Tuesday, December 9, 2008

13 Confederate flags go missing in Middletown

By Jason Kane
The Winchester Star

Middletown — The Confederate flags disappeared from Main Street this fall, along with the retreating Confederate troops.

Thirteen flags, all yanked from their poles in the town center during the Battle of Cedar Creek re-enactment weekend Oct. 18 and 19.

Missing flags in the wake of the annual re-enactment aren’t that uncommon, said Middletown Mayor Ray Steele. In fact, several of the town’s 50 Confederate flags go missing each fall.

“But this is the first time we’ve ever had them stolen to this extent,” Steele said.

All 13 will be replaced, he said, with a price tag of $30 to $35 each and a final bill running between $390 and $455.

The town originally planned to replace the flags immediately, but decided to postpone the purchase because of financial constraints.

“We’ll try to get ’em replaced before the next re-enactment,” Steele said.

He added that the Confederate flags would sit in storage for the rest of the year and won’t be needed until next October anyway.

One of the first to notice the theft — on the morning of Oct. 19 — was Middletown Police Chief Phil Breeden.

“I think whoever wanted them just wanted them for themselves,” he said.

The investigation is still open, but Breeden said it’s not on his “major list” of crimes to solve because he doesn’t have any suspects.

Town officials don’t want to accuse anyone, Steele said, but they suspect the culprit was an out-of-towner who visited for the re-enactment.

“We’re going to try to educate groups that come in for the re-enactment that this is a loss to the town, and it’s money we should not have to put out,” Steele said.

The stars and bars of the Confederacy fly in Middletown each year during the re-enactment weekend, dating to the 1990s when John Copeland was the town’s mayor.

A group of Confederate re-enactors approached Copeland 12 to 14 years ago and asked if they could donate several dozen flags.

The gift was accepted, and the Confederate flags have been waving to visitors during each re-enactment weekend since — in rows on both sides of Main Street, interspersed with modern American flags.

Copeland said he doesn’t believe the theft was the result of someone protesting the controversial flag, which some people associate with slavery.

“I think they’re a popular item with some people,” he said.

Such a protest against the Confederate flag, however, would not be new to the Valley.

The flag was removed from Winchester’s now-defunct vehicle decals several years ago when a governing council member from Winchester’s sister city of Winchester, England, called the town’s symbol racist in late 2004.

However, the flag remains on the city seal.

“But I’ve never heard any controversy at all like that in Middletown, ever,” said the town’s Heritage Society president, Tess Klimm.

In fact, protest in Middletown tends to swing the other way.

When a developer planned to name a new housing complex after a Union general last year, “people spoke against it,” Klimm said, “and the name was changed immediately.”

Copyright © 2002-2008 by The Winchester Star

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