Vane Scott’s a flagman. He grew up around them, manufactured them, and now he makes his living entertaining people with stories about them.
And when Scott, wearing a white tunic and a purple sash around his waist, sweeps onto stage to stand in front of a pile of carefully folded flags, it’s clear he isn’t going to give your average civics lesson.
“The people you’re going to hear about, and the incredible things they did, are all based on truth,” Scott says, early in his show The Many Faces of Old Glory. “They not only gave us our flags, they gave us our country.”
For the last 30 years, Scott, 76, of Newcomerstown, Ohio, (pop. 4,039) has been taking flag history out of the textbooks and bringing it to life for elementary schools, Boy Scout troops, social clubs, and civic organizations. He’s presented more than 2,000 shows nationally and averages about 50 a year.
Scott tells the story of America through the many incarnations of its flag, explaining that the nation has had 27 official flags and many more unofficial ones—some with seven-pointed stars, some with blue stripes, and even one with a snake—since the days of the American Revolution.
Scott first got interested in flags when he returned from World War II and worked with his father’s business, Great Scott Displays, putting on victory celebrations for returning soldiers. “My dad was patriotic, and we decorated with a lot of flags,” Scott says. “So I started studying about them.”
When Scott’s parents died in the late 1950s, he and his wife, Barbara, took over the business, and in 1968 they started their own flag manufacturing company in Coshocton, Ohio. “We started with two ladies and six old beat-up sewing machines,” Scott recalls. “And we learned how to make the flag.”
Soon, they were turning out thousands of flags a year, including some large-scale banners that flew over the nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C., and at Super Bowl games.
In addition to his interest in flags, Scott always has had an affinity for the stage. When he was a boy, he met many famous vaudeville performers through his parents, and while in the Navy he entertained other soldiers by singing Frank Sinatra tunes on the deck of the USS Radford. In 1970, Scott began performing The Many Faces of Old Glory show, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“He’s both entertaining and educational,” says David L. Zartman, a professor at Ohio State University in Columbus. “It’s information that very few of us actually get, at least not so well packaged.”
Zartman was so inspired by a Scott performance a few years ago that he renovated a flagpole outside his office and adorned it with an American flag, which he now raises and lowers each day.
Scott is used to that kind of response; the flag man hears similar stories everywhere he goes. “The audience reaction convinces me that there are still a lot of people out there who love America,” he says.
And, it appears, plenty who adore the Stars and Stripes.