A private client brought a framed 35-star flag to Museum Textile Services for conservation. The flag belonged to Henry Harrison Hadley (1841–1903) from Malta, OH. In 1862, Hadley joined the 90th Ohio infantry during the American Civil War. His leg was shattered and nearly amputated in Tennessee, after which Hadley was discharged for disability in 1863. He re-entered service in 1865 as Captain of Co. “D” of the 119th United States Colored Infantry at Camp Nelson in Paducah, KY. Hadley left honorably in 1866.
The flag has a silk canton with 35 gold painted stars and a silk bow in the top-left corner that may or may not have held the flag to a pole. The stripes are made of alternating ribbons of a figured white silk with multiple shades of reddish ribbons; only 10 stripes are extant. At the lower-right corner of the frame is a handwritten note in ink on paper that reads, “Flag made by colored refugees during the war of the Rebellion. Presented to Col. Henry H. Hadley after he had conveyed them in safety within the Union Lines.”
Given all these concerns, we would normally begin by separating a textile from its failing support board. Conservators attempted mechanical separation with the aid of humidification, isopropyl alcohol, and great patience, but we were only able to safely lift the card and bow off without creating new breaks in the silk. Any pressure easily turned the silk to powder. We needed to shift our treatment goals to find a way to conserve the flag together with its board.
Stay tuned for Part II of this blog, where we outline our decision-making process and show the final results of treatment for this unique and priceless relic.