One of the weird things that happens when you get old is the junk that comes to mind—the stuff floating up out of the dark pastness that takes up so much space in your rapidly deteriorating brain. Probably it’s true what they say—the older you get the less (I’m told) you have to look forward to and the more stuff behind you to ponder, regret, deny and we hope—to take pride in.

98 percent of that stuff is just that—stuff—junk—life clutter. As I type I’m remembering the endless tons of junk and debris washed up by the Tsunami that hit Indonesia in December of 2004. I certainly don’t want to trivialize the incomprehensible tragedy of that event—I reference it because we all remember the powerful, bizarre images of cars, homes, boats, trees, trash and all manner of objects and materials that rolled endlessly past the camera.

I look back at my life and see an overwhelming 65 years of rolling, drifting, surging junk—debris—stuff. I suspect most old people have the same experience—at least at times.

For no reason I’m aware of I found myself (as I sat down earlier to type) zeroing in on a piece of that junk. I’m remembering a huge flag that was in the town I grew up in, in upstate New York. Upstate New Yorkers are a patriotic bunch and Rome, New Yorkers are at the top of the heap. So much so the main intersection in Rome was called “The American Corner.” And I remember as a kid, old-timers mentioning something called “Rome, New York Patriotism.”

I’m pretty sure the big flag belonged to the owners of a large, old-fashioned furniture store—Markson Brothers I think it was called—that was on Dominick Street (the main street) in Rome, NY. On patriotic holidays or occasions back in the ‘50s and early ‘60s that flag would be hung—from the roof—across the big outside wall of the store so driving west on Dominick you couldn’t help but be bowled over as you drove by. Possibly the Markson family thought of hanging the flag on those occasions as their Rome, NY patriotic duty.

The building was probably 200 feet long on the sides, 4 or 5 stories tall and judging from the area it covered, the flag would have been about 100 by 45 feet—covering quite a bit of the blocky old, red-brick structure. I guess it hung down to within 10 or 12 feet of the ground. I think I heard at one time it was the biggest flag in New York State—maybe the U.S.

But not as big as the one I read about a few minutes ago when I Googled “Biggest American Flag.” That one was made in 1992 and measured 500 feet by 225 feet. The stars are 17 feet across and the whole thing weighs 3000 pounds. I think it’s also the biggest flag (of any sort) in the world. Here’s the link if you want to read more:


It was sometime in the ‘80s I think, my brother told me the flag had been stolen. I remember thinking, “Why?” It’s not like there was a scarcity of cloth and the material was valuable—like people breaking into cell towers a few years ago to steal the heavy copper cable because copper had become so valuable.

So why?

Later I began to reflect on it and decided it seemed more like an adolescent prank—like kids stealing traffic or street signs to put up in their rooms. Then I forgot about it.

Probably 8 or 10 years later I was living in Virginia and I found out the stolen flag had been transported to Virginia Beach. I can’t remember who told me—maybe it was my brother again—or someone else from “back home.”

And it turns out I knew one or two of the “kids” who did it. At the time of the theft these people I’m thinking of were in their early 20s. From my current perspective on these things—yes—a person in his or her early 20s qualifies as a “kid.”

Somebody in Virginia who was from the Rome area knew these “kids” and what they had done. They got in touch with the Markson Brothers Furniture store owners and told them where the flag was. The Rome police (I think) were informed and they contacted the Virginia Beach Police. The flag was found and returned to the furniture store.

I have no idea what happened to the flag thieves—those misguided individuals who would interfere with the free exercise of Rome, NY Patriotism. As well as anti patriotic I suppose it would have been considered grand larceny. That flag was probably worth close to what you’d pay for a decent used car.

Markson Brothers Furniture store is gone now—I’m pretty sure. I looked for it the last time I was in Rome 2 or 3 years ago and couldn’t find it. Dominick Street has changed so much—they had this huge urban renewal program that began back in the 70s and I’m told about the only thing about Rome that was re-newed was a relentless sense of irrelevancy.

As a double check I used Google Maps to check downtown Rome and it just isn’t there. All those old buildings dating from the 30s have long since been carted off as hard fill so that’s where the store is at—buried under some highway or new building or maybe its part of a jetty in Lake Oneida. I like to think it hasn’t gone to waste.

The big Markson Brother’s Flag—where is it now? I have no idea—possibly some patriotic family member has it. If I have any readers there in the Rome area and you know something about the flag or know something I’ve gotten wrong in my Rome-New-York-Patriotism-Markson-Bro.s-big-flag story (and I almost certainly have) please send a comment (go to the “comments” feature on the opening page) and I’ll do an update.

I’m serious—doing an update is not a problem. Like this whole post it’s an exercise in looking back—(that’s what old people do)—and we might as well get it right.

As I said at the top—the older we get the less (I’m told) we have to look forward to and the more stuff there is behind us to ponder, regret, deny and we hope—to take pride in—like our Rome, New York patriotism.

So—if there are any upstate NY Romans out there we might as well take pride in this big flag story. We—especially those of us who may not be in this world a whole lot longer—should tell it so our offspring so they will be inspired as we have been. And not let those who would disparage Rome, NY Patriotism win.

Remember the Markson family—and think of it as an opportunity—all these decades later—to one last time—exercise your Rome, NY patriotic duty.

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