- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2008

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — It was the first and may remain the most compelling visual memorial to the 49 persons killed in a crash at Lexington’s airport, but the huge banner bearing hundreds of messages of support is fading and showing signs of wear.

Now the Aviation Museum of Kentucky, the home of the banner commemorating the victims of the August 2006 crash of Comair 5191, is working to preserve the original and to produce a life-sized replica that can remain on display.

On the morning of the crash, when the airliner went down in a field after the crew mistakenly took off on a runway that was too short, there was an immediate need for friends and strangers to express their condolences.

The makeshift solution was a 20-foot-by-5-foot cloth and plastic banner, which Blue Grass Airport posted at a parking lot near the terminal so people could put their thoughts in writing.

“It is a positive and uplifting thing that came out of this,” said Anita Threet, whose husband, Greg, was among those killed. “I’ve viewed it only a few times, but only been able to see a handful of signatures. I was hoping they’d put it in a format where I could really take some time to read it. Those people are expressing their thoughts about our loss.”

Since the crash, the combination of sunshine and wet weather has caused some of the ink to bleed through the banner material. The edges have started to fray.

“At that point, no one was thinking about preserving this,” said Jack Baugh, director of the aviation museum. “They were just thinking about this horrible tragedy and the loved ones who were lost.”

The museum has been holding discussion with the Smithsonian museums in Washington and the Kentucky Historical Society about storing the banner in inert gas to prevent further deterioration.

The museum staff also took a first step last week to duplicate the banner. The cloth was spread out flat, and a photographer climbed a ladder to shoot dozens of digital images so a detailed reproduction can be printed.

The museum hopes to eventually display the duplicate banner and publish it in book form so people could have access to all of the messages.

The construction of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington — where people left flowers, letters and mementos — was the start of a national habit of saving famous artifacts after a tragedy and artifacts reflecting public and personal grief, said Marilyn Zoidis, assistant director of the Kentucky Historical Society.

She noted that after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, communities across the nation produced banners so people could write messages and, like Kentucky with its Comair banner, many face preservation issues.

“They present real challenges, yet they are such important pieces of memory,” she said. “They speak to the immediacy, the tragedy, the sense of loss. And, in many ways, they also speak to the celebration of life, because people will often leave something that is significant about this person’s life.”

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