On 8 September 1966, after two years in development, Star Trek finally debuted on the teevee. Fans have celebrated this date as “Star Trek Day” unofficially for a while now, but the producers of the show have now gotten on board and today, 2020.09.08 is the first Official Star Trek Day with events like marathons, cast reunions and more. “Encounter at Farpoint” is airing on StarTrek.com as I write this.
In our little corner of the Alpha Quadrant, we’re marking the occasion by flying the flag of the United Federation of Planets. We’ve flown the UFP flag before and you can read my original post about the flag here.
That post contains my thoughts on the flag. For today I thought we’d look at two precursors of the UFP flag and a proposed redesign. The UFP apparently had no flag in the Original Series. The Star Fleet Technical Manual (Joseph, 1975) had a Banner, which can be seen in “And The Children Shall Lead” and it had a seal shown here, possibly designed for the book cover. This seal would make a passable flag itself.
The first place we see an image similar to the “current” UFP flag is on a view screen in Star Trek the Motion Picture when Kirk addresses the crew. This same image is seen as a flag, draped across the Torpedo Tube at Spock’s funeral in The Wrath of Khan.
This clearly looks like a hybrid of the Tech Manual’s seal and the current flag design. There are two advantages over the current design for me. There’s no text and the wreath looks less like something of terrestrial origin.
The last image we’ll look at today is a proposed redesign of the UFP flag that I found on Reddit, created by Doliam13.
This fixes a lot of the issues with the current UFP flag. The text is gone and the star field is more symbolic, looking less like a literal map of our local piece of the Milky Way. This also fixes some of the symbolism in the current design. There are four stars to represent the four founding civilizations of the Federation where the current flag highlights only three. The notion that the three stars represent three of the founding worlds as seen by an observer standing on the fourth is an inane retcon contrivance. Better to just fix the flag and not try to explain it.
A few last things to mark the day. Science Officer Leonard (named for McCoy, Leonard H. Son of David) is properly attired and ready to face the day while I have two different pairs of let’s call them “Spocky socks” that I’ll wear throughout the occasion. The blue, black, and gold pair were made by my lovely wife, Joanne while the pair with the Vulcan salute was a gift from my sisters-in-law.
It’s now the 100th Anniversary of the day that Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, and the United States officially recognized women’s right to vote. We’re once again flying a “19th Amendment Victory Flag” to mark the occasion. I wrote about this flag last year. It’s based on the flag of the National Women’s Party, a gold, white and purple tri-color with 36 stars added for the thirty-six states that approved the amendment. The story about how the amendment passed is great. It’s also amazing that something that seems so unequivocally the right-thing-to-do by modern sensibilities came down to a single vote. You can find that story in last year’s article, 19th Amendment Victory Flag.
A turning point in that story involved a political cartoon where Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, was sweeping the letters “RAT” toward the letters “IFICATION,” symbolizing the campaign to support the amendment. When I was thinking about what to write this year, I spent some time looking for that political cartoon. If you’ve read this blog, you know I like to write about comics and I like to write about history and flags. History and flags are part of the “The Universe and Everything” part. Anyway, at some point I put “Carrie Chapman Catt” and “Cartoon” into duckduckgo.com and I stumbled upon something in the nice triple intersection of the Venn diagram that’s implied above. Ha! Math! There’s another thing!
I’ve always considered DC Comics to be the more conservative of the two major comic book companies. They were static for a long time while Marvel was innovating and they were so dedicated their own house style that they had other artists redraw Jack Kirby’s pictures of Superman when he was working on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. I get that those are small-c conservative, but you have to admit that’s pretty conservative. It’s like putting pants on Michelangelo’s David.
So, what was in that intersection mentioned above? “Wonder Women of History” a back-up feature that ran in Sensation Comics and Wonder Woman for twelve years starting with Wonder Woman #1 in 1942. Each issue featured a short biography of 1 to 5 pages, full of cheesiness and hyperbole. These included the stories of figures like Abigail Adams, Joan of Arc, and Marie Curie. Among the women featured were two important leaders of the suffrage movement taking us from the Seneca Falls Convention to the passage of the 19th Amendment.
And in honor of the Centennial that Amendment, here is the biography of Susan B. Anthony from Wonder Woman #5 (June-July 1943).
