PROVO — Fifty thousand people stood in silence Saturday night as men in uniform brought a giant American flag into LaVell Edwards Stadium to be retired by incineration.
Or so the Stadium of Fire crowd thought.
In actuality, the 155-by-90-foot flag was not burned that night due to the toxins a nylon flag that size would have emitted, Provo Fire Marshal Lynn Schofield said.
"It would have been impractical to burn it in the stadium," Schofield said. "There is just no way you can burn that kind of a flag in that big of a group of people safely."
Event organizers originally planned for the no-longer-serviceable flag to be burned. But after talking to the fire marshal a few months ago, Stadium of Fire executive producer Brad Pelo said organizers realized that would not be possible in any type of container. After discussing other ways they could retire the flag, organizers did what they thought was most appropriate, Pelo said.
"We were not about deceiving people that night," he said. "We were about memorializing the flag. At no time did we repeat anything that would have implicitly said we were burning the flag."
During the ceremony, the flag was put into a large, cauldron-like container, then flames appeared on its top. Many people teared up, including event emcee Glenn Beck, who emphasized to the audience what a special ceremony they were witnessing.
"If our American flag could speak, oh, the stories she would tell," Beck said with emotion in his voice. "Long may Old Glory wave."
Stadium of Fire attendee Michael Larsen, 18, said the fake burning of the flag "seems a little bit underhanded."
"I was pretty sure that they didn't retire it right," Larsen said. "I don't know why they put on a charade like that."
Teresa Gashler, 21, also watched the retirement ceremony and said she thought the flag was being burned. The fact that it wasn't actually burned "doesn't bother me so much," Gashler said.
"I'm trusting that there was a good reason why they didn't burn it," she said.
Pelo said Stadium of Fire organizers did not intend to deceive, though he acknowledged that most people likely thought the flag was burned.
"We felt, in the spirit and reverence of the moment, that we didn't need to say explicitly that we were not burning the flag," he said. "By dissecting the ceremony, you are going to take away the sacredness."
Schofield said he thought the ceremony was the best part of the night, despite knowing the flag wasn't going to be burned.
"When they marched that flag in from the parking lot, you could have heard a pin drop in that stadium," he said. "It was a very good, patriotic moment. It was probably one of the highlights of the whole program. It had the desired effect."
On Thursday, crews were still cleaning up after the festivities, Pelo said, and he still wasn't sure what they planned to do with the flag.
"I think at this point, we want to leave it alone," he said. "As far as we were concerned, it was retired that night."
E-MAIL: [email protected]