Inspirational artist Thomas Kinkade's renowned "Flags Over the Capitol" painting depicted Old Glory flying pristinely and proudly over Congress, but the American flags fluttering this month atop the House office buildings on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers and their staffs work each day, were tattered, torn and neglected - hardly worthy of a patriotic portrait.
The flags - in various states of disrepair - were captured in photos and videos by The Washington Times as they rippled atop the Rayburn, Cannon and Longworth office buildings where the 435 members of the House of Representatives and their aides go to work each day. Congressional staffers and other passers-by didn't even notice the poor state of the Stars and Stripes until a reporter pointed it out.
"If you are going to fly it, then fly it properly and replace it when it's in the condition [like] the one I'm looking at right now,["] a woman on the Capitol grounds said about a flag over the Rayburn House Office Building.
The responsibility of raising, flying and replacing the flags is shared by a handful of administrative offices on Capitol Hill. But when confronted about the state of the flags, the U.S. Capitol Police acknowledged that it was ultimately the department's job to replace damaged flags.
"If a member of the U.S. Capitol Police observes or is advised by anyone that a flag on a congressional office building needs to be replaced, we obtain a new flag from the Architect of the Capitol and raise it above the respective office building," said Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. "Normal wear can occur quickly, for example if a flag in windy conditions is whipped around the flagpole."
When asked when the flags were last changed, Sgt. Schneider said she could not provide details.
Damaged flags flying above the Cannon and Longworth office buildings were replaced late last week after they were photographed by The Times. A torn flag continued to fly above the Rayburn building until early this week.
A federal law known as the Flag Code requires that flags be "displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public institution" and can be flown 24 hours a day as long as the flag is "illuminated during hours of darkness" - as the flags on top of the House office buildings are.
But the code also states, "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning."
Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, expressed dismay at the condition of the House office building flags. "There is no excuse for any American, most especially a government entity, to fly an unserviceable flag. All those elected officials and all their staffers see that flag every single day, and not a single person noticed? That's not right and that's not how you treat the flag of our country," he said.
The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) educates citizens about the proper way to care for flags and how to retire them when the time comes. "We feel it is really disrespectful to fly a damaged flag when you can obtain a new flag in new condition that can put the best face on our patriotism," said Colleen Wilson, director for the Center for Advancing America's Heritage at SAR.
Kristinn Taylor, co-leader of the D.C. chapter of the conservative-leaning Web site Free Republic, said he noticed the damaged flags while participating in a pro-troop demonstration Sept. 10 at the corner of New Jersey and Independence avenues. He said they were torn so badly on the edges that some of the stripes looked like separate strips blowing in the wind.
"It shows a lack of pride in our country," Mr. Taylor said.
Several tourists interviewed in subsequent trips to Capitol Hill said the damaged flags sent a bad message.
One man touring the Capitol with his sons told The Times that the damaged flag he saw on top of the Rayburn building sends the message of "a tattered and torn country, which, you know, has a bit of truth to it presently as well, but I think we should improve our image."