Historic flags draw crowds to Columbus

Published 4:31 pm Monday, October 15, 2012

House of Flags board member Robert Williamson explains detailed work done to create the one-of-a-kind 49-star flag once flown in the oval office. The House of Flags welcomed almost 800 visitors who heard the story of each flag and its significance. (photo by Samantha Hurst)

In just three days last week, the House of Flags Museum in Columbus greeted almost 800 visitors anxious to view rare emblems of America’s story – the 48-star, 49-star and 50-star flags.
The three flags were all flown during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration and have never before been displayed to the public.
“Everything about this event has been so special,” said House of Flags board member Robert Williamson. “Some people were in tears when they saw this; some people didn’t realize what they were looking at but as they heard the story it all became real.”
Making such an exhibition possible originated with Chuck and Donna Douglas, residents of Polk County, Florida, who own 48-star and 49-star flags. There are only three other 48-star flags in existence.
Chuck said visitors from
second-graders to 99-year-olds all had questions he felt came from place of wonder.
“We didn’t think the school kids would be interested but they came in and were like, ‘Wow, look how cool,’” Chuck said. “They understood they were seeing something no one else had ever seen.”
Douglas and his wife, Donna, came into possession of the 48-star and 49-star flags through Donna’s father Ludwell Pruett Jr. Pruett served as a civilian with the Quartermaster Corp, which serves as support to the United States Army.
Pruett’s service primarily included providing flags for exhibits at museums such as the Smithsonian and decommissioning flags for the flag mission.
When it was time to take the 48-star and 49-star presidential flags out of service, Pruett was given permission to keep them because President Eisenhower had not promised them to anyone else.
“He [Pruett] had the forethought to say, ‘This is going to be something special,” said Donna Douglas.
Chuck said he’s astonished no one else realized the significance of these flags but happy his father-in-law did understand. Chuck began last year making phone calls to places like the Smithsonian to put together an exhibit. He said he was surprised when they were not interested but felt reaching the House of Flags in Columbus was fate.
“Many people wanted to buy them and lock them away, but I wasn’t interested in doing so. It had always been my dream to have the 48, 49 and 50-star flags in the same room,” Chuck said.
So, when he called Williamson he was happy to find someone else as enthusiastic. Williamson flew to Florida in March of this year to see the flags in the Douglas’ possession. Eventually the two made multiple trips to the Quartermaster Museum at Ft. Lee in Virginia and eventually Williamson traveled to the Eisenhower Library and Museum in Kansas to procure the 50-star flag and complete the display.
The 50-star flag, Williamson said, is particularly significant because it is the actual flag unveiled in the White House Cabinet Room when Hawaii became the country’s 50th state in August 1959. The 49-star flag, meanwhile, was also handmade and represented Alaska joining the United States in January 1959.
“What the three of us [Chuck and Donna Douglas and himself] have learned about these flags – this has just been a phenomenal educational experience,” Williamson said.
The two men plan to write a book about the flags’ historical significance and produce a documentary about the display at the House of Flags Museum.
To complete the weekend and honor the House of Flags’ cooperation, Chuck and Donna Douglas presented Williamson and the museum with a 49-star limousine flag used during the Eisenhower administration.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox