154-year-old flag to be dedicated at Monday’s Lincoln remembrance at the Ohio Statehouse

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In February 2016, Retired Lieutenant-Colonel Mary K. Van Tilburg, a Westerville resident, and her sister, Dr. Emmalou Norland of Arlington, Va., donated a family flag to the Ohio History Connection, which had been tucked away in a drawer in Oklahama for more than 45 years.

The historic flag will be on display in the Ohio Statehouse Rotunda on Monday during the annual ceremony, which recreates the scene when the slain body of President Abraham Lincoln lay in repose for eight hours on Apr. 29, 1865.

Courtesy Chris Matheney, Ohio Statehouse

Columbus was one of 18 ciities along the route of the Lincoln funeral train that passed through seven states, culminating near his Springfield, Illinois, home on May 4 for the burial.

“It is estimated that 50,000 mourners turned out at Capitol Square for the repose of Lincoln,” said Chris Matheney, historic site manager at the Ohio Statehouse.”

“Lincoln’s body lay in the rotunda that day for eight hours, before it was returned to the train,” Matheney said.

Matheney noted that the Columbus stopover “was the most advertised funeral to date,” adding that the funeral train schedule appeared in most newspapers of the day.

The honorary Old Glory had been given to Ret. Lt. Col. Van Tilburg’s great-great-grandfather, David Nevin Murray, by the Ohio Delegates to Congress in 1865, in recognition of his contribution to the Union Army.

Murray was too old to serve in the Civil War, so the government honored his war efforts. He had converted his Portsmouth Foundry and Machine Shops into an operation to make cannonballs.

Murray, an Ohio pioneer, resided in Portsmouth from 1837 until his death in 1895. 

Ret. Lt. Col. Van Tilburg became enthralled with the history of the 1864 flag with 36 stars, which represented  the number of states in the Union at that time. She knew it had to be returned to Ohio.

According to various newspaper sources, the flag was used during a memorial service for President Lincoln, and later at funeral services for Presidents James A. Garfield, William McKinley and Warren G. Harding.

The flag found its way to Memorial Day parades and made appearances at the inauguration of Ohio Governors John W. Bricker and Frank Lausche in Columbus.

The latest mention of the flag in the press was at the memorial service for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, when it was displayed on a wall in the Ohio Statehouse Rotunda.

The huge flag, 22 feet long by 9 feet wide, was shipped to Ret. Lt. Col. Van Tilburg’s home in a box and later unsealed and unfolded at the Ohio History Connection on Feb. 25, 2016.

The delicate flag was shielded from the elements, before being unfurled for the public in the Ohio History Center’s New Acquisitions Display. The wool bunting that was common for American flags is a fabric that holds up through the time, although the 1864 Old Glory had some frayed edges.

Ret. Lt. Col. Van Tilburg was flanked by several generations of family members on that day in 2016, including her grandnephew, Eli Krabill, now a ninth-grader, representing the fourth generation to honor David Nevin Murray.

Her family will be present at the commemorative ceremony on Monday at the Ohio Statehouse, when the flag will be on display. Restoration efforts will continue through year, before the flag will be flown again Capital Square.

“The Capital Square Review and Advisory Board will commemorate the 154th anniversary of the repose of President Abraham Lincoln … with a dedication of a historic flag, and will include a replica casket, an exhibit, honor guards, Civil War reenactors and cannons firings,” said Mike Rupert, who is on the Ohio Statehouse board.

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