COPAKE—It looks like the Town Board will decide to accept the 100-year-old Bash Bish Inn flag as long as there are no strings attached.
The public show of support for Copake’s acceptance of the 10- by 12-foot circa 1918 American flag was again front and center at the June 9 Town Board meeting.
The 48-star flag was saved from the roof of the burning Bash Bish Inn by the head waiter, Jean Pierre Auguste Dalmas, who was born in Italy and immigrated to the U.S. in 1900.
After the fire destroyed the inn, Mr. Dalmas moved to North Carolina and took the flag with him. His grandson, Jean Auton Dalmas, contacted local history buff Howard Blue last year and eventually sent him the now threadbare flag.
Since then a Committee to Save the Bash Bish Flag was formed to raise money to conserve the old flag and put it in a Plexiglas, aluminum-framed display case of a smaller size. The project will cost $11,000 and the money to complete it will come from private donations, not town coffers.
Once the flag is encased, the committee has asked the Town Board to accept it and find a place for it at the Town Hall. Discussion about the flag began at the May Town Board meeting. Some board members said they did not believe the Town Hall was the place for the flag and did not want to commit to displaying it there.
When the floor was open to public comment this month, resident Marcia Becker read an email from Mr. Dalmas, the flag-rescuer’s grandson, to the Town Board explaining how he had grown up knowing “the Flag story” his whole life. The flag was hung from their home every Fourth of July and the “daring rescue” story repeated for generations. Mr. Dalmas wrote, “I believe that the flag tells the story not only of Jean Pierre Auguste Dalmas—an Italian (arrived in USA 1900) and his wife with five children making new life in new country but of the Bash Bish Inn, Copake, and the contribution of our immigrants. Please accept and display YOUR history.”
Former Copake Revitalization Task Force member John Pollok said the town should “venerate the flag.” He said articles about the flag have appeared in three newspapers and the “story has legs” conjuring up the mental image of an immigrant “risking his life to save the flag.”
“It would be too bad if this town rejected the U.S. flag as one of its artifacts,” he said.
Resident Marcia Peteroy asked the board to “seize the opportunity”… “to save and display a very specific time honored flag.”
Deborah Decker read a statement from Columbia County Historian Mary Howell, who noted that seldom is a town offered such a valuable historical artifact.
The flag committee also presented a petition bearing the signatures of 200 residents calling on the board to accept the flag.
Later in the meeting, Councilwoman Jeanne Mettler read a statement and made a motion to accept the flag, which will be “preserved at no cost to the town, and made available to the town with no strings attached. Once in the town’s possession, the flag may be displayed, or lent out for outside displays, as the town in its discretion may determine.”
Ms. Mettler echoed a letter the board received from resident Elayne Dix, who wrote, “Town Hall is… exactly the place where history is made and recorded…. Town halls are rich with the ghosts of the past and with stories that, woven together, come to be our history.”
Councilwoman Metter hit on the flag’s significance to town history, it’s origin in a time when “the economy of Copake was thriving, and when visitors came from all over the world to visit the Bash Bish Inn.” She said the flag had flown during World War I “and our respect for it today would honor our grandfathers who served in that War, and who are buried in the cemeteries of Copake.”
Councilwoman Terry Sullivan seconded the motion.
Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer said the historical value of the flag is not in question. “If we had no historical society, if there was no museum, then the town would have more of an obligation.” He said “the flag was accepted by the Roe Jan Historical Society then taken back” and the county historical society was offered the flag, but did not want it. He said acceptance of the flag is “a big responsibility.”
“If there are no conditions on the Town Board’s acceptance of the flag then the Town Board can put it in the records room or give it to the historical society. It’s our decision, we can do with it what we want,” said the supervisor, adding that if the flag were put on display it would need to have some descriptive text with it so people would know its significance.
Mr. Nayer said the Town Hall is not a climate controlled environment and he would not want to take the responsibility for moving it around to different places for exhibit as it may be damaged.
After Town Attorney Ken Dow confirmed that according to the motion the flag would be legally owned by the town, he determined that the flag issue should be decided by a resolution.
Ms. Mettler withdrew her motion and requested that the attorney prepare a resolution to be voted on at the July meeting. Ms. Sullivan seconded it.
Mr. Nayer said the delay was good because it would give the flag committee a month to talk it over.
The board meets next July 14 at 7 p.m.
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