Why are the College’s flags sometimes at half-mast? Who is in charge of their stealthy raising and lowering? I sat down with Assistant Director for Custodial Services and Special Functions Dan Levering to talk about these stately questions regarding the flags on Paresky lawn, outside the Facilities Office, at Weston Field and on Cole Field.
The raising and lowering of these flags mark the College community’s commemoration of various important occasions, from personal celebrations to national times of mourning.
Throughout the year, there are specific dates, such as Sept. 11, on which the flags are stationed at half-mast. Levering also receives notifications from several listserves, including American Flag Express and State House Events, which inform him about other reasons that require flags to be lowered. “Most of the time, these events are related to famous or important or political figures,” he explained. Recently, the flag was lowered to pay respect to James Miceli, a former Massachusetts state representative, who passed away on April 21. Notifications that pertain specifically to Massachusetts are sent from Governor Charlie Baker’s office. For nationwide events — such as school shootings or the death of important figures, such as Barbara Bush — the President of the United States needs to declare a presidential proclamation in order for a flag to be lowered.
On campus, the College’s flags are also completely removed during severe weather or high winds. “The Paresky flags are expensive, being as big as they are… That’s an 18-foot flag,” Levering said. “So it looks nice up there, but when you pull it down, it’s huge.”
When Levering receives a notification to lower the College’s flags, he sends out the word to the custodial crew at Paresky who lower the flag on the lawn, the custodian for the Facilities Office for the flag outside of it and the ground’s crew that takes care of the flags across the road at Weston Field. The flags’ status is of interest to flag devotees in the Williamstown community as well, Levering said. “Quite a few folks who are patriotic … contact me about their concerns, or if [the flag] is getting too faded or if there’s a tear,” Levering said. “Many community members are on the listserv of when these flags need to be lowered, so if we’re a moment late, we’ll get an email along the lines of, ‘Hey, did you see the alert?’”
Sometimes, Levering receives spurts of notifications all at once. “This month, we heard about the death of a police officer, two service members and Barbara Bush, so the flag was up and down a lot,” he said.
At other times, the flags are lowered for restoration. For example, because the Paresky flag lies in between the lines of east and west and the “wind blows over the mountain right in between Sage Hall and Paresky,” Levering explained, the flag can be damaged. The flag material, therefore, needs to be durable, and the bigger the flag, the better it is built. Flags on campus are replaced every year, and old flags are “folded according to protocol, and we have an employee take them to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in North Adams [to properly dispose of them].”
Levering recounted fond stories regarding the flags and the College community. A few years ago, a “father of an alum contacted [the College] about his daughter who was going to be married in the next month, and he was wondering if he could get an American flag to be flown over the campus, folded and presented to her as a wedding gift,” he recalled, smiling. Naturally, the College purchased a flag, flew it over the campus for a day, lowered it and returned it to the father.
Flags are symbolic to campus life in other ways as well. The College purchases flags from students’ home countries to fly on Commencement Day. “This year, we are flying 60 flags,” Levering said.
If flag devotees or newly interested students want to learn why the flag is at half-mast, Levering has started sending in Daily Messages with more information on the occasion that has prompted Facilities to lower the College’s flags to half-staff on a given day.