The Legend of Tommy O’Toole

The Legend of Tommy O’Toole, Original Oil Painting

   About the original posters:  Some few remain with me, maybe 40-50.  I won’t likely print more, so they’re all ‘first run’. They are $35 each, plus $10 for handling and shipping.

Email to if you would like to buy 

 The Legend of Tommy O’Toole Poster.

They are 18 1/2″ by 24 1/2″, in full color. I will be delighted to sign it to you or a friend, and mail it next business day mail.

Send $45 in your check or money order to

Barbara Sparhawk, The Hawks Perch, P O Box 1695, Carmel Valley, California 93924


AND, the original large and dramatic oil painting is available for sale.

Please email me if you are interested in purchasing the original.

Not My Flag, Painting and Poster

The Poster Shown in Front of the Original (LARGE) Oil Painting

Poster,Not My FlagTHE STORY BEHIND THE PAINTING:  Tommy O’Toole was a NY State Supreme Court Officer, on duty in downtown Brooklyn. He had just returned to work following his recovery from heart surgery, on the very day the Supreme Court (federal) okayed the burning of the American Flag as freedom of speech.

Sgt. O’Toole heard some early morning commotion across the plazas of the court building complex. He was in his 3rd floor office and stopped what he was doing, stood up at the window, and watched. A large American flag was being unfurled in one of the plazas several hundred feet away. A noisy group of people were speachifying, then one took out a book of matches and set the flag on fire.

O’Toole was (if past tense is possible) an ex-Marine and didn’t like what he saw. “That’s not happening on my watch!” he said, and headed out…down 3 flights of stairs and across the broad open expanses in front of the court buildings until he reached the crowd. Someone had alerted the press, dozens of NY newspapers and tv camera crews jockeyed for position.

He pushed his way through, grabbed the flag from the flag-burners, put out the flames with his bare hands. Great uproar from that, and a trip by ambulance for the wounded O’Toole, third degree burns on his hands. And remember, one day back at work after open heart surgery. What a guy.

The event made the front page of the NY Daily News. I called Sgt.O’Toole’s office the next day and said I hoped he hadn’t gotten in trouble, and thanked him for his courage in the face of politically corrected court systems, even one he was part of. I tore off the front page and the two more pages inside with the rest of the story and pinned it to my easel, in my studio, in downtown Brooklyn. I was later to discover that in the weeks that followed, not only was Tommy O’Toole hailed as a hero locally but received thank yous to the tune of 10,000 letters from all over the world.

Several months later I started a painting of this powerful historic moment, using the Daily News photographs for reference. Many studio visitors saw it and were moved by it. Over the next months working on the painting, I tried to reach Sgt. O’Toole who was a very modest, shy Marine indeed, to let him know what I was doing. I also wanted to ask him to pose as the newspaper photo was tiny. I wanted to make it a real portrait showing O’Toole. I only got Tommy O’Toole on the phone once. He said he wasn’t any kind of hero, the real heroes had died for that American flag, and no, he didn’t want to pose and wished me luck.

Encouraged by the response to my original painting, I decided to make posters. Months had passed. I left a message at Tommy O’Toole’s office which was this: Please tell him the painting is done, and I’m making a poster. I’m calling it The Legend of Tommy O’Toole. If he doesn’t like the idea he better he call me within seven days, it’s heading for the printer after that and the title will include his name.

I never heard back from him. The poster was printed, and they’ve been exhibited, sold, and sent all over the world.

I had done a series of law enforcement related paintings while my heels were cooling over the intricacies of politics weighing heavily on my efforts to build a memorial to the slain police officers of New York. A lot of tomfoolery was underway, and I wanted to continue to immerse myself in the profession. I eventually did fifteen oil paintings. I was invited to display the paintings, referred to as The Law Enforcement Action Paintings Traveling Exhibit, in the NYC FBI HQ. That was really thrilling, I was very proud. And even more so when two years later I was invited to do the same with those paintings at the FBI Academy in Quantico. Both exhibits ran about four months. I was the only single artist ever displaying work at Quantico, and the posters were sold in the gift shop there. In both cases, The Legend of Tommy O’Toole was the centerpiece.

That lovely, brave, remarkable officer and soldier Tommy O’Toole retired to Florida with his wife and family. He raised about a dozen kids, a handful his own, some adopted. A few years ago Tommy O’Toole passed away. I’ve been in touch with his fabulous family, the children who loved him, his wife and grandkids. We send emails back and forth on special days, and have become friends. One of his sons told me that Tommy O’Toole never did put up a poster or have it framed in his own home. He kept one of a number I sent him rolled up and tucked in the back of the bedroom closet. I’m told that every now and then he’d go in, take it out and look at it, then roll it back up. The grandkids all have copies of their own.

It’s not news, one person can make a big difference in a lot of lives. That spontaneous act of courage displayed by O’Toole on a busy Brooklyn plaza years ago is still touching hundreds of thousands of people. I put the original painting up in the gallery window on July 4’s, and any other time there’s a stir about our flag it’s front and center. The posters have appeared in movies (Stallone’s ‘Copland’), are in hundreds of headquarters and precincts nationally, in private homes, Scotland Yard, judge’s and attorney’s offices, TV show producers offices (Hill St Blues, America’s Most Wanted) and on the walls of some fine Brooklyn bars.

Not My Flag, Painting and Poster

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