Obscura Day 2017! Join our global celebration of exploration and discovery.
May 6

Washington, D.C.

Capitol Flag Elevator

The Flag Office elevator goes up and down, flying American flags in bulk "over the U.S. Capitol." 

United States Congressional offices proudly offer their constituents the opportunity to purchase flags that have been “flown over the U.S. Capitol.” The Flag Office dedicated to this service bills itself as a way to recognize significant life events like birthdays or anniversaries, and if you’re visiting Washington, D.C. you might look up at the stars and stripes flapping above the Capitol building dome and assume it’s been dedicated to a proud citizen somewhere in the nation. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

The reality of the flag program is a little less glamorous. The Flag Office is located in an underground office inside the Capitol’s terrace. This office connects to the surface by a special elevator that permits the bulk flying of flags with machine-like efficiency on 3  small flagpoles located on the West front roof of the Capitol building. The flag goes up, the flag goes down; it has now been flown over the Capitol. They fly for a few seconds on one of 3 small unceremonious poles, located on the West front roof of the Capitol.  Staffers and interns can sit outside the Republican cloakroom and watch the elevator running up and down in the afternoon.

Once it has been flown over the Capitol (technically each is flown over the U.S. Capitol building) the veracity of each flag is documented with a “keepsake Certificate of Authenticity by the Architect of the Capitol.” Many of these flags are no doubt treasured by combat veterans, Cub Scout groups and union halls across the nation. The flag elevator, was installed, due to the incredibly large number of flags that are requested to be flown, each day. After 9/11/01, the number of flags requested to be flown, on a particular, special day, increased enormously. So much so that, the flags were no longer free, but instead, had to be purchased by the party making the request. Once the flags are removed from the elevator, a special hoist system lifts the flags to the roof, where the 3 special, smaller, flag poles are located. 

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