Story by Roger Moore
A Wisconsin schoolteacher originated a holiday celebrating the American flag’s birthday in 1885. The observance reached New York City and Philadelphia four years later. In 1894, the Governor of New York directed that on June 14 the American flag be displayed on all public buildings; that same year in Chicago a gathering of 300,000 schoolchildren celebrated in various parks. Local and state celebrations continued for three decades before President Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation established Flag Day in 1916. In 1949, President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress establishing National Flag Day, thus making it official a half century after the idea to commemorate the adoption of the flag of the United States.
The National Flag Day Foundation’s mission is to carry on the tradition of the first flag day observance of 14 June 1885 when Bernard J. Cigrand, a 19-year-old teacher placed a 10-inch, 38-star flag in a bottle on his desk and assigned his students essays on the flag and its significance.
In honor of Flag Day, it is appropriate to revisit the history of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” In September of 1814 Baltimore’s Fort McHenry raised a large flag to celebrate a military victory over British forces during the War of 1812. That flag came to Fort McHenry after a request by Major George Armistead to Mary Pickersgill. Armistead, newly installed as commander, wanted an enormous banner to communicate to British forces that the fort was occupied and ready to defend itself if necessary. The flag cost of $405.90 and was delivered 19 August 1813 along with a smaller version ($168.54) for inclement weather. One year later, the sight of a tattered flag and the harrowing moments of a war-weary garrison inspired Francis Scott Key to write the United States’ national anthem, possibly the most repeated words in American history.
Armistead died four years after his memorable victory and the original flag went to his widow, Louisa Hughes Armistead, who, occasionally, leant it out for patriotic-themed celebrations. Louisa Armistead died in 1861, leaving the flag to her daughter Georgiana Armistead. By 1873, the flag was in bad shape because many of those who borrowed it, removed small pieces as souvenirs. Next in line of ownership was Eben Appleton, son of Georgiana. He sent the flag to Washington D.C. in 1907 where the Smithsonian Institution started the process of trying to save one of this country’s greatest relics. It now sits prominently in a sealed and pressurized chamber in a state of the art exhibit gallery. Trying to explain what the United States flag means, along with everything surrounding its history, is no easy task. Many of the U.S.’s most iconic photographs include, or are centered around its flag.
Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of six U.S. Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima in February 1945.
Three New York City firefighters raise a flag at the site of the World Trade Center after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin plants Old Glory on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
The flag’s powerful imagery has and is also continually used to bring light to social and political issues. During medal ceremonies at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, track and field athletes raised a fist in solidarity as the American anthem played and the Stars and Stripes was raised in the stadium. Since the 1970s, television images have shown the U.S. flag burned abroad in protest. Although not a direct attack on the United States, that burning holds much larger meaning for those involved. It remains legal to burn a U.S. flag. The Supreme Court holds that the right to do so is protected free speech by the First Amendment. The physical act of burning the flag raises passions possibly like no other symbol, past or present.
The Stars and Stripes, one would imagine, is the most recognizable flag in North America. But, the red, white, and blue is not the only recognizable flag around these parts. Today the flag of Oklahoma State University has come to represent not only the university but also the community.
The state of Oklahoma originally adopted a flag in 1911 modeled after the red, white, and blue of the Stars and Stripes, but with a white star centered on a field of red with the number “46” inside the star – Oklahoma was the 46th state in 1907. That flag flew from 1911 to 1925, but due in part to the 1917 Russian Revolution, many felt the state flag too closely resembled symbols associated with Communism. A contest to create a new flag was held in 1924. Mrs. George Fluke’s design was chosen and officially adopted in 1925. The flag displays an Osage warrior’s shield made from buffalo hide with seven eagle feathers hanging from a lower edge of the shield.
With eighty buildings completed by August 1889, citizens of Stillwater celebrated by erecting a flagpole seventy-six feet high. Attached to it were a huge flag and lantern to guide travelers to Stillwater. Whatever happened to that flag set as a beacon for travelers and settlers looking for a place to rest their bones or set up a homestead?
Does Stillwater have a *flag? Incorporating all the elements of a community’s history might make for a fun project by a school teacher or two. It could be unveiled after a contest on, of all days, 14 June, Flag Day.
*Editor’s Note: Information about Stillwater’s flag was provided by the City of Stillwater’s public relations office. Although not often used, the flag hangs in the City Council room and the lobby of the Municipal building.
About the City of Stillwater Flag
On August 23, 1987, the City of Stillwater adopted its official flag. The flag is divided into five stripes of yellow, green and blue and embossed with a single white stylized Bradford pear blossom. The flag flies with the green stripe uppermost.
- The white blossom represents Stillwater’s official tree, the Bradford pear.
- Yellow represents the abundant sunshine and energies of Oklahoma’s landscape and its citizens.
- Green represents the fertile and verdant environment.
- Blue represents the unlimited water supply from the Kaw Reservoir available to Stillwater.
About the designer: The City of Stillwater Flag was designed by an Oklahoma State University professor of architecture F. Cuthbert Salmon (1915-2003). He was married to Christine Salmon (1916-1985), an OSU professor of architecture and Stillwater’s first woman mayor, serving from 1982 to 1985. Mayor Salmon was instrumental in establishing the Sister City Relationship between Stillwater and Kameoka, Japan, which was formalized in 1985 under the leadership of Mayor Calvin Anthony.