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Back in the Day, Nov. 15, 1970: Weird U.S. flags discovered

Posted by admin on 28th May 2015

By BRYAN LAPLACA COLUMNIST NEWJERSEY.COM

"Discovery of two small American flags, each with 39 stars, in Upsala College's newly acquired art center has resulted in an odd coincidence and an interesting revelation of American history," it was reported.

(Upsala College was a private college in East Orange founded in 1893. The college closed in 1995.)

The unique flags, five and three quarters by eight inches in size, were found by art professor Hugo Lutz in the loft of the former Central Baptist Church of East Orange, an old building the college acquired for its expanded art department.

When Lutz counted the stars, in six alternate rows of sixes and sevens, he discovered there were only 39. It aroused his curiosity and he began researching into history. Much to his surprise, he learned that North Dakota and South Dakota both entered the union on the same day Nov. 2, 1889 and that either could be considered the 39th or 40th state, depending upon whether you're from North Dakota or South Dakota.

For Lutz, the discovery produced an odd coincidence. He was born in South Dakota, attended college there and met his wife in that state.

One of the puzzlements that Lutz sought to solve when he found the two flags was why a flag maker, professional or otherwise, put only one additional star on the flag when two new states joined the union the same day.

It showed that President Benjamin Harrison issued the proclamations admitting the two states to the union on the same day. The president did not want to give either state priority, so before his signature was attached, the two proclamations were placed on his desk with the texts covered and only the lines for the signature showing. As a further precaution, after the signatures had been attached, the documents were shuffled by another person, making it impossible to tell which state was admitted first.

Adding to the confusion at the time was the fact that five states were admitted into the union within an eight-month period.

Montana and Washington were admitted in November 1889 within a 10-day period after the Dakotas. Idaho was admitted on July 3, 1890.

The correct official flags that flew over Independence Day celebrations in 1890 showed the addition of five new stars to the canton, the 39th through the 43rd.

However, few of the flags that flew on that July 4 and on many of the succeeding days showed the correct number of stars. Many flag makers prepared banners with 42 stars in anticipation of the forthcoming July 4 change. But with the last minute admission of Idaho, the flags became unauthorized and President Harrison confused the flag makers completely when six days later he signed a bill admitting still another state, Wyoming, to the union.

"My research shows that a bewildering variety of national flags represented the United States for almost a year," Professor Lutz said. "Some had 42 stars, a few had the correct number of 43, others jumped the gun with 44, and there was a host of unauthorized and obsolete banners with lesser number of stars. We apparently have two of them."

A spokesman for the U.S. Flag Foundation in New York City described the Upsala discoveries as "interesting flag curios." He estimated the addition of only one star to the flag might have been done by a flag maker or individual who wasn't being kept abreast of the rapid changes in statehood at that time.

The professor said the flags would be displayed in a glass case in Upsala's library.

By BRYAN LAPLACA COLUMNIST NEWJERSEY.COM