We also present the reason for the search result; Comic Vine tells me that Carrie Chapman Catt is a comic book character in Wonder Woman #26 (November-December 1947). That has the incongruous title of “Speed Maniacs from Mercury.” Luckily, that’s not the story in which Mrs. Catt appears.
Eventually, Wonder Woman of History was replaced with makeup tips and advice on landing a husband because DC is so progressive. But the Wonder Women of History were fun while it lasted. If you like these, there are a lot more here. It was nice when comics tried to educate as well as entertain.
Okay, so maybe slightly later than “later this week.” None the less, here is the conclusion to the first installment of our series on state flags. If you haven’t read the first part of this, it’s here.
Without further ado, my choices for the best of the state flags, #6 to #1.
It’s interesting how your quickly opinions can change on some of this subjective stuff. Although Colorado has an objectively nice flag, this morning it’s looking like a piece of sporting apparel and I’m now pondering if it belongs in the category of flags that need a minor tweak. Not going to do it; that way lies madness. Well, maybe in the comments if there’s interest.
This flag technically breaks two of NAVA’s five criteria, there are four colors and the large “C” is text. But this is another flag that Good Flag, Bad Flag uses to demonstrate that one can depart from their principles “with caution and purpose,” calling the “C” a “stunning graphic element.”
Each of the four colors carries symbolic meaning. The red, perhaps most significantly, represents the land. “Colorado,” the name of first the river and then the state literally means “colored red.” The gold evokes the abundant sunlight, the blue the sky, and the white, the snow-capped mountains.
The “Tri-Star Flag” is a nice flag with some nice symbolism, but boy is that a lot of red! That’s not really to my taste. Still, the centerpiece makes a nice symbol that is used by businesses and sports teams. The three stars represent the three “Grand Divisions” of Tennessee defined in the state constitution, East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. These divisions are “bound together in indissoluble unity” within the blue circle by the “unending white band.” The blue band is merely a design element to relieve, as LeRoy Reeves, the designer puts it, “the sameness of the crimson field and prevents the flag from showing too much crimson when hanging limp. The blue band is symbolically a bit of a missed opportunity. In its current location, it could represent the Blue Ridge Mountains on the eastern border of the state. On the left, it could symbolize the Mississippi River, the western border. Do both and the flag becomes a metaphorical map of Tennessee. The star placements are established by state law and are a bit fiddly; a commemorative stamp issued in 1976 showed the stamp upside down.
4. The District of Columbia
The nation’s capital was founded in 1791. It had to wait until 1938 before a flag was chosen, but at least it’s an objectively good flag. The design is striking and is based on the Washington family’s Coat of Arms so the symbolism more-or-less takes care of itself. The flag was designed by a three-member commission appointed by Congress and was initially a symbol of the District’s lack of representation. Ironically, Washingtonians have since embraced the flag. It appears on merchandise throughout the district and is used prominently by the DC Statehood Movement.
When a seal or a coat of arms is used in the design of a flag, the usual approach is to merely place the seal on a solid colored background as we see at left, and then perhaps add the name, a date of a motto to the flag. None of those are improvements. The DC flag is an object lesson in how to use a seal or a coat of arms as an inspiration for flag design. The trick, in this case, is to focus on one or two clear and distinctive design elements, rather than trying to include the entire coat of arms. Another excellent example can be found in this video.
Having the British flag in the canton of one of the thirteen original colonies would be kind of obnoxious, but here makes for a beautiful and distinctive flag. Before the War of 1812, King Kamehameha I flew the Union Flag over his home. This flag had been a gift from Britain’s King George III. During the war, this was replaced by the American flag until some British officers objected. Kamehameha responded by commissioning a new flag that was a hybrid of the two. Britain is represented in the canton while the stripes and their colors symbolize the United States. The eight stripes each stand for one of Hawaii’s major islands, echoing the symbolism of the American flag. Hawaii’s flag is one of only two state flags to have been the flag of an independent country and it is the only flag to fly over a kingdom, a republic, an American territory, and a state.
NAVA’s fifth principle of flag design is to “Be original or be related.” Ohio’s flag is proof that the “or” is not exclusive. It’s certainly “related.” Of all the state flags, Ohio’s flag has the strongest resemblance to the Stars and Stripes. It is also original. It’s the only non-rectangular state flag and the blue triangle on the hoist as well as the white-and-red “O” are distinctive.
