When Jeanne Gallagher of Timonium went to bed Saturday night, the large American flag that had been flying in her front yard since Sept. 11 was safely on its pole, illuminated by a spotlight.
But when her family left the house for church the next morning, the flag was gone.
"We just felt very sad," says Gallagher.
The 4-by-7-foot flag was given to her in 1970 by the American Legion for the funeral of her father, Harold Leyden, a brick mason from West New York, N.J., who served in the Navy in World War I.
After moving to the 300 block of Jody Way 20 years ago, Gallagher displayed the flag a few times, on Flag Day or Fourth of July. But the events of Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan inspired her to fly it around the clock from a bracket on a tree in her yard.
"It's a symbol of our patriotism and how I think our entire country feels," says Gallagher, 73, who lives with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.
"We really couldn't believe anyone would [take it] at a time like this," she says.
Gallagher's house sits near a street corner. The location, the spotlight and the size of the flag made the display a neighborhood landmark. "The flag was beautiful and kind of a beacon for our whole street," says Mary Bonner, a neighbor. "It was kind of exciting for my children to see that example of pride and patriotism. ... I really can't even imagine who would take it."
"I thought it was an inspiration," says Lauretta Trimmer, who lives across the street from Gallagher. "I loved seeing it and I think the neighborhood did too."
Trimmer has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years and considers it a quiet and safe place. "It's shocking," she says of the theft.
No other thefts of American flags have been reported in Baltimore County since September, according to county police. But at least two major flag thefts have been reported in the Baltimore area in that time. In September, 23 flags were stolen from houses in Baltimore's Little Italy. In October, 25 flags were vandalized in Abingdon, Harford County.
Baltimore County police say anyone with information should call the Cockeysville precinct, 410-887-1820.
Gallagher says she has a large flag from the funeral of her husband, Frank, who served in the Navy during World War II. But she will not fly that one. "I won't take the chance," she says.