Thank you to those who serve and have served
Written By Leeann Donnelly
A flag containing an array of stars hangs in the Banquet Hall of Biltmore House to honor Biltmore employees who served during World War I. Its 53 stars represent each person – 50 blue stars mark those who returned home, and the three gold stars represent those who died in action.
Today, Nov. 12, 2012, we honor the men and women who have served our country, and those who were and are employed by Biltmore.
Edith Vanderbilt commissioned the flag, known as the Service flag, in 1920. These flags grew in popularity during World War I after Army Captain Robert L. Queissner of the Fifth Ohio Infantry designed and patented a flag to honor his two sons serving on the front line.
In 2005, Biltmore’s Museum Services team had a reproduction of the flag made, which had hung in the Banquet Hall for more than 80 years. It had deteriorated over time and eventually it could no longer support its own weight.
For many years, we knew that one of the blue stars represented Herbert Noble, an English butler who worked in Biltmore House. In 1930, journalist Louis Graves wrote:
“Herbert Noble had been employed at the Vanderbilt home before the war; he had begged to be released to go to England and enlist; and he had come back to America with his ribbon, his wounds, and his memories of the great adventure, and had found his old job waiting for him.”
Herbert’s star was the only one to which we could attach a name. Until last week, that is.
The Museum Services team recently discovered new information about the Service flag through ongoing cataloging and research of the many thousands of documents in the Biltmore Archives. Within these documents exists the elusive list of 52 employees – 49 men and 3 women – who are remembered by these stars. Not all worked at the estate, but some worked at Biltmore Estate Industries and Biltmore Hospital as well. Just like Herbert Noble, many of those who returned to the U.S. after the war went back to their jobs, as Edith Vanderbilt made sure their jobs would be waiting for them when they got home. The identity of the 53rd star, a gold one that is not on the list and presumably added later, is still a mystery.
So now the process of researching the names, positions and stories of those on the list begins.
Biltmore House hosts share the flag’s history with our guests every day, noting that the names have never been known or confirmed. It’s exciting to think that now they’ll be able to share this new discovery with our guests.