The Great Flag Caper, which is a nonprofit organization in Irving that is made up of over 300 volunteers, decorated the entire 10.5 miles of MacArthur Blvd with over 40,000 American flags. This is their 30th year to do so, and it has basically become an Irving tradition.
Irving resident Nell Anne Hunt founded The Caper 30 years ago.
“I moved into a new neighborhood, and everybody was so nice, and I thought I'd like to do something nice for them. So, for the Fourth of July, I bought 100 flags and went in a concentric circle around my house and put flags in everyone’s yards. Well, everybody liked it so much. The next year, I did 200 flags and spread out a little further. And then after that, a neighbor said that they wanted to do the whole neighborhood and that they would help. We did the whole neighborhood and then other neighborhoods expressed interest in doing the same thing. It just all started like that, and it just got bigger from there,” Hunt said.
“It got so big that we’ve ended up as a 501c3 organization. We have a wonderful board, and so we get to transform Irving into our ‘hometown of patriotism’ every year. We [plant flags] in any place that anybody wants, but our big effort is up and down the 10.5 miles of MacArthur Blvd, which goes from Grand Prairie to Coppell. Pretty much everybody in Irving is on MacArthur at some point most days.
“[The flags] are a symbol of unity. I had a lady call me one year and she said, ‘I live in an apartment on MacArthur and I'm looking out my window. I don't see South and North Irving. I just see one great American city.’ We’ve had college students go away and they say the thing that they remember the most about their hometown is the Fourth of July, and how it's so gorgeous with all the flags. Irving is such a melting pot, as is this country, which makes it very cosmopolitan. So, every year we put out more flags, and it's kind of like a reunion. We all enjoy seeing each other again.
“We have a party at my house on the 3rd. It is sort of a Norman Rockwell theme, and we have volunteers and their families from all over town as guests. We get to see how the kids have changed over the last year. It’s just wonderful, classic Americana,” said Hunt.
One of the board members, Beca DeLoach has served for 15 years.
“When Nell Anne wanted to expand MacArthur, she called my husband and me to help her with South Irving. We did that, and now we've branched out even more so that there are more people to do the work,” DeLoach said.
“[Volunteers] are getting harder and harder to get because the work is hard. You get really sweaty, and it's so important to hydrate and use spray to keep the mosquitoes away, and on MacArthur, the cars are whizzing by, so we have to be very, very careful.
“We need more workers because the people who have been doing this a long time with Nell Anne are getting old. We need some younger people, but it's difficult to have people with young children on MacArthur. We need some high school and college students, and they can get credit on their community hours sheets. We started our push around the time that school was out. So, we don't always have the opportunity to go into the schools to ask for people to help.
“When you put the flags out, or when you pick them up, it's very flexible. So, it's not like they have to be up at 10 o'clock in the morning. So, people have an opportunity to adjust it to their schedule, which is really good,” said DeLoach.
“Many neighborhoods do the flags on their own since the Great Flag Caper is responsible for the full length of MacArthur Blvd. They get [the flags] from us, usually. The city, through the Community Grant Program, has an offer for neighborhoods to buy flags from us and get reimbursed. It's a wonderful program. So, every year when the city sends out their community grants, there's a page in there or a line that says, ‘Order Flags from the Great Flag Caper.’ And now that we put the two staples in the flags, they last a lot longer. In the beginning, the flags would be on the ground at the end of the day, falling down the stick, and we'd have to go and put tape on them. So, we pay extra to get those two staples.
“The neighborhoods order the flags, and then Nell Anne purchases all flags right from the company in Dallas, and they're all made in the USA. Then people from those neighborhoods go to her house and pick them up.
“Last night, I was at the neighborhood roundtable meeting here at City Hall. I made an announcement about the Great Flag Caper and asked how many of the neighborhoods had used grant money to buy flags, and almost every hand went up. I was so glad. [Irving Community Outreach Coordinator] Tammy Hanson is the one that really pushes that. We really appreciate it.
“We have what we call ‘historic flags.’ These are the flags they have flown before. I have hundreds of them. And my neighborhood association is the one that has a flag repair party. These are for the newer flags that are bad, and we put them in groups of 10 and roll them up and secure them with rubber bands. I usually have [the repair party] in August, and our neighbors love it. We all come together, and you can visit while you're rolling flags,” DeLoach said.
The Irving Museum is featuring the Great Flag Caper as their community exhibit for the first time.
“Nell Anne and the team reached out to us about eight to 10 months ago, and they knew they had an anniversary coming up, and that we do community exhibits, and wondered if we'd be interested in hosting or curating a community exhibition. And we were thrilled to get to partner with them on that,” said Museum Director Jennifer Landry.
“We thought it was a great opportunity to highlight this community event. And so, they brought us all kinds of great pictures and artifacts, and our team curated it into an exhibition.
“If they're still willing to work with us, I think we'll continue this every July. There's no reason not to highlight it every year. We have lots of space for community exhibitions. It's just a great way to celebrate and highlight that this is a uniquely Irving thing that happens. They were so gracious - they decked our property out in flags, too, which is because we're not that far from MacArthur. It is a block away, and this is also where the Fourth of July parade staging happens.
“The first year I was in Irving, the 4th of July weekend rolled around, and I was driving down MacArthur, and I wondered what was going on and who did it. I didn't know it was called The Great Flag Caper. When I found out the name, it was even more awesome to me. What a great name for an event.
“[The exhibit] will be up through at least the end of July, so people have lots of opportunities to come to visit it. On the second Saturday of every month, admission is free,” said Landry.
To learn more about the Great Flag Caper, visit them on Facebook.