With Flag Day approaching, a shame flies in Philadelphia

Worn-out American flags atop 2100 Parkway Apartments.
Worn-out American flags atop 2100 Parkway Apartments. (VIVIANA PERNOT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 13, 2014

Lorie Surnitsky's husband likes to call her the flag police.

She wouldn't go that far. But at 74, she's someone who still takes the time to look up at a flag and remember what it stands for.

Two American flags in particular are hurting her sense of national pride. They fly on the 2100 Parkway Apartments on 21st and Winter Streets - a gateway, she says, to the historic city.

And they're torn and tattered, barely recognizable, more like tissue paper than the Stars and Stripes.

"I really think of the flags as wounded," said Surnitsky, who teaches nearby at Moore College of Art and Design. "When you show them that way, they're wounded."

So Surnitsky began her crusade to save the two pennants. She's campaigned once before for flags on that building. In 2011 it took her several calls to Veterans of Foreign Wars offices and then a plea to Councilman Darrell L. Clarke before the flags were replaced.

She's been trying to call attention to their replacements since February. With Flag Day just two days away, the torn and tattered banners still fly, halfheartedly at best, above the former administration building of the School District of Philadelphia.

This winter, when she noticed the condition of the flags, Surnitsky wrote to Mayor Nutter's office. She called PMC Property Group, which owns the building. She sent letters to the editor and left materials at TV news outlets, some of which offered to interview her. She declined; she's camera shy.

Instead, she started drawing, to express what the damaged flags meant to her. So she sketched a torn and twisted flag, dripping blood. To her, the blood represented all of the soldiers wounded and killed defending this country and that symbol.

As the months passed, she hoped the flags would be replaced at least by Memorial Day. But they weren't.

She's troubled by the thought that she alone bothers to notice them.

"We've got a world where nobody looks up anymore," Surnitsky said. "Everybody's busy on cellphones, they're busy on their iPads.

"I'm 74 years old," she said. "I'm fairly patriotic, because that's what was ingrained in us."

It doesn't appear ingrained in everyone. On a visit to the building to drop off materials, Surnitsky saw a young, professional-looking man walking his dog. She asked if he lived there and he said yes. She then asked if he had noticed the flags and their poor condition. He said he had no idea the flags were even there.

"With that I walked . . . away and said, 'This is not my world anymore,' " Surnitsky said.

One day this month, she opened a letter from Nutter's office. He thanked her for the "informative letter" and said his office would be in touch with the building and have the flags replaced.

As of Wednesday, the flags were still flying, or something close to flying.

Surnitsky said she hoped they would be replaced. But for the flag police, this fight is done.

"Will I continue? No. And that's the sad part. I really will not continue," she said.

"It ended with that mayor's letter saying they would call the owner, and that guy walking out who didn't even know the flag was there."




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