Y’all can call off the dogs now, Jekyll Island. The search is over. We have your flag.
Oh, don’t worry — it is the real deal, all right. A field of blue that frames an emblematic shield emblazoned with seashell and cotton ball, underneath which on a flourish of ribbon is written the standard’s allegiance: “Jekyll Island.”
Yes, we at The News have in our possession the answer to a 44-year-old riddle, although it was not wrapped in a mystery, or inside an enigma. But the 1970s-era Jekyll Island flag did come folded inside a ziplock baggie. It arrived in the mail, addressed to the Atlanta home of Keehln Wheeler. Keehln (pronounced Kee-len) was puzzled, bewildered even.
Well, he did spend his teenage years living in Brunswick. And he did attend the Glynn Academy senior prom, which took place on Jekyll Island the year he graduated, 1979. His mom, Star Wheeler, taught history and archaeology at Glynn Academy; his father, retired Air Force fighter pilot Duke Wheeler, owned Golden Isles Sports for a time in downtown Brunswick. The Wheelers vacationed regularly on St. Simons Island long before Duke retired from the Air Force and settled the family here in Brunswick in 1976.
So, Wheeler family roots run deep in the Golden Isles. But Keehln’s connections to Jekyll Island are nebulous at best.
“I sort of grew up on St. Simons, been going there since I was 2 years old,” he said. “But I’ve never had any real ties to Jekyll Island.”
Nevertheless, the flag turned up in his mail about five months ago. “My wife went to the mailbox and pulled it out of a ziplock,” Keehln said Thursday. “There was a letter in there.”
The anonymous letter is part apology, part confession, part adventure tale and two parts braggadocio. It raises more questions than answers for Keehln. But the letter’s surreptitious sender knows Keehln, knows his connections to our community and trusts him to do the right thing with Jekyll Island’s long lost flag.
All this time the flag has been tucked away in some nostalgic man’s closet, steamer trunk, man cave or other such hideaway. It seems the banner was the victim of a Georgia Tech fraternity’s initiation prank. Prior to that full moon night so long ago, we are assured the flag flew proudly and prominently on Jekyll Island — a symbol of place and time. Then, an eager band of college freshmen were challenged to show their worth to an undisclosed arrangement of Greek letters that presided on the Georgia Tech campus.
“Dear Mr. Wheeler, Sir,” the letter to Keehln begins. “Sometime in 1975, a few bold GA Tech freshmen pledges were tasked with removing and delivering the official flag of the town of Jekyll Island to the Brothers, among other things.”
Jekyll Island is more accurately a state park, not a town. But never mind. In case you have not guessed yet, the intrepid college lads were fortified with that magic elixir of frat boy derring do, ingenuity and headstrong tenacity. Lots of it, by the tone of the letter.
“It was a clear, full moon night emboldened by beer,” the anonymous letter writer states in the next sentence. The only clue the writer leaks as to his identity is that he was “Captain of the Mission.” It seems a fraternity brother-in-good standing hailed from Jekyll Island, thus the pretext for this besotted operation.
The letter continues in this same reverential vein. “Needless to say, Mr. Wheeler, Sir, these enterprising, tenacious, capable and inspiring young men were up for the task.” Not only did they abscond with the prized flag, these young bandits “displayed incredible in theater creativity and boldness in collecting other significant items of interest ... “ the writer boasts, all these years later.
So, if you’re still puzzled by the disappearance one night back in ‘75 of your pink flamingoes, bird bath or other such easy-picking ornamentals ... well, now you know. The writer assures Keehln the heist was a big deal in its day, thoroughly investigated and vetted by the authorities, and a big buzz in the local news. (No accounts of the Jekyll Island flag theft turned up in a cursory search of The News’ archives.)
“It represents courage, brotherhood, commitment, challenge, risk, reward, secrecy, love, grease, alcohol, darkness, enlightenment, passion, adrenaline, Institutions, stupidity, luck, skill, teamwork, mission, fun, and success!” the writer assures Keehln and, thus, posterity.
Things change, time marches on. Foolhardy young folks grow old and responsible. Belt sizes expand. Marriage, kids, a mortgage or two, ski trips to Vail, heart bypass ... etc. Some time during this past year, a brother from the mission passed on to that Big Frat House in the Sky. Another veteran of the Great Flag Heist brought the stolen treasure to the fallen’s memorial service, presenting it to the Captain of the Mission.
So how did it wind up in Keehln’s mail? He went to Auburn. Ok, he was a Kappa Alpha there, but he has no idea the Greek affiliation of the Tech fraternity in question. Is it a co-worker at his digital networking business? A neighbor? A member of his wine club? It is a mystery, to be sure.
“I know your connection with the area,” the Mission Captain writes. “So it’s now in your capable hands ... We know you will make us proud.”
During a visit to his mom on St. Simons Island earlier this month, Keehln decided it was best to leave the flag in the capable hand of the community’s newspaper of record. “It’s a great letter — it’s a good yarn,” he said. “And I feel responsible for getting the flag back in the right hands.”
Jekyll Island, your long lost flag is now safe with The News. Please contact us.