Vienna accepts flagpole at Johns Manville

VIENNA – The flagpole at the former Johns Manville plant was removed Wednesday and will be kept in storage until it’s permanently mounted elsewhere, the mayor said.

“We’re going to re-erect it somewhere,” Mayor Randy Rapp said. “We just don’t know where.”

The owner of the property, Bob Childers of Structures Resources Inc. of Huntington, offered the mast, “and we accepted,” Rapp said.

The plant is being demolished and the city of Vienna is interested in buying the 15-acre site for a riverfront park overlooking the Ohio River, Rapp said. Negotiations are underway with Childers.

Interest is widespread over the flagpole, Rapp said.

“I’m surprised there’s so many people interested in this old flagpole,” Rapp said.

One of the reasons is local lore has it the pole was on the USS West Virginia, Rapp said.

“It looks like it came off the mast of a big old ship,” Rapp said.

The battleship West Virginia was heavily damaged in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The battleship, which was repaired and received five battle stars, was in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender before it was decommissioned after the war.

The flagpole did not come from the West Virginia, said Councilman Jim Miracle, a history buff and Civil War re-enactor. Miracle researched the issue after Johns Manville closed.

The flagpole from the West Virginia is at West Virginia University, Miracle said.

Bob Enoch of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society agrees. Nothing could be found to tie the flagpole to the West Virginia or any other ship, he said.

“We looked into that pretty deep several years ago,” Enoch said.

Enoch’s theory, of which he has no written substantiation, is the flagpole was built by Spencer K. Creel, a local businessman who died in 1979 at the age of 88. Creel, a World War I veteran and pilot, also was a welder and military enthusiast who would have fabricated the mast, Enoch said.

“But Spencer did that kind of stuff,” Enoch said.

A flagpole similar to the mast at Johns Manville is located near the former Ames plant in south Parkersburg, Enoch said. Nothing ties the two masts or Creel together, however, he said.

Miracle also believes Creel would have constructed the flagpole. The pole was built similar to a mast that would have been on a ship, but Miracle doesn’t know who made it.

“I’ve never been able to determine that,” he said.

Creel served in the U.S. Army during World War I. He was in the House of Delegates and was a chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party.

Creel frequently purchased surplus military equipment, but the flagpole off the West Virginia is at West Virginia University, said Ed Vaughan, son of J.P. Vaughan, the founder of the historical society, who knew Creel. The anti-aircraft gun at the Veterans Memorial at City Park came off the West Virginia and was donated to the city by Creel, Vaughan said.

“I would say there’s a pretty good chance” Creel made the flagpole, Vaughan said. “They did a lot of that kind of stuff.”