OTTUMWA — The United States flag has changed 27 times during its lifetime, and the Wapello County Historical Museum houses the full collection.
Early Thursday morning, Chuck Bates presented seven of those historical flags to a group at the newly renovated Railroad Clubhouse.
"We're going to do a once-a-month thing here at our new clubhouse. It has been one of the best investments that we've had at the museum. It's free to the public to educate Ottumwans about Ottumwa," explained Dee Hall, vice president of the Wapello County Historical Society (WCHS).
The complete flag collection previously belonged to Park Sullivan, who was a civil defense director in Ottumwa in the 1960s. After being displayed in make-shift cement coffee can stands and stored in an attic for decades, Sullivan's widow donated the flags to the WCHS.
Today, after donation from the Blakesburg Corn Carnival, Bates is able to display the flags in full glory on custom stands at a variety of events. According to Mary Ellen Schmitz, WCHS secretary, Bates will have the complete collection on display June 30 at Central Park for the 12th annual reading of Declaration of Independence.
Due to the age of the flags, they are made of cotton rather than all-weather material, which means they must be carefully displayed. If exposed to rain, the red and blue would run, ruining the flag.
WCHS also owns five leather suitcases filled with additional flags from Sullivan's collection. In addition to the complete United States flag collection, Sullivan was also interested in creating his own flags and the exotic flags. "So if somebody wanted a project, they could make this into a display where more people could enjoy it," said Bates. "There is a lot of stuff in here."
The Railroad Clubhouse will host an event once a month with the intention of raising community awareness on Ottumwa's past. "I'm learning a lot of things myself since I never listened to my history teacher in school," joked Hall. At 6:30 p.m. July 31, WCHS will host its next event, which will be an informational presentation on the history of Grahams Milk and Ice Cream Company in Ottumwa.
The WCHS is planning new exhibits; however, according to Schmitz, the museum may not have room to put all of the flags on proper display.
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