Flying your U.S. flag for Utah’s statehood? Don’t make this error, and fly it backwards!


Last year I discovered Holly Munson’s write up from the Constitution Center about Utah’s perhaps odd path to statehood, certainly complementary to my reminder that you could fly your flags on January 4, to honor Utah’s statehood, under the U.S. Flag Code.  Munson’s piece was distributed on Yahoo! News.

Her report is very solid, even though brief.  Utah history is nothing if not a convoluted path to statehood through what amounted to a civil war, the Mexican War, the discovery of gold in California, the transcontinental railroads, mining and immigration, Indian wars, old west shootouts, rampant environmental destruction with sheep grazing and mineral extraction and smelting, union strife, astonishing agricultural applications, and a lot of books written from tens of thousands of Mormon pioneer journals — Mormonism appears to be impossible without ink and paper and time to write.

Go read her story.

What caught my eye was the George W. Reed photograph of the Salt Lake City Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the LDS, or Mormon church.  The Temple and the Tabernacle, also in the photo, both have their own unique architectural histories, and quirks that make them noteworthy purely from an architectural-historical view.  (This George W. Reed should not be confused with the Civil War Medal of Honor winner, George W. Reed)

Reed was an early photographer for newspapers in Salt Lake City, and he took some wonderful photos for posterity.  He was also a founder of the leading non-Mormon paper in the state, The Salt Lake Tribune.  At points in its history, it’s been known as an anti-Mormon paper.  The University of Utah’s library holds about five dozen of his photos in their collection, indexed electronically if not quite available yet; there Reed is described:

A pioneer in the development of Utah newspapers, George Reed was originally employed by the Deseret News and in 1871 helped in establishing the Salt Lake Tribune. His photographs include nineteenth century views of Salt Lake City, individuals at Reed’s Avenue home, Wasatch Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and a photograph of the American flag hung on the Salt Lake Temple in 1896 to commemorate Utah’s statehood.

In the collection of Utah State University, in Logan, Reed has yet more papers.  There we get a bit more of his history:

A pioneer in Utah journalism, George W. Reed was born in London, England, on April 7, 1833. He emigrated to Utah in 1862 and became manager of the Deseret News, a position he held until 1871 when he founded the Salt Lake Tribune. In 1882, after a decade at the Tribune, Reed sold his interest in the paper to P. H. Lannan. He married Elizabeth Tuddenham in 1866 and passed away December 1, 1909.

U.S. flag on the Mormon Temple, at Utah statehood in 1896

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, draped with a U.S. flag in 1896, commemorating the completion of Utah’s statehood campaign when President Grover Cleveland declared Utah a member of the Union. Photo by George W. Reed; Reed worked for the Deseret News, and helped found the Salt Lake Tribune. I do not know whether this photo was published in either paper.  From the George W. Reed Collection, University of Utah Libraries.

Yes, you’re right!  That flag is backwards.  Well, it’s backwards according to the modern U.S. Flag Code, which specifies that when hung from a building, the flag’s union should always be in the viewer’s upper left corner (“northwest” corner were it a standard map).  In the photograph, the union is in the opposite corner.  No, we know the photo is not reversed, because it accurately portrays the location of the Tabernacle, to the west and slightly south of the Temple.

But we hear the protests:  The U.S. Flag Code did not exist in 1896!  How can that be a violation of a code that did not exist?

That’s right, too.

That is an indication that the traditions of flag display that some people get riled up about, that many people think we should amend the Constitution to protect, are new inventions more than old traditions.  Flag code violations are legion by well-meaning citizens celebrating the flag and patriotism, and rare by anyone with any malignant motives.

After a 49-year fight for statehood, through wars with the U.S., fighting with the U.S. forces in Mexico, the administrations of several presidents and 25 different U.S. Congresses, and pledges to change the rules of the church to ban polygamy and put that ban in the state constitution,  the people of Utah, especially the Mormon officials, were not trying to insult America by displaying the flag incorrectly.  Somebody said ‘fly the flag from the Temple,’ and some engineer or custodian got it done.  By 1896, most of the First Amendment litigation done in the U.S. had involved whether Mormons could keep their marriage policies (Mormons lost).  There was no intent to violate any rule of separation of church and state — nor would that be considered a violation today.  Churches may fly the nation’s flag with all the approval that suggests; it’s the government which may not fly a church’s flag.

Finally, there is no grand story in the flag’s being flown backwards.  It’s just one of those historical footnotes that mark the changing mores of the times, in this case, for standards of how to fly the U.S. flag.

Perhaps Utah history textbooks should make note of the day the U.S. flag was flown, backwards, to honor statehood.

More, and related resources:

Oh, yes! This is an encore post, too. We’re in the business of remembering history around here.

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2 Responses to Flying your U.S. flag for Utah’s statehood? Don’t make this error, and fly it backwards!

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    That may be the way they viewed it then. I’ve wondered whether there was a flag on the other side of the Temple, but have found nothing to indicate one way or the other.

    Like

  2. Jerold says:

    Or…..the flag could be considered displayed correct. With angel Moroni as the “staff forward”.

    Like

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