Patriotism on Display

May 24, 2019

CHELMSFORD — “From excessive to accepted: the saga of the flag garden” could be a potential title for the story of the flag flap that propelled LAER Realty Partners into the national spotlight last year.

CEO Stacey Alcorn and Partner Agent Jon Crandall certainly didn’t expect to find themselves on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” talking about it, nor did they expect people around the country would accuse the town of Chelmsford of being “anti-American” over such a silly situation.

“I don’t think any of us could have imagined it would go so crazy,” Alcorn said Thursday, reflecting on the experience.

It all started with about 200 flags that Crandall and his then-11-year-old daughter, Shannon, planted on the triangular patch of land in front of the real estate company’s Chelmsford Street location just ahead of Memorial Day last May.

It was something LAER Realty had done for several years without consequence. But in 2018, then-Building Commissioner Mark Dupell decided the amount of flags was “excessive” for a commercial property and informed LAER it was in violation of a town signage ordinance.

“We were really just paying respect, in our opinion, to the soldiers and to our great country,” Alcorn said. “So we posted it on Facebook, not realizing that it would just go viral.”

What ensued was an immediate firestorm of comments from people in Chelmsford and around the country, upset the town would ask the company to take the flags down, she said.

The LAER phones rang off the hook for days. Crandall still has a folder containing the thousands of cards, letters and emails they received, as well as copies of all the media stories about it.

Town officials, for their part, quickly backed off from the violation and LAER was never fined for it. Town Manager Paul Cohen said at the time that it was never the intent of the bylaw to be unpatriotic, and Town Meeting later voted to change it so there would be no restrictions on American flags.

Crandall said LAER meant no harm to the town, and regrets the backlash of people bashing Chelmsford for being “anti-American.”

“It’s just not true,” he said. “The town is very patriotic.”

People from near and far supported LAER by adding more and more flags, first up to 700, then 800, then nearly 1,000, Crandall said. When the company replanted the flag garden last Friday, it numbered 1,000, he said.

A whole row of flags bear tags with the names of local soldiers, both currently serving and those who have died. Alcorn said LAER raised about $3,000 for Massachusetts Fallen Heroes selling flags for this effort. Crandall said he hopes they can eventually add a tag to each flag.

He said people stop by all the time to look at the flags and pay their respects, whether they’re area residents with children or strangers just driving through.

For Crandall, the most meaningful visit so far this year was from a local veteran with advanced cancer. Unable to visit the flag garden last year, the man recently came by to thank them for standing up for the flag, country and veterans, he said.

The flags will stay up through July 4. On July 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., LAER will hold a flag removal event and cookout that is open to the public.

Anyone interested in donating a flag with a tag bearing a loved one’s name can go to any LAER location during business hours or email Crandall at jcrandall@laerrealty.com .

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