Bicentennial Week means banner year for flag-maker -- Gazette.Net


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The flag lies in a hermetically sealed case in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., the bedraggled, battle-torn, 30-by-34-foot original restored but a reminder nonetheless of a fabled chapter in U.S. history.

But an authentic reproduction is being sold online, as close a replica as you'll get without your own Betsy Ross in residence.

On the night of Sept. 13, 1814, the flag flew over Fort McHenry as the British, trying to recapture the nation they'd lost only three decades earlier, bombarded the federal fort in Baltimore's harbor.

The next day, Sept. 14, by the “dawn's early light,” the flag was still there, to be immortalized in poem by Frederick County native Francis Scott Key, later to be put to music as the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

A year ago, a consortium of three educational nonprofits approached Rosedale's Haxel Flag, Flagpole, Banner & Sign Co., one of a handful of flag-makers in the country, with a proposition.

“We wanted to educate and enrich the experience” of the Bicentennial Week, a statewide celebration of the war that kicked off Saturday and runs through Sunday in Baltimore City, says Annelise Montone, executive director of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, one of the three organizations, along with the American Flag Foundation and Friends of Fort McHenry.

“The flag is a visual representation of the war,” which was fought from 1812 to 1815, she said. “Why not have a 'Star-Spangled Banner' flag that everyone can fly?”

Haxel agreed to the project, but it was easier said than done.

Even now, manufacturing flags is a labor-intensive, time-consuming process. A computer makes a pattern that is laid over layers of material in the colors of the flag. The layers are hand-cut to the different levels of colors; the design may be printed or hand-sewn.

For an authentic reproduction, the process is even more complicated.

“We consulted with historians for accuracy,” said Lynn Warner, who also had to decide how to translate now-antiquated fabrics and techniques into a modern flag that can withstand the elements.

Warner is the third generation in the family-owned and -run Haxel company. She is vice president; her brother Phil Haxel Jr. is president; and her sister Lois Manning is secretary and treasurer. All have worked since childhood in the company, founded by their grandfather, Frederick William Haxel, as an awning company in 1935.

Because the awning business is slow in the winter, the company began making flags in the early 1940s. Fifty years later, as Philip Haxel Sr., the founder's son and current owners' father retired, the company reinvented itself.

“We had to take the next step,” Phil Haxel Jr. said of a transformation that entailed selling the awning business, adding banners to the company's repertoire and relocating from the city to its current headquarters, a modest office in an industrial park in Baltimore County along with a manufacturing plant and warehouse in Havre de Grace.

A multitude of flags and banners

Since then, the banner business has boomed. Haxel's banners, in vinyl or polyester acrylic, adorn Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, Pimlico Race Course, National Harbor in Oxon Hill, several local colleges and universities, and government buildings in Harford County, Washington and Northern Virginia.

With annual sales running about $2 million, Haxel estimates that banners account for 70 percent of the company's business, with flags and flagpoles the rest.

Over the years, the company has expanded its inventory of flags. It makes flags of all 50 states as well as the flags of Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Federal agencies including the Public Health Service and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are customers, too.

The company makes flags of other countries as well, but there is a frustrating problem with that.

“They keep changing,” Haxel said of other nations' governments and their flags.

Flags come in a range of sizes: 4-by-6-inch handheld “stick” flags, 2-by-3-foot and 3-by-5-foot residential versions, and a 20-by-38-foot flagpole model, although the 3-by-5-foot size also can hang from a flagpole, depending on the pole's size.

The Limited Edition Commemorative Bicentennial Star-Spangled Banner — its official title — is 3 by 5 feet, the most common residential size. It is made of nylon, not the original cotton — a much heavier material that does not wear as well.

But, faithful to the design of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry, it has 15 stars, one for each of the then-15 states. Each star is hand-cut and hand-appliqued, and each is tilted at the specific angle of the original. Its 15 bars, aka stripes, are hand-sewn.

The flag comes with a certificate of authenticity from the three sponsoring organizations and sell for $73.50 apiece. Haxel is manufacturing a limited edition of 1,000 authentic reproduction flags and donating 20 percent of sales proceeds to the organizations.

Another, non-limited edition, also is being produced. Selling for $20, it's 3 by 5 feet and the design is printed, not handmade. For commercial use, 20-by-30-foot flags sell for $700.

The reproduction flags went on sale in December 2011, in preparation for the three-year statewide bicentennial celebration that runs to 2015. But sales have been so strong, the flags will likely sell out long before then, according to the company.

To date, Haxel has sold 370 of the 1,000 limited edition flags.

“We didn't think they'd sell that well because they're expensive,” Warner said. “But we've been getting sales from all over the country — California, Ohio,” a surprising number from people with an interest in history.

“They love to collect,” she said, “and they want the authentic flag.”