World’s largest U.S. flag will come to Derry this weekend
Impulse purchases will many times include little things like snacks, a pack of gum or a random item unexpectedly on sale.
But when Unity’s Ted Dorfman makes an impulse buy, he goes big: he bought the world’s largest American flag, a 400-foot-long behemoth that weighs 7 tons and requires its own trailer to travel.
“It’s a story of an unsupervised husband,” Dorfman said with a laugh. “I turned on the History Channel, and it was being auctioned off by Butterfield’s on eBay.”
Dorfman submitted a winning bid of $12,300, fittingly enough, on July 4, 2001. He now owns the Great American Flag — the massive banner Anchor Industries created from sail canvas in 1980. On Saturday, he’ll get it out to inspect it — with the help of a few hundred friends in Derry.
When he bought the flag in 2001, “veterans’ issues were a big concern to me and weren’t being addressed by our government,” said Dorfman, an Army veteran. “So my idea at the time was to tour the flag and draw attention to those issues.”
That tour never happened.
“It was a victim of its own size,” Dorfman said. In addition, less than a month after the flag was delivered to Dorfman, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred and the flag took on a whole new meaning.
It was displayed at a memorial service for the victims of the Flight 93 crash near Shanksville, and came back out on the one-year anniversary of the attacks.
Moving and unfurling an 84,000-square-foot flag with stars about 13 feet tall is such a huge undertaking that Dorfman can count on one hand the number of times he’s seen it in its entirety.
Saturday’s unpacking will serve as an inspection, according to Dorfman and his son Josh, who has taken the lead for the Great American Flag Preservation Group, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping the flag in good condition.
“We really have no idea what to expect,” said Josh, 26, of Arlington, Va. “But we’re basically going to figure out what shape it’s in, and then figure out to get it back into good shape.”
Josh said he anticipates some fading, which can be fixed by dyeing.
The last time the flag was fully unfolded — at Jennerstown Speedway on the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — rainy weather necessitated an effort to dry it out before re-packing it.
“What I was told is that they literally had helicopters flying over it to dry it,” Josh said. “That’s the scale we’re talking about.”
The flag will be unfurled beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday at Advanced Carbide Grinding on Route 982 in Derry, where it will be stored.
“I’m friends with Ed Beck, the owner,” Dorfman said. “They’re going to store it, and he has just enough space in one of his fields to display it.”
The event is also heavily weather-dependent. If it rains, the flag will not be coming out, Dorfman said.
Workers from J.V. Rigging in New Kensington will join between 60 to 80 volunteers in opening the flag.
“We think we’ll probably have too many volunteers,” Josh said. “We don’t want to count our chickens before they’re hatched, but we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the community.”
With the amount of effort being put into simply checking the flag’s condition, will it ever come back out again?
“We’d like it to be displayed at some prominent events in the next five to 10 years,” Josh said, citing the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2021, as well as the country’s 250th anniversary in 2026.
The public is invited to watch the inspection this weekend.
“It’s a jaw-dropping sight,” Dorfman said.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .