In 2007, Jack Mommer was at an Iowa junkyard in search of some salvageable car parts when he came across a pile of fabric bundled at the bottom of a dirty van. After further inspection, Mommer immediately recognized that the bundle was actually an historic 45-star flag. Being a flag-history enthusiast, Mommer felt it was his duty to return the 45-star flag to the home the nation’s 45th State at Utah’s Capitol building.
However, life took a different route for Jack Mommer when he was diagnosed with cancer. Although he passed away in May 2014 from meningitis, his dream finally came true when his wife, Mary Mommer delivered the flag herself to Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert Tuesday. She and her family donated to the flag in honor of the state which they vacation in at least twice each year.
Mary Mommer recalled the exact moment when she and her husband unfolded the flag for the first time nine years ago.
“The flag was so big,” Mommer said, “we had to unfold it outside so we could have more room. Once we unfolded it, Jack said ‘Hey! That’s Utah’s flag!'”
The flag, which is about 15 feet long, has each of the 45 stars individually hand stitched, with each row containing about seven to eight stars. More notably, the flag shows its true antiquity within each stripe. Some of the red dye has bled onto the off-white stripes and tears are visible between stripes. Yet the flag’s condition has been well-preserved since its discovery in 2007.
A lot of the flag’s history remains unknown, such as where it came from, and how it ended up in an Iowa junkyard inside a van.
“I would love to find out where the vehicle came from,” Mommer said. “We only have half of the story.”
Despite the mystery of the flag’s background, Mommer was able to complete the story by presenting the flag to Herbert in behalf of her deceased husband.
She reflected on the moment and smiled. “This was his dream. He would be very honored and very happy. It is a neat story and completing it is great,” she said.
Brad Westwood, director of the Utah State History Division, briefly discussed what would happen next in the flag’s journey. Westwood said historians will research the flag’s history and it will be well-preserved and taken care of.
“It would be a delight to have the flag up on display, especially during the legislative session,” Westwood said.
Westwood took that as a cue to display the flag sometime during the 2016 session, which will begin Jan. 25.
Herbert found the timing of the flag’s arrival to be well suited because this year the Capitol building reaches its 100-year anniversary, and it has been 120 years since Utah received statehood. Herbert speculated that based on the number of stars that are on the flag, the flag was likely made between 1896 and 1907.
Utah became a state in 1896. The next state to join the union was Oklahoma in 1907. He remarked that the flag would be a perfect addition for the state Capitol’s centennial celebration and thanked the Mommers for donating something that reminds people of Utah’s history.