Saturday, March 17, 2012

How to care for a flag

 How to care for a flag really depends on two factors: the flag material being correct for the weather conditions in which you fly your flag; and that your flag is properly stored if you won't be flying it for any length of time.

Flag fabrics
In terms of choosing the best flag material for your flag, be aware of the kinds of environmental stresses your flag is going to be in contact with. Some materials do better in wet weather, harsh sunlight, sea spray, urban environments (where there are lots of air-borne pollutants), or high winds.

So choose your flag fabric carefully! Make sure the fabric is a quality fabric that really is designed to "weather" the kinds of conditions in which your flag is going to be flown.

What stresses out a flag
Because flags are constantly moving and under constant stress, it is important to make sure your flag can fly freely without hitting or constantly banging up against any obstructions. Flag placement as well as the kind of flagpole you use can help with this: Some flagpoles fully rotate while others attach to buildings at certain angles. Some poles come with adjustable heights while other poles are fixed.

While a flag is flying, it is under a variety of environmental stress. Not just sun, wind, or rain, but air-borne pollutants and contaminants also can wear a flag down. You can preserve the life of your flag simply by occasionally washing it, by hand, in a gentle detergent, and in cool water. It is that simple.

Storing and keeping your flag clean
If you are going to store your flag for any length of time, consider giving it a gentle wash beforehand to remove any dirt or pollutants that can eat away at your fabric. Consider it like washing the underside of your car after a long winter of driving on roads sprayed with salt and other chemicals to melt ice and snow.

Finally, if you are planning to store your flag for any length of time, make sure it is completely dry and properly folded. Tradition and respect dictate that you do not store your flag on the floor. Other than that, you can simply keep your cleaned and folded flag in a box or any other storage area. If you prefer, there also are flag display cases specifically designed for displaying a folded flag indoors.

Not only is taking care of a flag pretty easy, but a little care will go a long way to ensure the durability and bright colors of your flag.

Let if fly!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The only woman to win the Congressional Medal of Honor

Dr. Mary Walker with her medal
At the age of 29, Mary Walker began four years of service as a Union Civil War surgeon. She also was a POW, and a possible Union spy.  
Dr. Walker is the only woman to have won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
It was awarded to her by President Johnson in 1865. Years later, in 1917, it was revoked. Dr. Walker believed it was revoked because of her political activity advocating that women should have the right to vote. The medal, however, was one of 910 revoked medals due to changes in the medal's requirements ( In 1977, the medal was reinstated.
Dr. Walker in her top hat.
Despite the official status of the medal during her lifetime, Dr. Walker wore it every day until her death, Feb. 21, 1919.
When Walker graduated from medical school at the age of 23, there were only a few women doctors in this country. Initially, when she offered her services to the army, she was not wanted. She volunteered anyway, going to the front lines where she knew her training would be welcome in spite of her gender.
In 1864, she was assigned to the 52nd Ohio Volunteers at Chattanooga, TN. Assigned to the unit as a civilian surgeon, her job included caring for military and civilian patients alike. 
She was captured by Confederate soldiers one night and imprisoned in Richmond at the Castle Thunder POW camp. She was not allowed to use her services on either Union or Confederate soldiers. She also became sick at the camp. Eventually, she was exchanged for a Confederate officer.
The Walker US postage stamp
Another interesting fact about Dr. Walker is that she was legally allowed to dress as a man – by an Act of Congress:
"By special authorization from the federal Congress Dr. Walker adopted male attire during the Civil War and for the half century
since she had continued to wear it in civil life – the only woman in the country who ever had her rights in this respect prescribed by the national legislature. She wore a black frock coat, trousers, and a high silk hat and carried a cane." f
rom Dr. Walker's obituary in The Daily Rome Sentinel
Let it fly!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Flags of Vermont: Flying Our Early History

Happy statehood to Vermont, the 14th state of the Union!

The Vermont state flag
Vermont, originally territory disputed by the states of New York and New Hampshire prior to the Revolution, became a state on March 4, 1791.

The current state flag of Vermont was adopted June 1, 1923. It consists of a blue field with the state shield, a more modern version of the state seal, in the center. Just underneath the seal is the state motto, "freedom and unity." The state's name is placed in the center of this legend, immediately under the seal.

Vermont's state seal dates to 1779
The state shield contains a shield embraced by evergreen branches or trees on the outside. Above the shield is the profile of a stag's head resting on top of a blue and gold striped baton, wildlife that is still common to the area.  Inside the shield, taking center state, is a large evergreen tree. While evergreens are common to Vermont, this tree also could symbolize a Liberty Tree, representing Vermont's early role in the Revolution. A cow and three hay stacks are under the tree representing Vermont's dairy farming and farming history. Forests and mountains are in the distance, more traditional symbols of the Green Mountains state.

