field of blue was the most tedious work,” Mrs. Derrick wrote.
Her source for the flag’s dimensions (78 by 160 feet) was her brother David Glade who marked and cut the material. “He handed them to me on a little card that is now yellow with age.”
(A number of giant flags have appeared in one state or another in modern times. You may recall that a “two-acre” flag, about 210 by 411 feet, was staked over a grassy area near the White House in Washington for Flag Day several years ago. It was billed as the “world’s largest.”)
When the 45th star was illuminated for a special effect during the 1896 Utah celebration, those present “wept for joy.” Mrs. Derrick remembered. “The dream of the people of Utah had come true!”
She concluded: “As 1 write this (1956) I am the only one living who helped make that first flag to carry the new star … Let us remember as Americans that we are all makers of our beloved flag for it is the symbol of faith, courage and the love of God and our country in the hearts of each lndividual.”