LONDONDERRY - Londonderry's Old Home Days aren't for another several months, but event organizers already know 2013 won't be a "banner year" for the popular event.
This week members of the Old Home Day Committee were told they could no longer drape their 447-inch-long banner over Mammoth Road since the road is part of Route 128, a state-owned byway.
Town Councilor John Farrell said the issue arose last weekend, when fellow Councilor Joe Green called him to ask about hanging a similar banner announcing the townwide spring cleanup, Beautify Londonderry. Farrell encouraged Green to get in touch with acting Fire Chief Darren O'Brien, who in turn contacted the state Department of Transportation.
State officials then informed O'Brien that hanging banners over state roads was against the law. After contacting the town's insurance carrier, Police Chief Bill Hart further confirmed that fact.
Last summer, when another banner was hung in the same spot announcing the Londonderry "Planapalooza" event, issues arose when the banner blew down, creating a potentially dangerous situation for passing motorists.
"(The insurance company) won't accept liability for any accidents caused by the banner, because the banner isn't supposed to be there," Hart said. "So the banners will need to go somewhere else from here on out."
The news was particularly disheartening for Old Home Day Committee chairman Kathy Wagner, who said the current banner has been in use for the past 15 years.
However, Old Home Day banners have stretched across Mammoth Road in front of Lions Hall each summer for decades longer - a beloved precursor to the 114-year-old, five-day festival that's typically attended by upwards of 10,000 people.
"It was just a nice thing, because people would see that banner go up and they'd know Old Home Day would be here soon," Wagner said Wednesday. The banner is woven in local tradition.
"The sign has always been there," said longtime Londonderry resident Reed Clark, who has served on the committee for over two decades. "This is definitely a shame, but we'll just have to find other ways to advertise Old Home Day."
The Old Home Day parade has marched on underneath that banner each year in recent history, and runners from the Old Home Day 5K race across a finish line set up under the banner. Over the years, politicians past and present have marched under the banner, alongside state and town officials, students, scouts and beauty queens.
Last year was a particularly memorable year when President Obama's cavalcade passed under the banner en route to Mack's Apples.
Wagner said she heard the bad news earlier this week, and ever since then she's been brainstorming with committee members to come up with an alternate plan.
"As it stands now, the banner won't be going up across the road this year or ever again," she said. "But maybe we can hang it on the trees, or somewhere on town common. Right now, we just don't know."
This year's Londonderry Old Home Day festivities are set for Aug. 14-18.