Sep 20 2016

Helck Family Collection: The Only Known Existing Vanderbilt Cup Race Flags?

One of the potential treasures of the Helck Family Collection are these two "Vanderbilt Cup Race flags". This fascinating discovery is detailed below.


Howard Kroplick

The two flags were wrapped and marked by Peter Helck as "Vanderbilt Race Flags from George Baylis"."

I was able to contact the Baylis family who live in Melville, New York. The Baylis family can date their Long Island roots back to the 1700s. They informed me that George Baylis owned an automobile battery service business in Huntington in the early 1900s.  Although the Baylis family were not aware of the flags, they do recall photos of the Vanderbilt Cup Races in their family albums. Similar to Peter Helck, George Baylis also had an extensive gun collection. It may be possible that Peter Helck obtained the racing flags as part of a trade.

I contacted Patsy Orlofsky, one of the leading textile restorers in the United States. Patsy informed me that it is impossible to track whether the flags were manufactured in the 1900s. However, given the provenance of the flags, she believes there is a high possibility that the flags are authentic.

Researching the flags of  the Vanderbilt Cup Race confirm that they are the correct  color and size for the 1905 races.

The 1905 Vanderbilt Cup Race and the 1905 American Elimination Trial

The 1905 Vanderbilt Cup Race program guide included one page of "Instructions to Contestants" that described the use of the racing flags.

Every turn and crossroad will be guarded by flagmen, whose "ALL-RIGHT' signal will be a RED FLAG, and whose "DANGER" warning will be a YELLOW FLAG.

A flagman at the East Norwich Turn at Jericho-Oyster Bay Road and North Hempstead Turnpike. George Baylis' home was approximately only seven miles from this section of the 1905 course.

A flagman at work during the 1905 American Elimination Trial. Courtesy of Barbara Russell, Town Historian of Brookhaven.


Sep 21 2016 Joseph Oesterle 4:58 AM

What an amazing and awesome find.  Wow.

Sep 22 2016 Ted 1:23 AM

You’re so right J.O. Leave it to Howard,it never ends

Sep 22 2016 frank femenias 10:36 PM

Very impressive these 100+ year old flags are still intact. Handle with care! Amazing stuff. Thank you Jerry for exposing them. Probably held by the same flagman in the 1905 photo. This will take some doing in research. The time machine is set to go back. Great stuff guys.

Sep 25 2016 Richard Sloan 10:21 AM

If they don’t, the Smithsonian ought to have a display about the races.  Those flags would be a part of such a display.  A vintage race car, some life-sized dummies dressed up as spectators (male and female), incl. a man holding one of those flags, and all of them positioned in front of a huge photo blow-up of spectators watching one of the races with cars going by.  It would look so great.

Sep 25 2016 Richard Sloan 10:29 AM

I Googled my question about the Smithsonian, and they don’t seem to have anything like what I described.  Seems to me that a L.I. museum (VANDERBILT??????!!!!) would be ideal for such an exhibit.

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