Kennedy Center replaces Utah state flag after BYU alumnus notices error

Ron Blunt
BYU alumnus Ryan Martin found a 200 year error on Utah state flag in the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. The flag displayed the year 1647 instead of 1847. (Ron Blunt)

A BYU alumnus detected a 200-year error on the Utah state flag in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. A new updated flag will be replaced on July 24 in honor of Pioneer Day.

Ryan Martin graduated from BYU in economics and received a master’s degree in public policy at BYU. Martin and his family visited the Kennedy Center in 2002.

The building has a Hall of States, which holds flags from every state. Martin being a BYU graduate, went to visit the Utah flag.

“I looked up (at the flag), and it looked like it said 1647,” Martin said.

Martin assumed because of the height and movement of the flag that he had read it wrong.

A couple years passed when Martin looked at the flag again. This time he pulled out his phone and took a picture. He zoomed into the picture to look at the date.

“It clearly said 1647,” Martin said. “I don’t remember Utah being the first state in the Union.”

The flag showed the year 1647 instead of 1847.

Martin thought about the process of how the flag went up into the Kennedy Center. Martin said between the flag maker, the person ordering and the people who placed the flag up, no one must have looked at the date to see its error.

A few more years passed, and Martin revisited the building thinking he should inform someone about this error so it could be addressed and fixed.

“I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ever seen this,” Martin said. “There must have been a person — with the number of people who visit — that noticed it and probably told a security guard or the tour guides.”

It wasn’t until March 2017 when Martin began his research of the flag’s history and who he needed to contact to have the date on the flag corrected.

“One of the reasons why it took me so long was because I didn’t have time to sit down and do the research to find the external relations person at the Kennedy Center or the public relations person,” Martin said. “I wanted to make sure I found the right people.”

He found Ellery Brown, the Senior Vice President of Operations at the Kennedy Center.

“I sent a funny note saying, ‘You know I’m sure Brigham Young and everyone else would have loved to get to Utah 200 years earlier than they did,'” Martin said. “I’m pretty sure the flag is not correct.”

Brown said the flags are 85–90 feet in the air, and the flag has been in the Kennedy Center since 2002 and all the flags undergo reviews to check the accuracy.

The last time the Utah flag was reviewed was in 2011 before the Utah State Legislature passed the Utah State Flag Concurrent Resolution that invites all the flag manufacturers to update the Utah flag.

Brown said he contacted the flag manufacturer to order a new flag. He then contacted Martin and showed him the new flag. Martin then recommended the flag to be changed on July 24 in honor of Pioneer Day.

“It would be really amazing if we were able to (change the flag) on the 24th of July. The holiday that recognizes when the Pioneers came to Utah, and on the 170th Anniversary,” Martin said to Brown.

Lauren Holland, John F. Kennedy Center Public Relations Coordinator, said because of Martin’s “sharp eye,” the Kennedy Center would correct a 200-year mistake in the Hall of States.

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