Stars and stripes comes with strings

COPAKE—Will the Town Board say: “Thanks, but no thanks” to the offer of a 100-year-old flag?

A proposal to give a fragile old flag to the town has sparked a debate over where would be the best place for it.

The banner in question is a 10- by 12-foot American flag with 48 stars that was flying from the roof of the Bash Bish Inn in September 1918 when the place was consumed by fire.

21 16news flag without legs

The Bash Bish Inn flag. Photo contributed

Situated along the Bash Bish Brook in Copake Falls and near the trail leading to the scenic waterfall of the same name, the inn had been updated with modern amenities in 1916 and had a capacity of 150 guests, according to a letter from Columbia County Historical Society Curator Anna M. Thompson.

The story goes that as the inn was ablaze, the hotel’s head waiter, Jean Pierre Auguste Dalmas, climbed up on the roof and saved the flag from certain incineration.

Mr. Dalmas later moved to North Carolina and took the flag with him. In December 2014, Mr. Dalmas’ grandson contacted Howard Blue’s Copake History Facebook page and a short time later mailed the flag to Mr. Blue, who wrote a story about it, “Century-old flag rekindles memories of local fire,” that appeared in The Columbia Paper in September 2015.

Now a Committee to Save the Bash Bish Inn Flag has been formed and is asking the town to accept donation of the flag and to agree to display it at the Town Hall.

Committee member Lindsay LeBrecht brought up the matter at the April Town Board meeting, noting that the committee believes the Town Hall is the best place to display the flag once it has been conserved and encased.

The committee is committed to raising the money needed to conserve the flag, an estimated $11,000, of which $1,000 has already been pledged by Mr. Dalmas’ grandson.

No town money would be used, said Ms. LeBrecht, adding that “if we can’t raise the money, [the project] will not go forward.”

The idea is not to restore the wool flag to its original condition, but to conserve it so it does not deteriorate further. The flag would then be rolled (not folded) and encased in an aluminum frame with a plexiglass cover to a size of 2-by-4 or 4-by-5-feet. The depth of the casing would be 3 to 5 inches, according to Mr. Blue, who also spoke at the meeting.

“What about the [Roe Jan] historical society?” asked Councilman Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski, suggesting that might be a more appropriate place for the flag.

Ms. LeBrecht responded that the museum has no heat or air conditioning at this time. However, later in the meeting the board authorized the historical society to install an air conditioning/heating unit at the museum at no cost to the town. The town owns the museum building and the society would also be taking over payment of the electricity bill there, saving the town about $1,200/year.

Mr. Blue told the board, the museum is only open on weekends in the summer, about 50 hours/year, while Town Hall is open all the time.

Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer suggested the Taconic Hills Central School or the Roeliff Jansen Library might be more appropriate places, but was told by Mr. Blue that the school was afraid the flag might be damaged by a leak and the library’s large windows would expose the flag to a lot of direct sunlight.

Councilwoman Kelly Miller-Simmons said people mostly come to the Town Hall to conduct business and may not see it.

Mr. Nayer pointed out that the final size of the flag was not yet known, making space a factor. He also said he was concerned about setting a precedent for anyone who had any other artifact connected to the town to expect it could be kept and displayed in Town Hall. He also noted that the museum currently has a climate controlled storage room in the back.

Councilwoman Jeanne Mettler said the flag committee was not asking the board for suggestions about where else the flag could go, but whether the town would accept this gift.

Ms. Mettler spoke about the grand old inn having been advertised as being “the center of the world” and no other town around here having been home to such an elegant resort. She said the flag harkens back to time in Copake when the “economy and tourism was flourishing—the glory days of Copake.” She described the flag as “breathtaking” and “stunning” and said it should be “shown in a respectful way.”

She agreed there is a finite amount of space at Town Hall and suggested there should be some consideration for what goes on the walls; perhaps the formation of “a small group to advise us, what do we want the Town Hall to look like?”

The board decided to table the matter until the May 12 meeting.

The flag committee again appeared, this time with a letter from Columbia County Historical Society Curator Anna M. Thompson extolling the significance of the flag, calling it “symbolic in its representation of the various diverse individuals and experiences in the Copake region during the early 20th century.” She noted the location’s popularity “as a tourist destination with a resort and leisure culture that fueled the region’s economy” with the whole package including immigrant workers (of which Mr. Dalmas was one) being “the true epitome of the American experience.”

Committee member Len Barhan also mentioned a petition that is being circulated that would demonstrate to the Town Board that acceptance of the flag has “solid support” from the community.

The petition says in part that, “Display of both the flag and the professionally done signage which is also offered will be a real asset to the town and show pride in Copake’s history.”

The idea that the flag was being offered with no strings attached was called into question since the committee had stated the flag was being given to the town with the understanding that it would be displayed at Town Hall.

Town Attorney Ken Dow noted that the board’s acceptance of the flag should be done by resolution which “clearly establishes if there are specific terms” that have to be met and the board should decide “if it wants to do it under these conditions.”

Since a letter of support was received from the county historical society, Mr. Nayer asked it they have a spot for it.

Bob Haight, town Planning Board chair, told the board that there are other historical items in Town Hall and pointed out a flag on the wall that had flown during a combat mission in Afghanistan.

The board ultimately decided to table decision on the matter until the June 9 meeting.

To contact Diane Valden email

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