The actual State Seal of Vermont dates to 1779. It was designed by Ira Allen, a brother of Ethan Allen of Green Mountain Boy legend. It was originally carved by Reuben Dean in 1778. From 1821-1937, Vermont used several other designs for the state seal when the original seal became "worn" ( In 1937, however, it was decided to return to an exact replica of the original, Revolutionary-era seal designed by Allen and carved by Reuben.

One of the earliest flags flown in Vermont is the flag flown by the Green Mountain Boys, a community militia of early patriots that included Ethan Allen, hero of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. The 13 stars represent the original 13 colonies. The flag is still in use by Vermont's National Guard.
The Green Mountain Boys' flag was a regimental flag at the Battle of Bennington.

The Bennington Flag is named in honor of the Battle of Bennington, August 16, 1777. It contains 13 stripes and 13 stars like the national flag, but these stars have 7 points and the blue field has the year the Declaration of Independence was signed: '76. Traditionally, it is thought to have been flown at the Battle of Bennington in 1777. However, modern analysis has established that the flag was made using spun cotton, a 19th century process.

The original Bennington flag actually was created after 1800 (Bennington Museum)

This version of the Vermont state flag was adopted in May, 1804. Like the federal flag, red stripes bound the top and bottom. The legend "Vermont" is written across the top. It contains 17 stripes and stars in anticipation to two new states, Tennessee and Ohio, although that change that was not made on the federal flag.

The 1804 state flag of Vermont with 17 stars and stripes.
During the Civil War, a new state flag designed in 1837 was carried by Vermont regiments. It contained the Vermont state seal in a single large star designed in a quilt motif.

The Vermont state flag, Civil War era.

Let it fly!

Florida's State Flag: In God We Trust

Happy statehood to Florida!
Florida's state flag

On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state. Its settlement by Europeans, however, dates back to the mid-16th century with Spain. The flags of Spain, England and France all have flown over Florida.

Florida's state flag is a simple design combining the official state seal and a red St. Patrick's cross. Although the state flag of Florida was adopted in 1900, it was not until 1966 that the design became codified.

(Note: In specific vexillological terms, St. George's Cross is an upright red cross on a white background, like a Crusader's Cross; St. Patrick's Cross or saltire is a diagonal red cross on a white background while St. Andrew's Cross or saltire is a diagonal blue cross on a white background. Oftentimes, however, St. Andrew's Cross is used to refer to any diagonal cross design on a flag. Versions of St. Patrick's Cross and St. Andrew's Cross were used in many Confederate flags. It is a design that also harks back to the British Union Jack and the flag of Scotland.)

The Great Seal of Florida, centered in the middle of the state flag, is one of several official versions. This particular version is used in the state flag and also on legislative documents. The seal contains a Seminole woman holding a cascade of red and white hibiscus flowers. The woman is standing on a point of land surrounded by water. A stately sabal palm tree is central to the seal. In the distance is a steam-powered paddle boat illuminated by the rays of the sun. Surrounding the seal is a gold circle with the legend "Great Seal of the State of Florida" emblazoned in red on the upper half. On the lower half of this ring, also in red, is the legend: "In God we trust." The predominant colors of the seal are gold, red, green and a warm, medium blue.

Official governmental seal for the State of Florida
Prior to the current design, Florida's state flag simply included the state seal on top of a white field. This design was adopted by the state legislature on August 6, 1868. The general response to the 1868 flag seems to be that it did not have a strong enough design for a state flag. In particular was the criticism that the white field was too close to a surrender flag despite the distinctive image of the state seal being dominant in the center of the flag.

Florida state flag, c. 1868 (
It was suggested that a St. Patrick's Cross be added to the design. While versions of St. Patrick's red cross and St. Andrew's blue cross were incorporated into Confederate flags during the Civil War, Florida's state flag is not derivative of Florida's Civil War-era flags. This addition, however, does add historical information.

When Florida seceded in 1861, there were several Confederate state flags that were quickly assembled to represent the state's new political standing. One of these was a copy of the Texas Navy's Lone Star flag.

Although it only flew for eight months, it was raised in 1861 and was identical in design to the flag used by the Texas Navy from 1836-1845. It included 13 red and white stripes and one large star on a blue field. The Florida Lone Star flag was an intermediary flag raised by Col. William Chase who commanded Florida's troops at the time of secession.

Florida's Lone Star flag (FL Dept. of State)
The flag chosen by the legislature at this time, however, is the Perry flag, named for Florida's governor at the time of secession. In January, 1861, the legislature directed Perry to design an appropriate state flag. 

In June, 1861, Perry's design was officially adopted. It consisted of three horizontal bar (red, white and red) beside a blue field on which is a military seal surrounded by the legend: "In God Is Our Trust."

The Perry flag
This image of the Perry flag (left) is reconstructed from notes in the state legislature. It is believed, however, the flag was never actually flown (FL Dept. of State).