Virtually every element of the flag has meaning. The triangular swallowtail shape is thought to hearken back to flags carried by Ohio units in the Civil and Spanish American wars. The five stripes symbolize the roads and waterways of the state while the blue field stands for Ohio’s hills and valleys. The 13 stars encircling the “O” represent the thirteen original states while collectively the 17 stars evoke Ohio’s position as the 17th state to join the Union. The “O” doesn’t merely stand for the state’s name, it also suggests an eye and thus Ohio’s nickname as the “Buckeye State.”
It’s interesting that, although we now recognize Ohio’s is a well-designed flag, it wasn’t initially so well received. The “seal-on-a-bed-sheet” model was ubiquitous among state flags. It was seldom used and compared to the flags of Cuba and the Philippines. It was particularly disparaged for the red center of the O’s similarity to the Japanese flag’s sun.
Readers of this blog might recall that Alaska is my favorite state flag. It’s a simple, attractive flag. If you know anything about celestial navigation, at least some of the symbolism is easy to deduce. The location of the big dipper makes it clear that the larger star is the north star; symbolizing that Alaska is the northern-most state.
But there’s a lot more going on here, worthy of a post of its own. The flag was initially chosen as the territorial flag in 1927 after the Governor held a design contest open to school children in grades 7 through 12. The winner of the contest was 13-year-old Benny Benson, a native Alaskan. His entry was the unanimous choice of the panel of judges and was adopted unanimously by both houses of the territorial legislature. There’s synergy here; the blue represents not only the night sky but also the color of a forget-me-not which was later chosen as the state flower. Marie Drake, the assistant commissioner of education wrote a poem about Benson’s symbolism for an educational program about the flag. Elinor Dusenbury, a former Alaska resident, set the poem to music out of, as she put it, “pure unadulterated homesickness for Alaska!” The song was quite popular; it was chosen as the territorial song in 1955 and became the state song when Alaska became the 49th state. It is the only state song about a flag.
Eight stars of gold on a field of blue Alaska’s flag. May it mean to you The blue of the sea, the evening sky, The mountain lakes, and the flow’rs nearby; The gold of the early sourdough’s dreams, The precious gold of the hills and streams; The brilliant stars in the northern sky, The “Bear,” the “Dipper,” and, shining high, The great North Star with its steady light, O’er land and sea a beacon bright. Alaska’s flag to Alaskans dear, The simple flag of a last frontier.
Coming soon(?), the state flags that require minor alterations.
Happy Independence Day! We’ve made it a tradition to begin flying a historic American flag on each July 4th. In 2018, it was the “Betsy Ross” flag. Last year it was the Bennington Flag. This year we’re flying the only American Flag to have anything other than 13 stripes.
The original United States Flag act was passed on 14 June 1777 and established the familiar 13-stars and 13-stripes that are still recognizable today.
But then, Vermont joined the Union as the fourteenth state in 1791 and Kentucky followed suit the following year. Two years later, the United States changed its flag for the first time, adding both a star and a stripe for each of the new states.
That from and after the first day of May, Anno Domini, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-five, the flag of the United States, be fifteen stripes alternate red and white. That the Union be fifteen stars, white in a blue field.
The United States Flag Act of 1794
But this flag is notable for more than merely the number of stripes. Also known as the “Great Garrison Flag,” it is this version of the American flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.
It was seeing this flag both before and after that battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem Defence of Fort M’Henry which, when sung to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven became our national anthem in 1931. And that gave this flag its far more famous name, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” If you’d thought Vermont and Kentucky waited a long time to be included on the U. S. Flag, the flag wasn’t changed again for another 24 years.
In the meantime, Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1803), Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816), and Mississippi (1817) had joined the union. Tennessee had to wait for nearly a quarter-century for their star to officially be added. That seems strange to me. For Vermont and Kentucky, there was an existing national flag with established symbolism. Now the precedent of including new states had been established; the public responded with a variety of unofficial flags that added stars and frequently stripes, like this version with 17 stars and 17 stripes. It and an assortment of other flags from this time can be seen at the Zaricor Flag Collection.
