Oh, all right, I suppose I'll have a secret identity For years, the official word on the original Flash was that he didn't need to wear a mask because he constantly kept up a state of vibration that blurred his features enough to make them unrecognizable. This never seemed plausible to me, anyway; depending on how automatic vibrating your face could be (would it be like constantly blinking fast every time you're in public?), the Flash was knocked unconscious or gassed or drugged plenty of times in those Golden Age stories, so crooks got a good long look at his mug. (Later, around 1978, Jay Garrick publicly announced his true identity, being semi-retired anyway.The funny part is that, in the early stories following his origin, Jay not only didn't try to conceal his powers as his civilian self, he went out of his way to flaunt them in front of crowds. This sure seems understandable; he was a college student, a young man suddenly given an astonishing gift and how many people of that age would not want to show it off? Actually, how many would think there would be any reason to hide their new abilities?
This is from FLASH COMICS# 6, June 1940. Jay has graduated and spent a few months making headlines fighting crime as the Flash. Although he still performs his super-speed stunts in his regular clothes whenever convenient, he has made red and blue costume with the lightning bolt insignia, as well as the winged helmet of Mercury*, famous. Yet here he is at the pre-Olympic tryouts, using his real name... in front of a packed stadium, with lots of photographers and newsreel cameramen, as well as radio commentators, pulling shenanigans like this. After pulling this, it would be hard to find anyone in the civilized world who didn't know that Jay Garrick had superhuman speed that seems supernatural. This at the same time the Flash is making headlines.
At this time, Jay seems to be known as the Flash to everyone he went to college with, the police and the army. By FLASH COMICS# 17 (May 1941), he is still fooling around by playing baseball against himself out in public. Yet at the end of the story, despite the fact he has just demonstrated his powers at a baseball game (with the Redskins!), doing stuff like running three bases on a bunt. For some reason, he seems to have gotten the idea that a secret identity is good form (maybe hanging out with his pals in the new Justice Society has made him want to be more like them), so he starts claiming that even though he has exceptional speed, he's not as fast as the Flash himself.
Well, maybe. I don't think he fooled anyone. He never seemed determined to keep his secret, and I suppose people just went along with it out of politeness. ("So, you said you'll talk to the Flash, Jay? Right, your friend the Flash, wink wink nudge nudge") Sort of like when you know a friend has a sordid phase in their lives that you just avoid mentioning.
[Scripts by Gardner Fox; art by Harry Lampert, EE Hibbard, and Hal Sharp]
*Actually, I believe Hermes/Mercury actually wore a wide-brimmed cloth hat called a petasus, rather than a metal helmet. Maybe Jay was misled by a bronze statue of the god.