Let it fly!
partial sources:
Dictionary of Vexillology
Florida Dept. of State 
Illustrated Dictionary of Vexillolofy (NAVA)
Museum of Southern History
State Symbols USA

Saturday, March 3, 2012

National Anthem Day Through smoke and fire: The making of a national anthem

It is the merry month of March in 1931 and the United States is in the throes of the Great Depression. 

Herbert Hoover is president: A one term president, Hoover took office in 1929 prior to the crash of the Stock Market. He leaves in 1933 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt becomes our president – for the first time.

But in 1931, the results of the 1930 census are released. We learn that our population has grown 16.2% in the last decade. It is not an insignificant fact when juxtaposed against the reality of the Depression: the nation's work force is unemployed and our social structure is in danger of crumbling.

It is an odd time to make a popular song into a national anthem. What moved Congress? Was it simply the need to do something positive? To try and inspire a sense of courage in our national psyche when the times were more than grim? 

The real deal: The original Star-Spangled Banner (Smithsonian)
And why make The Star-Spangled Banner our national anthem? What does this former poem have within its lyrics that might inspire the families in the breadlines to take heart, to not give up, to look to the past so we can move into the future? 

The story of The Star-Spangled Banner begins on the evening of August 24, 1814 when the British begin to burn Washington, D.C. ...

The destruction is such that the sky glows for miles around with flames. The Capitol building, the Senate House, the President’s mansion – anything related to government and much that is not is burnt or destroyed by the British.

Earlier that day, Dolley Madison had received word from her husband, President James Madison, to pack and leave their home. Immediately.
First Lady Dolley Madison
Dolley tried to comply. She really did. In fact, the guns of battle were not distant. Not at all! Oh dear! So much to do and as the afternoon wore on, you could hear the booming of cannon and the soldiers approaching – retreating Americans as well as the advancing Brits! Mr. Carroll, a friend sent to help her, was getting rather cross with the First Lady as she flatly refused to leave behind, in enemy hands, a life-size portrait of George Washington.

Oh! Tedious frame! Despite their efforts and the need for haste, the frame just would not be unscrewed from the wall! The only thing for it was to cut the painting out, which is exactly what she did.

It was only then, as she later wrote her sister, after putting “the precious the hands of two gentlemen of New York, for safekeeping,” that the First Lady allowed herself to be rescued.

Later, only three weeks and 35 miles away from that day, the British prepare to take Fort McHenry. The fort sits at the entrance to Baltimore harbor, a worthy target as Baltimore is the young country’s third largest city. Having already captured the much smaller capitol and put the government to flight, the British can win this war by winning Baltimore, a sweet revenge on an impudent country that was but a colony some 30 years prior.

Defending Fort McHenry is Major George Armistead, uncle to the Confederate Civil War hero, Brigadier General Lewis Armistead who is best known for his brave leadership of the ill-fated Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Major George Armistead (by Rembrandt Peale, c. 1816)
The weather is wet, so stormy that Major Armistead is not flying the large garrison flag but its smaller companion, a “signal” or “storm flag.” He had commissioned both flags a year earlier from Baltimore flag maker, Mary Pickersgill

The garrison flag measures 30’x42’. It has 15 stripes and 15 stars. Each stripe is two feet wide and each star is two feet in diameter. It is so huge that in making it, Mrs. Pickersgill, her daughter, nieces, and an indentured servant had to sew it in a local malt house after hours, by candlelight.

Seamstress Mary Pickersgill
It is so large that if you were to lay it out, it would nearly fill half of a basketball court. Its length would stretch from basket to center line, and its width would be wider than half the width of the court. It would be big enough for a dormitory tent. It would be big enough to cover a car – or a horse drawn carriage – or two. It is a flag of an extravagant size.

It is so large because Major Armistead’s original desire was to fly a banner “so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance” (

But on this day, alas, the weather is very poor so Armistead decides to fly the smaller flag.

Shortly after sunrise on September 14, somewhere between 6:30 and 7 a.m. that morning, the British begin to blast Fort McHenry. It is an attack that will last for over 24 hours.
Francis Scott Key looking for the flag (web)

On one of the British warships is an American prisoner, Dr. William Beanes, and two Americans who are there on his behalf: Col. John Stuart Skinner and Francis Scott Key. Skinner and Key, arriving the night before under a military flag of truce, are there to persuade the British admiralty that Dr. Beanes should be released. Col. Skinner is a military diplomat whose job is just this: to negotiate prisoners’ release while Key, a Supreme Court lawyer, is a friend of Dr. Beanes.