You might be wondering what our flag would look like if we’d continued to add stripes as well as stars. So did Michael Orelove of the Portland Flag Association. He went a step further and had one made; it looks kind of cool. It’s interesting, but it’s very pinstripey. Joanne’s reaction was that it “messes with my astigmatism.” On the PFA blog, Scott Mainwaring points out that it would look pink from a distance. There are disadvantages, but in the era of printed flags, making such a flag is feasible. I can’t imagine trying to make such a thing by sewing red and white strips of cloth together.
It wasn’t until after the War of 1812, that the congress finally got serious about updating the flag when Peter Wendover, a representative from New York proposed forming an exploratory committee to find “an unessential variation” to the flag. He suffered the fate of many who proposed creating a committee; he was put in charge of it.
Wendover consulted Samuel Reid, “a privateer and naval hero of the War of 1812.” Reid was the first to propose maintaining 13 stripes on the flag. He designed three flags, a people’s flag with 20 stars in a “great star” pattern, a governmental flag for federal use, and a “Standard of the Union” for use at celebrations. Congress settled on the first version, with 20 stars and 13 stripes. Invoking the founders, Wendover argued, “In their memory, and to their honor, let us restore substantially the flag under which they conquered, and at the same time engraft into its figure the after-fruits of their toil.”
An Act to establish the flag of the United States.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled, That from and after the fourth day of July next, the flag of the United States be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be twenty stars, white in a blue field.
And be it further enacted, That on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect of the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.
The United States Flag Act of 1818
The 1818 Flag Act did two things that were smart. It limited the number of stripes to 13, and it established that the flag would change on July 4th after each new state joined the union. It remains in force today.
Happy Flag Day! I’ve been planning to start a series of posts on the flags of American states and today seems an appropriate time to get started. In recognition of the occasion, we’ve started flying the New York State flag, seeing as we live in New York State. Our state flag, like many others, is the state coat of arms on a field of blue. The flag we’re flying is actually a bit out of date. New York recently appended “E Pluribus Unum” to our state motto, which caused a change in the coat of arms and consequently the flag. We’ll come back to the New York Flag in a later post.
An overview of state flags suggests a self-evident organizational structure which will define the posts in the series. We’ll break things down thusly.
Flags that need no changes
Flags that only need very slight changes
Flags that have well established and aesthetic alternatives and
Flags that require significant changes.
I’m hardly the first person to undertake this kind of analysis, I don’t remember the first time I saw such a thing on the internet. I do, on the other hand, remember my reaction, “Oooo. That must have been fun!” That was one of the many things that helped inspire me to start this blog. Lots of people must have thought this would be fun since, judging from the “U.S. State Flags – Current, Historical and Proposed” Facebook group, every state has dozens of proposed alternatives. In part 3, we’ll focus our attention on states with good historical alternatives or proposals that have some ongoing public support. When we get to part 4, there might be as many as one post per state. I’ll highlight some of the proposals that I like and I may try my hand at making my own.
But let’s dispense with part one, the best flags which are just great as they are. I’ll start off by reminding us about the NAVA’s five principles for good flag design as delineated in Good Flag, Bad Flag.
Principle 1. KEEP IT SIMPLE: The Flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory. Principle 2. USE MEANINGFUL SYMBOLISM: The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes. Principle 3. USE 2 TO 3 BASIC COLORS: Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set. Principle 4. NO LETTERING OR SEALS: Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal. Principle 5. BE DISTINCTIVE OR BE RELATED: Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.
North American Vexillological Association
I put nine flags in the category, which I’ll list from my least favorite to my favorite.
The flag of Maryland comes up short with respect to principles one and three, but Good Flag, Bad Flag uses Maryland as an exemplar of when it’s okay to bend the rules. It’s distinctiveness is it’s strength. The Symbolism is strong too; the flag is based in the coat of arms of Cecil Calvert the 2nd Baron Baltimore, founder of the Maryland colony. When NAVA did a survey of the state, provincial and territorial flags of North America, the Maryland flag placed fourth and the flag is a common motif on team uniforms, airplanes and license plates.
Demonstrating all five of the NAVA principles, the flag of Texas actually predates Texas’ entry into the Union as it was the final flag of the Republic of Texas. The colors are defined by the Texas Flag Code to be identical to the colors of the US Flag, with red, white and blue representing bravery, purity and loyalty respectively. The single red and white stripes date back to the Republic of Fredonia which attempted to seceded from Mexico in 1926. The single star was the common element of every flag of the Republic of Texas, symbolizing the Texans’ unity in declaring independence from Mexico. That star inspired the nickname “the Lone Star State.”
