SALT LAKE CITY — A 45-star American flag found crumpled inside a broken-down van in an Iowa junkyard will now fittingly reside in Utah — the nation's 45th state.
Jack Mommer made the unexpected discovery about nine years ago while looking for used car parts in a salvage yard in Allison, Iowa. He always intended to bring the large flag to Utah but died of cancer before he had the chance.
On Tuesday, his widow, Mary Mommer, of Dike, Iowa, presented the 15-foot by 7 ½-foot flag to Gov. Gary Herbert at the state Capitol.
"We knew when we opened it up it belonged to the people of Utah, and that's where it should be returned," she said. "He was never able to get the flag to where it needed to go, but we knew what his dream was."
Herbert called the flag an heirloom the state is honored to receive. He said it's timely for it to come to Utah in 2016, noting 120 years of statehood and the Capitol's 100th anniversary this year. He wants the flag displayed during the legislative session beginning Jan. 25.
The apparently more than 100-year-old flag appears in remarkably good shape, except for a few small holes, tattered edges and some faded and bleeding colors. The blue canton has six rows of what appear to be hand-stitched stars; the first, fourth and sixth rows have eight stars, while the other three rows have seven stars.
Its origin and where it might have flown are a mystery. And no one knows how the pile of red, white and blue fabric came to be in the back of an old van in Iowa.
Mommer, for one, said she'd like to know the rest of the story. So would state historians.
Brad Westwood, state Division of History director, and Julie Fisher, executive director of the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, plan to enlist the state's top vexillologist to see what they can find out.
"It starts with the story that's told here," Westwood said. "We'll probably track down those at that junkyard. We're thinking something as large as this, that it's ceremonial, and it's likely perhaps a representative or senator or someone who's connected to government, so that's where we'll start."
Utah became the 45th state on Jan. 4, 1896. The 45-star banner was the nation's flag until Oklahoma joined the union Nov. 17, 1907.