GREENVILLE — In addition to exhibits focusing on Annie Oakley, the Treaty of Greene Ville, and other aspects of local history, Garst Museum holds a number of items of international, as well as local, significance.
The Tower of David Museum in Israel recently unveiled an exhibit commemorating the surrender of Jerusalem to the British Empire on December 9, 1917. Before that point, the city had been occupied by forces of the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) for 400 years. A portion of the white flag used by surrendering Ottoman Turks is housed at Garst Museum.
The flag is part of an exhibit at Garst focusing on Darke County native and news reporter Lowell Thomas, and reportedly started life as part of a sheet hastily torn from a hospital bed.
“This flag represents probably the most significant and historic artifact in this museum for what it represents to world history,” Garst president and CEO Dr. Clay Johnson told the Dayton-based newspaper The Jewish Observer earlier this year.
And the flag is not the only artifact held by Garst that bears a connection to that historic day.
“In the museum’s basement, there are lots of unknown films and recordings,” Johnson said. “I’ve been slowly digitizing them to see what is there. Most are not that exciting. However, in one 1968 film reel, I found Lowell Thomas narrating about the events surrounding the 1917 Jerusalem surrender flag.”
Johnson took the find to Bryan Geis at Geis Audio/Video on Third St in Greenville, who digitized the film.
It was while embedded with the British Army in the Middle East in 1917 that Thomas would witness the events surrounding the Battle of Jerusalem, events he would later narrate in the film found by Dr. Johnson in the Garst House’s basement. Thomas also received a 35-by-37-inch portion of the surrender flag, which he donated, along with other artifacts, to Garst in 1966.
The Garst Museum loaned its portion of the surrender flag to the Imperial War Museum in London for an exhibit on Lawrence of Arabia over a decade ago. The flag was renovated and restored by workers at the British museum as part of that agreement.
Curators of the new Tower of David exhibit in Jerusalem asked to borrow the flag earlier this year, but instead, Johnson provided high-definition images of the flag for the exhibit.
The flag, according to Johnson, represents a key to the origins of the modern-day Middle East, as the haphazard drawing of borders in the region by the British, without regard to potential conflicts cropping up along racial and religious lines, is what many have blamed for the increasing strife in the Middle East that has been raging ever since.
“It could be argued that they didn’t take into account any of the cultural significance of where the borders were drawn,” Johnson said.
Nancy Stump, a librarian and researcher at Garst, said she was happy to see the media taking notice of the flag.
“We’ve got something here that no one else in the world knows we have,” Stump said.
Now they will.
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