7. South Carolina
The flag of South Carolina and the palmetto palm as a symbol for the state both date back to the American Revolution. The flag is based on the Moultrie or Liberty Flag which consisted of the upward facing crescent containing the word “Liberty” on an indigo background. The sable palmetto became a symbol of the state when the trees were used to build a fort on Sullivan’s island that subsequently withstood a British attack. The palmetto was incorporated into the first state seal in 1777 but it was not added to the flag until 1861 as South Carolina seceded from the Union. A variation of this state flag was the first flag raised by the Confederate Army after it occupied Fort Sumner. The South Carolina flag placed 10th in the NAVA survey and it is cited in Good Flag, Bad Flag to illustrate Principle 4. “The palmetto tree” it notes “represents the ‘Palmetto State’ far better than the state’s seal could.”
Everything takes longer than it does and so, in order to post this while it’s still Flag Day, we’re going to leave it there for today. Can you stand the suspense? Tune in for my favorite state flags numbers 6 to 1 coming soon!
We’ve settled into the new house enough that we’ve finally installed the flagpole. That was a non-trivial project; there’s nothing like a simple task to remind you of your total lack of aptitude for all things handy. This is the first time we’ve lived in the City of Elmira; we’ve lived in Horseheads and Southport and Newfield, but not within the city itself. To mark the occasion, the first flag that we’re flying from our new home is a proposed flag for the City that was designed by Alex Chichester. Last month, I unboxed the very flag that we’re flying and provided links to Alex’s story, about the flag, why he designed it and some of the community’s response to the flag. You can find all of that here.
The current city flag can be seen to the right and it’s nice enough. I asked about purchasing a copy of this flag from the city and I may yet buy one, but to be honest, it’s somewhat bland. The seal is a standard, city seal, but it’s the sort of seal that’s designed for the printed page. It works best on letterhead or in a book where you can look at it carefully and appreciate all of the detail.
Today, I thought I’d look at the proposed flag, which I’m inclined to call the Chichester Flag through the lens of the North American Vexillological Association’s five principles for good flag design as delineated in Good Flag, Bad Flag. Alex’s design is an objectively good flag. Here we go!
Principle 1. KEEP IT SIMPLE: The Flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
Here the Chichester Flag shines. The basic design a purple background with a blue horizontal band across the center. Many flags have shared this basic design, which could also be described as three horizontal stripes in two colors. Latvia, Austria, and Cambodia among others, share this basic design. The two joined gold rings as well as the choice of colors make the flag stand out as distinct from the other flags with similar designs. Simplicity is important and it’s no coincidence that NAVA lists this principle first as flags are meant to be seen from a distance and to either drape or to move in the wind. The Confederate States of America had three national flags in its four years of existence because the first two were easily confused with other flags.
A few weeks ago, while I was driving, I encountered a good illustration of this principle as the car in front of me had a small Canadian Flag sticker on its rear window and it was recognizable as a Canadian Flag even when it was many car lengths ahead of us. You can see this in the leftmost picture below. I pasted the official Elmira flag (middle) and the proposed flag (right) into the same photo and the difference is evident. The proposed flag is recognizable while the official flag could be many other things at this distance, such as the flag of Anchorage, Alaska or Honolulu, Hawaii.
Principle 2. USE MEANINGFUL SYMBOLISM: The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.
The Chichester Flag has nice clear symbolism. The blue band represents the Chemung river which runs through the city. This is apt; the original settlement in the area was founded at the meeting of the Chemung River and the Newtown Creek. It was the completion of the Chemung Canal that connected the Chemung River to Seneca Lake and ultimately to the Erie Canal System. This allowed Elmira to become a regional center of manufacturing and shipping. There is little doubt that the Chemung River had a profound influence on the city and the community.
The two golden interlocking rings represent the uniting of the city’s north, south, east and west sides into a single community. This works both figuratively and concretely as the four sections of the rings that cross the blue band can be seen to represent the four driving bridges that cross the river within the city.
