'Ingenious' reel device will help hang massive American flag from Mackinac Bridge

Posted at 4:17 PM, Jul 02, 2019

The Mackinac Bridge has been hanging a massive American flag during the summer holidays for the past few years, but a new system will help display the flag much easier.

Mackinac Bridge Authority Maintenance Supervisor Ned McLennan has led the effort to hang the 30-foot tall by 60-foot long flag from the north tower. Originally, hanging the flag required stopping traffic and about 12 staffers to unroll it as it was hoisted, and removing it took about the same time and effort.

It hangs during Memorial Day, Flag Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Patriots Day and Veterans Day.

Now, most of the work is expected to be done "with an ingenious new reel," which was designed and built by the authority.

“Our previous MBA Chairman Bill Gnodtke said to me one day, ‘Too bad we couldn’t make a device that could lower and raise the flag,'” McLennan said. “I thought, ‘I think we can.'”

McLennan and his staff began looking for a way to store the flag similar to a roll-up window curtain, and lower it using a remote, making it safer for staff and requiring only one person and not stopping traffic.

The device is about 36-feet long and 5-feet in diameter, and it stores the flag and protects it from the elements when not in use. McLennan found that rolling large flags for storage is acceptable by flag etiquette standards.

Crews worked on the device over the past two years, fitting it in between bridge maintenance during the year.

“Although we love doing it, the bridge work comes first,” McLennan said. “The hardest part of it has been trying to think of all the potential problems and develop solutions. From installation to operation we have brainstormed many times to try and think of everything.”

McLennan's mother, Patti, also helped reinforce the bottom of the flag on her own time. She's a seamstress.

The staff then painted the device to match the bridge towers, and installation took several days of calm weather.