They meet with Major General Robert Ross, and Admiral Alexander Cochrane aboard the HMS Tonnant. Ross is the very man responsible for the torching of Washington. With him, Skinner has brought letters written by British prisoners of war testifying to Dr. Beanes’ character and his good treatment of wounded British prisoners.Though initially not terribly keen on the idea, the British officers finally agree to release Dr. Beanes.
Gen. Ross died during the attack on Fort McHenry
Although the officers agree to the release, they also decide that the Americans can not leave the ship until after the planned attack on Fort McHenry is over. What attack on Fort McHenry? The attack the British expect will win them the war. Having this information about the plan to attack Fort McHenry, the Americans are, by necessity, guests of the Crown for the interim. For practical reasons, however, they are moved to another ship.

It is from this curious perspective of being right there, in the heart of the enemy camp, that they pass their “friendly captivity,” and watch helplessly as the enemy begins a 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry.

During the day, they occasionally see the storm flag through the increasingly dense smoke from the blasts of the bombs and mortars. This is their only way of knowing if the fort stands or if it has fallen. As the attack continues and day lengthens again into night, it becomes increasingly difficult to see if the flag – if the fort – has survived:

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

The words to the national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, give, perhaps, the truest picture of what that battle was like. Although its author, the lawyer-poet, and the diplomat, along with the good Dr. Beanes, will be free when the attack is over, the truth is that the end of the battle also will foretell the war’s end – and with it, the future of this still-new nation.

Francis Scott Key begins writing his poem, Defense of Fort McHenry, on the back of some papers he has in his pocket while on board ship. Nothing better describes the emotions of that moment when, at sunrise the next day, he desperately looks to see if the flag is still flying.

Although Key and his fellow Americans do not know it, for their keepers are not likely to tell them, the British withdrew earlier that morning after being unable to take the fort. 

Though Key and his colleagues do not see it, Major Armistead has replaced the storm flag with the much larger garrison flag shortly before dawn. 

And, though Key and his comrades can not hear it, the garrison soldiers are firing their weapons in celebration and accompaniment to a rather rowdy rendition of Yankee Doodle.
A contemporary illustration of the attack on Fort McHenry
As they search the skyline for a sign as to the outcome of the battle, the Americans finally see what they are looking for. Writes Key:

O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

Three months after the British defeat at Fort McHenry, the Treaty of Ghent is signed, the official end to a war in which no new territories are gained by either side but a finality is given to the position the young democracy holds amongst the leading nations of the world.
When Key finishes his poem, he shows it to his brother-in-law who considers it a much finer song than poem and suggests a popular tune of the day to accompany it, albeit a drinking song. Within a week, Key’s words are in print and the poem, The Defense of Fort McHenry, soon turns into the song, The Star-Spangled Banner, drinking tune and all.
Poet-lawyer Francis Scott Key (LoC)
In 1889, the Navy makes The Star-Spangled Banner its official flag-raising song. 

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson establishes the precedent of having The Star-Spangled Banner played at formal government occasions, military and otherwise. 

But it is not until March 3, 1931 that The Star-Spangled Banner actually becomes the nation’s anthem. 

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

It is a story, perhaps, worthy of inspiring a nation struggling with the desperate economic times of the Great Depression.

Let it fly!

The Armistead Punch Bowl, a gift from the citizens of Baltimore, c. 1816

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Nebraska: Equality Before the Law

The Nebraska state flag is a navy blue or "national blue" flag with the Nebraska state seal centered in the middle. The seal is simply designed the colors of gold and silver. It contains the state motto: Equality before the law.

The state flag of Nebraska was made official by the state legislature in 1925.
The images included within the seal, however, are not so simple. In a few carefully chosen symbols, Nebraska's broad history, dating to its territorial annexation, is depicted. These symbols represent agriculture (wheat sheaves and corn stalks), settlers (a cabin and a steamboat), and industry (the smithy's hammer and anvil).

The seal also is designed to include geographical landmarks such as the Missouri River  (running through the middle) and the Rocky Mountains (in the distant background).

Florence Hazen Miller
While the state seal dates to 1867, the same year Nebraska became a state, the state flag was not created until 1925.  It was first raised on January 1, 1926 at the state capitol's new year's celebration.

The Nebraska state flag was designed by Florence Hazen Miller who also is credited with writing a history of the American Revolution.

Like many state flags, the Nebraska flag resulted from a contest sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution, of which Ms. Miller was a member having colonial antecedents dating to the 1600s.

Nebraska is the 37th state. March 1, 1867 is the date of its statehood. At the center of the debate around Nebraska's statehood was whether or not African Americans should have the right to vote. President Andrew Johnson did not want to sign the bill allowing this, saying that the right to vote should be determined by individual states and not the federal government. Johnson did, however, finally sign the bill making Nebraska not just a state but a state in which all men, black and white, had the right to vote. Uhm, women, however, were a different subject! On August 2, 1919, Nebraska recognized women's right to vote. It was the 14th state to do so, giving all Nebraska citizens "equality before the law."

Let it fly!