The colors of the flag are also significant. The Elmira College colors are purple and gold and those colors are ubiquitous on campus. The college, which sits in the heart of the city was founded in 1855, nine years before the city was incorporated from the village and part of the town of the same name. The new flag’s designer, Alex said, “I personally identify the city with the color purple,… It’s probably a lot to do with Elmira College. Also, there’s purple and golden wildflowers all over town.”
The wildflower rationale is frequently echoed in stories about why the college chose purple and gold as their school colors, although those stories usually invoke irises, the school flower. The other reason the college usually shares as an inspiration for their choice of colors is that purple and gold were among the colors of the Women’s Suffrage Movement (you can read a bit more about that here). This reason might be even more salient. Elmira had significant links to the women’s movement and this includes the college itself, which was the first college in the U. S. to offer degrees to women that were equivalent to those that were being offered to men.
Elmira also played an important role in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad. When we consider this along with the ties to the women’s movement, the fact that the purple portion of the flag evokes an equals sign (=), the flag elicits all of this history.
Principle 3. USE 2 TO 3 BASIC COLORS: Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set.
There’s very little that needs to be said here; the flag contains three colors that contrast nicely. A useful measure of this is whether the flag remains recognizable and attractive when rendered in grayscale. It does. The black and white version remains both striking and distinctive.
As an interesting side note, the NAVA manual defines the basic color set as “red, blue, green, black, yellow and white” and states that other colors “are seldom needed in a good design.” At least part of the reason is that “flag fabric comes in a relatively limited number of colors.” I wonder if this is still true; it seems to me that printed flags have become more common and easily obtained in the 14 years since the manual was written. Either way, the connections between Elmira and the color purple are significant enough to warrant its use.
Principle 4. NO LETTERING OR SEALS: Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal.
This is strongly related to the “keep it simple” principle. Seals are difficult to see at a distance and text on printed flags appears reversed on the back, making it difficult to read. To make the text readable on both sides dramatically increases the cost of the flag. The Chichester flag has neither text nor a seal.
Principle 5. BE DISTINCTIVE OR BE RELATED: Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.
The Chichester flag can claim both of these characteristics. The color choices and the interlocking rings set the flag apart from other flags with similar designs making it distinctive while it shares some similarities to related flags. The similarities to the Elmira College flag, shown above, are evident. The gold rings can also be seen as an homage to the current Elmira flag as they share its color and evoke its main motif, the circular seal. In a nice coincidence, the purple color refers back to the flag of the Iroquois Confederacy, who inhabited this area of North America before the arrival of European settlers.
This was an enjoyable project and a nice inaugural flag for our new home. I’d never ordered a custom flag before, but the process was easy and straightforward. It’s easy enough that I will probably order more custom flags in the future, when I’m interested in flying something that isn’t easily available.
It is also been exciting to be able to fly a flag that, as far as I know, has never been flown before. That’s been a great deal of fun and I want to thank Alex for allowing me to use his design.
And speaking of Alex, I hope that his campaign to have his flag become the official flag of the City of Elmira is successful. It’s a beautiful flag and his arguments about using the flag to invigorate the community and brand the city deserve careful consideration. If you’re interested in such things, please check out his videos. I think you’ll find them compelling.
In a couple of weeks, we’ll be moving into the city of Elmira. We’ve lived in the area for some time, but never actually in Elmira itself. To mark the occasion, we wanted an appropriate flag to fly for the first month or so in our new home.
Meanwhile, a young man named Alex Chichester has designed a new flag for the city and he’s been promoting it. It’s a lovely design and it deserves a chance to become our new flag. We decided to fly his flag when we moved to the city. I contacted Alex and he graciously allowed me to have a copy made. After speaking with a number of nice people, I decided to work with a company called Asley who produced a lot of the flags we’ve flown at home for the last year or so. The new flag finally arrived yesterday. Here’s our first look at the finished product.
I’ll have more to say when I start flying the flag, but if you’re interested, here are two of Alex’s videos regarding his flag. He promotes this better than I can.
And if this has piqued your interest in flags and vexillology, here’s an excellent TED Talk on city flags and flag design.
There are many variations of the United States Flag that were used in the early days of the republic. One of the more interesting is the Serapis Flag which we are now flying. Its existence is intimately tied to the Battle of Flamborough Head fought 240 years ago 0n 23 September 1779.
