Old Glory kept perpetual shine

MARK MUCKENFUSS

Thomas J. Fleming had an appreciation for the dramatic.

In 1917, the manager and major stockholder in California Portland Cement Co. was traveling on the East Coast when he witnessed a lighted American Flag waving in the night sky.

Fleming would have to have been either at the gravesite of Francis Scott Key or the Capitol. Those were the only two places at the time allowed to fly the flag after sunset.

So impressed was he by the sight, Fleming requested permission from Congress to fly a flag at night at a spot that might not be considered quite as historically, or culturally, important. He wanted to plant his flag on top of Slover Mountain, the very mountain his cement company was in the process of whittling away.

Congress said yes, and for awhile the 15-by-25-foot flag hoisted up a 90-foot pole on July Fourth that same year was one of only three flags in the country allowed to fly at night.

Although a flag still flies around the clock on what's left of Slover Mountain, the peak supporting the flag is a mere fraction of the mountain's original height.

It was, at one time, more than 700 feet high and the tallest hill in the San Bernardino Valley. Local American Indian tribes had named it Tahualtapa, which meant raven hill. Early Spanish settlers called it Cerrito Solo, or little solitary hill.

In 1843, Isaac Slover, a well-known trapper and hunter who had traveled with Kit Carson, showed up and made his home on the south side of the mountain. Slover, who was in his late 70s and still an active hunter renowned for killing grizzlies, went after a bear in Cajon Pass. This time, however, the grizzly got the better of Slover. He was mortally wounded before a friend could kill the attacking bear.

That was in 1854. By 1861, marble was being quarried at the base of the mountain by the Colton Marble and Lime Co. Marble from the mountain was shipped as far north as San Francisco to help build stylish homes.

The mountain was said to contain a greater variety of materials than any other aboveground site in the country. But most of what was there was limestone, the primary ingredient in the cement that is still being made on site.

By the time the flag went up in 1917, mining had already stripped a good portion of the mountain away.

Outside of observing the nighttime blackouts during World War II, the flag flew night and day on the mountain until 1952, when its presence got in the way of quarry operations.

Gary Thornberry, environmental/plant service manager for California Portland Cement, says the flag didn't go up again until 1987, and then only briefly.

"We put it up for the Colton centennial," Thornberry said. It was unveiled at the end of a July Fourth fireworks show. Unfortunately, he said, "We used some drill steel and the Santa Ana winds bent the pole. It wasn't up for very long.

"I'm one that likes a lot of the history and tradition," he added. "In '97, we thought why not just put that back up? So we did."

Outside of an incident in 1998 when vandals stole the flag, it's been flying day and night ever since.

"It's almost becoming a landmark," he said. "One woman told me that she looks for it when she flies into Ontario, and when she sees it she knows she's close to home."

Published: Monday, November 17, 2008