Shining a light on Old Glory
Eastern Parkway flag a beacon 24/7 for nearly three decades
SCHENECTADY Evening falls. And light shines on the front porch of the Harris residence at 2116 Eastern Parkway.
The illumination isn’t for Barby and Stanley Harris, who live upstairs in the two-family house between Livingston and Parkside avenues. The lumens are for the American flag, which Harris has kept in an overnight spotlight on Eastern for nearly 30 years.
“I have no idea, it just happened,” Barby Harris said, sitting on a wicker loveseat with her Yorkshire terrier Simmi and explaining the custom. “I’m very loyal to my country, I love the red, white and blue.”
The Harrises will be honored for their devotion this morning at 11 a.m. during Memorial Day services at Veterans’ Park in Schenectady. They will receive the American Legion Department of New York’s Red, White and Blue Award, an appreciation for treating the flag with care and respect.
The 3-by-5-foot nylon flag is attached to a metal holder fastened to a first-floor window. The spotlight, on a timer, comes on shortly before dusk. The light stays on until around 6 a.m. On breezy nights, wind chimes offer random music.
The flag has moved around the house — some years it has hung off the porch front rail, other years it has waved from a front pillar. Barby Harris likes the current location; the flag is sheltered, so there’s less wear and tear.
“I don’t like it when people don’t replace their flags, when they’re shredded by the weather,” said Harris, a former cytotechnologist, who added she also used a night light on her flag when she lived on Norwood Avenue.
She believes people who fly their flags day and night should follow the rules. And, according to the American Legion, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during hours of darkness. The Legion prefers “proper illumination” as a light specifically trained on the flag. A light source sufficient to illuminate the flag — so it is recognizable by casual observers — is also permitted.
Harris, 68, is glad to fly her flag, and is glad when others bring out their colors. “I’m happy when I see the flag flying on appropriate holidays,” she said. “That doesn’t happen all the time.”
She won’t fly her flag on one holiday, Halloween. A few years ago, a prankster spray-painted the Harris flag. “I was furious, devastated and hurt,” Harris said. “We just take it down on Halloween.”
Stanley Harris, 70, a former science teacher in the Schenectady City School District and owner of Harris Realty, lets his wife make the flag decisions. “I help her with whatever she tells me to do,” he said.
Barbara Kerr, executive secretary for the American Legion Department of New York, lives on the first floor. She has several family members in the armed services, so a flag visible during both daytime and evening hours is fine with her.
“It’s kind of nice when I come home from working late and see that,” Kerr said. “It just reminds me what all my kids are doing and what they’ve been asked to do.”
“It’s nice to have it lit that way,” Kerr added. “I think it’s really important. People seem to have forgotten we still have service members in harm’s way.”
Barby Harris said some neighbors have given their friends directions for the neighborhood by mentioning the all-night and all-bright flag. The Memorial Day award will be nice, but Harris said she prefers to stay out of the limelight.
“I like to do things without being recognized,” she said. “This is our homeland, we’re free. As much as we may complain about the government ... if we’re going to live here, I think it’s important to especially support our vets.”
In addition to the Veterans’ Park service, other local Memorial Day gatherings include:
u The annual Albany Memorial Day parade, which will begin at 9:30 a.m. Personnel will begin marching at Partridge Street and Central Avenue and proceed east on Central to Washington Avenue to North Hawk Street. A ceremony honoring veterans will follow on the west side of the state Capitol. The grand marshal will be Col. John Edwards, a Niskayuna resident and an Army veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
u Watervliet’s parade will begin at 10 a.m. at 12th Avenue and 19th Street, proceed down 19th Street to 2nd Avenue and then to Memorial Park.
u Bolton Landing’s Memorial Day Parade will begin at 10 a.m. at Rogers Park. It will proceed to Veterans’ Memorial Park.
u Halfmoon’s annual ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. at the American Legion Pavilion, 275 Grooms Road. A color guard, rifle salute and playing of “Taps” will highlight proceedings.
u The 53rd annual Rotterdam Memorial Day service will be held at 2:15 p.m. at the Town Hall Monument. Angelo Santabarbara, commander of Rotterdam AMVETS Post 35, will address the crowd.
u The USS Slater, a restored destroyer escort ship that served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, will be open to the public for guided tours during the day. A brief ceremony to commemorate Memorial Day will be held at 8:30 a.m. today.
The ship is located on the Hudson River in downtown Albany, just south of the Dunn Memorial Bridge. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for children.