The story of the Serapis flag begins with the story of John Paul, a ship captain. Paul fled his native Scotland after killing a crewman who mutinied over wages, presumably refusing to trust his fate to an Admiralty Court. Paul emigrated to the colonies, renamed himself “John Paul Jones” and befriended Benjamin Franklin. He joined the Continental Navy, rose through the ranks and became the United States’ first famous naval commander. He is sometimes called the Father of the U. S. Navy. By 1779, Jones was in command of the Bonhomme Richard, named in honor Franklin’s pseudonym from Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Bonhomme Richard was a former merchant ship that had been armed and upgraded to a ship of war. It led, under Jones’ command, a small squadron of ships. Near Flamborough Head, Yorkshire, this squadron encountered a British convoy under the protection of the HMS Serapis. Conflict ensued and Bonhomme Richard took severe damage from the better armed Serapis. When the British captain asked if the Richard had struck her colors (meaning that they had lowered their flag as a sign of surrender) Jones is said to have replied with the famous “I have not yet begun to fight!” The flag, in fact, had been destroyed in the battle.
Eventually, the tide of the battle turned and Jones managed to lash Bonhomme Richard to the Serapis. The American crew was able to board and capture the British ship while their own ship, badly damaged and on fire, sank into the North Sea.
But what does this have to do with the Serapis Flag? Only this. Jones, now in command of the Serapis, put into a neutral Dutch port for repairs. British officials accused Jones of being a pirate and demanded his arrest. He was, after all, sailing a captured ship which was not flying the colors of any known nation. Bonhomme Richard’s flag, remember, had been blown into the sea. A flag was hastily created for Jones’ ship and entered into the Dutch records, allowing the Dutch to officially recognize the captured ship.
The Serapis Flag was created according to a description of United States flag that was provided by Benjamin Franklin, who was then Ambassador to France.
“It is with pleasure that we acquaint your excellency that the flag of the United States of America consists of thirteen stripes, alternately red, white, and blue; a small square in the upper angle, next the flagstaff, is a blue field, with thirteen white stars, denoting a new constellation.”
The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States
And thus, this slightly garbled recounting of the Flag Resolution of 1777 is responsible for the distinctive look of the Serapis Flag. Because of this, the flag is also known as the Franklin Flag. It remains popular today and is frequently used in historical displays because of its uniqueness and its recognizably American character.
It was 99 years ago today, 18 August 1920, that Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, and the United States officially recognized women’s right to vote. Today, we’re flying a “19th Amendment Victory Flag” to mark the occasion.
The road to passage was a long one. Universal suffrage for white men was, mostly, completed by the 1830s. The Women’s Rights Movement began in the decades before the Civil War and was organized nationally in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. In 1869, the Wyoming Territory extended voting rights to women and retained the provision when it became a state in 1890. Colorado (1893), Utah (1896) and Idaho (1896) followed suit. Still, by 1900, only these four states recognized voting rights for Women; a fact immortalized in the “Women’s Suffrage Flag” shown below.
This remained the status quo until 1910 when Washington State expanded voting rights, paving the way for other states to follow. In January 1917 the Women’s Rights Party, led by Alice Paul, began posting “Sentinels of Liberty” in front of the White House. These women stood in silence, holding flags and banners quoting President Wilson’s own words about liberty.
In return, these women were spat upon and subjected to ridicule, violence and arrest. But the movement was taking hold. In 1918 the arrests were ruled unconstitutional and Wilson declared his support for suffrage. The following year the Suffrage Amendment passed both houses of Congress with the required two-thirds vote and was sent to the states for ratification.
Thirty-five states had approved the amendment by March 22nd, 1920 but there the process stalled, just one state short of ratification. Worse, of the thirteen states remaining, eight states had already rejected the amendment, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi and Delaware. Things didn’t look promising when Tennessee took up the amendment on August 18th; most of the other southern states had voted to reject. With less than three months to go before the 1920 election, three states were called upon to hold special sessions to approve the amendment and refused. Only Tennessee’s legislature was still in session; this could be the last chance to ratify before the election. The Tennessee Senate passed the amendment.
