ST. JOHNS – The owners of a massive Civil War-era mansion turned bed and breakfast have removed a Norwegian flag that’s hung outside its main entrance for two years because they say too many people have mistaken it for the Confederate flag and confronted them about it.
Greg and Kjersten Offenbecker, owners of The Nordic Pineapple, hung the flag of Norway on a front pillar of the South Oakland Street property, opposite the American flag, just after they moved in in 2018.
Before it was a nearly 9,000-square-foot bed and breakfast the house was a local landmark. It was built in 1861 by Oliver Spaulding, a brevetted brigadier Union general and attorney. Spaulding served as a regent of the University of Michigan for six years, was a U.S. Congressman and a former Michigan Secretary of State.
Displaying Norway’s flag, red with a blue cross superimposed on a white cross, is a nod to Kjersten Offenbecker’s Scandinavian heritage. Her grandfather was born in Norway and the bed and breakfast’s name is, in part, inspired by her family history.
The couple said it never occurred to them that people would mistake the Norwegian flag as anything else, but last week, after they received the latest in what Kjersten Offenbecker called “at least a dozen hateful emails,” and twice as many comments they took the flag down.
Kjersten Offenbecker still remembers the first time she heard that someone thought they were flying a Confederate flag on the front of their bed and breakfast.
The couple, still new in town, was visiting a shop in the city’s downtown when the owner told them a customer had mentioned their bed and breakfast to him.
“I was so happy at first,” Kjersten Offenbecker said. Then he told her the customer thought we were flying the Confederate flag out front.
“We were panicked initially because we were like, ‘Oh my Gosh. This town thinks that we’re hanging the Confederate flag.”
While the Norwegian flag contains the same colors as a Confederate flag, the patterns and symbols on each are different. The Norwegian flag is red with a blue cross that’s outlined in white. The latter displays a blue x with white stars on a red background.
“I don’t see it because I grew up with the Norwegian Flag,” Kjersten Offenbecker said “To me they are two distinct flags.”
“It bugs me as far as the stupidity of people,” Greg Offenbecker said. “Even if the flag is blowing in the wind or laying limp, there are no stars on it. They look nothing alike.”
Over the last two years the couple responded to concerns about the flag at the front of their property with a simple explanation of what they were actually hanging on the house.
“Can you look again?” Kjersten Offenbecker usually asks them.
Then she sometimes explains that the implication they would display what many people recognize as a racist symbol couldn’t be further from the truth.
Two of the Offenbecker’s children, ages 12 and 15, are Black. The couple said they’ve done their best to help both of them navigate the reality of racism in America and the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis.
“It’s more than this one instance for Black people,” Kjersten Offenbecker said. “It’s not just this one person. This was the straw that broke the proverbial back.”
Their children experienced racism at a school district they attended on the west side of
the state, she said, but so far their experience at St. Johns Public Schools has been positive.
“Having experienced that before and moving to a small conservative town in the middle of Michigan and have that not be an issue has been wonderful,” Kjersten Offenbecker said.
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People have asked the couple to remove the flag, confronting them directly and online. The Offenbeckers have never been threatened, but they have been accused of promoting racism.
The latest person to email the Of…