The curator of the US Naval Academy Museum wasn't exactly sure what would be found: Records indicated five display boxes long used to exhibit captured British flags from the War of 1812 actually concealed more banners underneath. But not until all 61 banners were painstakingly removed in December for a conservation effort did curator Charles Swift actually see what was hidden. He was gratified to learn conservationists had uncovered dozens of other flags, many captured by the Navy in other conflicts of the 19th century, per the AP. The 46 newly discovered flags—including banners from battles in Asia and from the Spanish-American War—had originally been put on display in 1913. But seven years later, they were covered up by the 15 flags from the War of 1812 and sealed up for nearly a century. No one alive had seen the flags long hidden from view.
"The colors ... is what struck me immediately," Swift says. "It was sort of dark, but you could see the ... vibrant colors of them having not been in light for 100 years, and so it was exciting." The flags, covered by the others in boxes with large plate-glass lids, speak to an earlier era of US intervention overseas. They include one taken from a Chinese pirate fort off Macau dating to 1854 and another captured in Korea in 1871, per Swift. There were even some replicas of Revolutionary War-era flags among them. In 1849, then-President James Polk designated the Annapolis, Md., academy as the repository of flags captured in battle by the Navy. The museum is now home to about 800 flags.