Enter Phoebe King “Febb” Ensminger Burn, mother of Harry T. Burn who at 25 was the youngest member of the state legislature. Mrs. Burn, inspired by a political cartoon, wrote her son a long letter, “Hurrah and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt,” she wrote. “I’ve been watching to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet.” Referencing the cartoon, she continued, ”Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the RAT in ratification.” Harry had originally intended to vote for ratification, but after pressure from party leaders and receiving “misleading telegrams from his constituents” he joined the anti-suffrage side. This left the state legislators tied with 48 votes for ratification and 48 votes for rejection. When the Legislature met, Harry had his mother’s letter in his coat pocket. The first vote went as expected, 48 to 48. At least two votes to table the matter failed and the another vote was called on the merits, Harry addressed the assemblage. ”I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow,” he told his colleagues. He then changed his vote and the Women’s Suffrage Amendment became part of the constitution.
The 19th Amendment Victory flag is based on the flag of the National Women’s Party, which is a horizontal tricolor using the Party’s three official colors. The meanings of the color’s were explained in the Suffragist in December 1913.
“Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White, the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose; and gold, the color of light and life, is as the torch that guides our purpose, pure and unswerving.”
To create the victory flag, two rows containing 18 five-pointed stars each were added to represent the thirty-six states who had ratified the Amendment prior to passage. Every state has now ratified the 19th Amendment, the last being Mississippi on 22 March 1984.
Today is 20 July 2019; fifty years to the day that humans first set foot on another celestial body marking the culmination of the Space Race and one of humanity’s greatest technological achievements.
To commemorate the occasion, we’re flying a flag featuring the NASA Insignia, a streamlined version of the NASA seal. Other than the the fact that it contains text, the insignia is a perfect centerpiece for a flag. It’s striking without being too busy and it’s easy to sketch. It also has nice, clear symbolism.
From the NASA website:
The round red, white and blue insignia, nicknamed the “meatball,” was designed by employee James Modarelli in 1959, NASA’s second year. The design incorporates references to different aspects of the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The round shape of the insignia represents a planet. The stars represent space. The red v-shaped vector represents aeronautics. The circular orbit around the agency’s name represents space travel.
We spent a decent amount of time deciding which flag to fly for the occasion. Our first thought was the Earth Day flag, and then an Earth Day flag with a stylized crescent moon and the southern cross, but neither of those seemed to feature the Moon clearly enough. There were other options, but the NASA flag seemed most appropriate.
The first two options above could be deemed “photograph flags” and, for my purposes, flying a flag based on a photograph seems fine. If any of the images below were available in flag form, we might have chosen it. Perhaps I’ll order one of these custom made for the 51st anniversary.
The flag played a prominent role in the Lunar Landing. One of the more dramatic moments was the raising of the flag, which I can clearly remember seeing on the teevee. I explicitly recall being puzzled about the flag’s behavior. It seemed to snap out with the top sticking straight out from the pole. I was only five, but this seemed strange. I’d seen flags before and they certainly didn’t do this. It must be something strange about space, I thought. Or the Moon. Or something else. Here’s the news footage.
Turns out the flag had its own “frame.” Five year old me missed that. If you have any doubts about the significance of the flag in this event, let’s turn to Arthur C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century. Published in 1986, this book is a collection of Clarke’s speculations about the state of life and technology on this very day. The first chapter is a fictional letter, written by Clarke himself, from his home in Clavius City, Luna on the book’s titular date. It begins thusly.
It doesn’t seem like fifty years – but I cannot be sure which memories are false and which are real. Present and past are inextricably entangled. The monitor screen has just shown the ceremony at Tranquility Base, culminating with the third hoisting of the American flag. It was blown down, of course, by the blast of the Eagle’s ascent stage, and lay there on the trampled Moon soil for thirty-six years until the Apollo Historical Committee reerected it. Then the big quake of 2009 knocked it down again; this time, we’re assured, it would take a direct hit by a fair-sized meteor to lower it…
Arthur C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century
It’s a romantic image; historical societies reerecting and preserving the flag for future generations to see and enjoy, but sadly, that may never come to pass. The condition of the flags on the moon is a subject of speculation. The conditions are harsh. The surface is bombarded with UV radiation without the protection we receive from Earth’s atmosphere and the temperature ranges from -280 to +240 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the flags could have disintegrated entirely. At a minimum, the flags must be so sun bleached that they are now completely white. At least as recently as 2012, however, there was evidence that the flags of Apollo 12, 16 and 17 were still standing. You can read about the condition of the flags in the links below.
Clarke, A. C., July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century, Macmillan, 1986