- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

BOSTON - When Boston frothed with fury during the 1760s and 1770s, red-blooded residents knew what it meant when the huge red and white flag hung over the towering elm tree at the intersection of what are now Essex and Washington streets.

When the “liberty flag” flew, it meant the revolutionary Sons of Liberty were calling for a public meeting. Bostonians flocked to the flag and the tree, where at least once effigies of British tax collectors were hanged from its branches. When the British wanted to strike a blow to anti-Colonial fervor in 1775, they hacked the liberty tree to the ground and used it for firewood.

Where the tree stood, buildings sprouted. In the 1960s and 1970s, libertines replaced the Sons of Liberty. Prostitution, peep shows and drug dealers gave the area a new name: the Combat Zone.

The neighborhood is cleaned up and scrubbed down now, but there are few reminders of the area’s legacy, other than a plaque on the Registry of Motor Vehicles building.

One important talisman of that time still exists, though: the iconic liberty flag itself, recently cleaned and repaired. The 13-by-7-foot flag is folded in a display case in the Old State House, the original seat of state government, which now serves as the museum for the Bostonian Society, the city’s historical society.

The wool flag is one of the most important artifacts in the society’s collection, said Sue Goganian, director of the Old State House, because it’s thought to be the only one of its kind and is closely bound to the city’s revolutionary history. “An object has a power that a book doesn’t have, that just reading about events don’t have,” she said. “It’s a tangible reminder of that period.”

The flag drove that point home for 48-year-old Kathy Jungeblut, who recently visited the Old State House from her home in Levasy, Mo. She excitedly called her friends over when she saw the flag.

Mrs. Jungeblut said she was moved by seeing such an early relic of American history, with its red-and-white stripes suggesting today’s flag.

“It’s something I’ve never heard about, and I’ve read a lot about the Revolutionary War and all the history, and the patriots,” she said. “It’s a part of history I didn’t know existed.”

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