By: Kelsey Barnett, student employee in Special Collections & Archives

It was a drizzly summer day when members of Special Collections and Archives took a drive out to Commerce, Missouri.  A prominent local historian, Denise Lincoln, had put us in contact with a possible donor, Dr. George Ann Huck.  Dr. Huck grew up in Commerce and attended Central Methodist University, Autonomous National University of Mexico, and Tulane University.  She then became a professor at Central College in Iowa and was the Director of the cross-cultural study program in the Yucatan.  Dr. Huck has coordinated and worked with various human rights networks such as Indignacion and Por Nuestros Derechos, Mujeres en Red.  Dr. Huck was no stranger to the importance of material culture as a learning tool and the need for preservation.  She felt that the United States flag she had from circa 1848 was something that deserved attention.  The flag had been discovered in an attic and eventually made its way into Dr. Huck’s hands.

Known as “The 30 Star Flag,” it became the official flag of the United States on July 4, 1848.  This was to commemorate the addition of Wisconsin as the 30th state in the Union.  Despite having voted against becoming a state four times, the people of Wisconsin voted to approve statehood on May 29, 1848.  The 30 Star Flag was to be the official flag until 1851 when a new star was added for the admittance of California into the Union.

When we received the flag, it was folded and encased in a wooden frame.  Once we returned to Kent Library with the flag we set out to provide a proper home for it.  We removed the flag from the frame and gingerly unfolded it.  Due to its age, damage from light exposure, and physical damage from being tightly folded for so long, the flag had become very delicate.  We left the unfolded flag on a flat surface within a dark room for a period of time in order to let it settle in a safe manner.  We then took preservation quality images of the flag in order be able to provide a safe form of access to the flag with the least amount of risk.

Front of Flag00001

The question does arise, how does an item like this get left behind in an attic?  We are all familiar with shows like “Strange Inheritance” that make it seem like finding previously unknown materials of value is a strange occurrence.  In the scope of everyday life, it isn’t all that rare.  It just depends on how you define value.  The show places an emphasis on monetary value and inheriting artwork by one of the worlds masters.  In the world of archives and history, the value is in what kind and how much information can be gleaned from a document or object.  Family papers and journals of past relatives are gold mines of information regarding both regional and large scale history.

Unfortunately, this type of material is often disregarded as being too personal, who would want to look at that?  Historians would love to! An old flag like that which was donated to Special Collections and Archives definitely falls under this category.  Who would think that such a flag would be of interest to academics and history buffs?  In reality, the flag provides a look into the material culture of the time period in which it was created.  It shows what kinds of materials were readily on hand.  It depicts sewing methods used in 1848, not long after a patent was granted for the first successful sewing machine.  It is also a snapshot of United States history.  We are so familiar with our 50 star flag that seeing a flag with only 30 stars is a bit of a novel experience.

End of story, you never really know what you might find hidden away in an attic or in a locked trunk.  The exciting part about history is the discovery of new knowledge that can come from anywhere and everywhere. We are so grateful to Dr. Huck for her understanding of material culture and her generous donation of this incredible flag!

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