Central Campus Flagpole

1898; Steel; Artifact
Central Campus; North end of the Diag

The flagpole was one of the items the university obtained from the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in 1893 in Chicago. A tremendous affair of international importance, the exposition celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World (but opened a year late, hence 1893 not 1892). Other major items that the university acquired from the Expo were the Frieze Memorial Organ, now in Hill Auditorium, and two large murals or lunettes by Gari Melchers, now in the main reading room of Hatcher Library. Early in 1898 the regents authorized spending $375 to purchase the flagpole and it was installed in July 1898. An item in the “Michigan Alumnus” reported: “A flagstaff recently purchased by the Regents of the University of Michigan has been set in place in the center of campus. It consists of a steel tube of 77 feet long, sunk ten feet in the ground, surmounted by a ship’s mast 95 feet long.” For years the rumor persisted that the ship’s mast was from the USS Maine, whose sinking in Havana Harbor ignited the Spanish-American War. However, the USS Maine was sunk in February 1898, while the ship’s mast on the flagpole had been at the Expo in 1893. The USS Maine’s masts are at Arlington (mainmast) and Annapolis (secondary mast). The 146′ flagpole originally sat further into campus, south of its current position and closer to the old general library building. In 1899 an old gun or Spanish Mortar was placed at the base of the flagpole as a memorial to U-M men lost in the Spanish-American War. When the old library was demolished in 1918 to make way for the new Graduate Library, the flagpole was moved to its current position, and the Spanish mortar was relocated as well. The second thumbnail shows the flagpole (with ship’s mast attached) being raised when it was moved in 1918. Sometime in the 1960s, the ship’s mast at the end was replaced with a plain steel tube.