Bernard J. Cigrand is credited with initiating a celebration of Flag Day at the Stony Hill School, near Fredonia, Wisconsin in 1885. Soon afterwards, he moved to Chicago. Cigard’s article, “The Fourteenth of June” was published by a newspaper, the Chicago Argus, in 1888. With the help of Leroy Van Horn and many others, by 1894, some 300,000 children participated in several Flag Day events held in various parks across the city of Chicago.
George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City, was behind plans for special ceremonies at his school in 1889. The State Board of Education adopted this idea, with appropriate ceremonies planned for the children of his school. The following year, the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution supported this initiative. In 1894, the Governor of New York State decreed that the flag be displayed on all governmental buildings on June 14.
In Pennsylvania, there was another pioneer in promoting the holiday. William T. Kerr, of Collier Township was instrumental in early celebrations in that state.
The Betsy Ross House held a Flag Day celebration on June 14, 1891. This led to a resolution adopted by Society of Colonial Dames of America to encourage such celebrations on June 14. In 1893, this came to pass with the support of the Superintendent of Public Schools, Dr. Edward Brooks. School children gathered at a special celebration at Independence Hall. Much later, in 1937, Pennsylvania became the first (and thus far, the only) state to make Flag Day a formal state holiday.
All of these early activities led to President Wilson proclaiming June 14 as Flag Day in 1916. A formal Congressional Act signed by President Truman in August 1949 formally made this an annual event.
Local Celebrations of Flag Day
While most Americans recognize Flag Day, the scope of celebrations varies considerably from place to place. In many cities and towns, it is a low-key affair. There are editorials and letters in the local newspaper about the history of Flag Day, and perhaps a special program at some schools, VFW Posts, or Elks Lodges.
Some communities embrace the holiday with festival events commonly associated with the 4th of July. These include the area near Fredonia, Wisconsin where Mr. Cigard started his activities in the 1880s. There are also festivals or parades in Fairfield, Washington, and a large parade in Framingham, Massachusetts. The honor of the largest Flag Day parade goes to the city of Troy, New York. In the hometown of “Uncle Sam,” this has evolved into a weekend festival. This annual parade is in its 43rd year in 2010, drawing perhaps 5000 marchers and crowds of tens of thousands.
While almost everyone likes a parade, perhaps the most important aspect of Flag Day is the educational. Newspaper articles and smaller ceremonies often focus on the proper ways to respect and display the flag. This includes standards of protocol in displaying the flag. When these standards are not followed, some veterans get very upset. My father and brother, with combined naval service of nearly 50 years both complained about this on many occasions.
The flag should be raised briskly at sunrise, and lowered slowly at sunset. It should not be flown in rain or inclement weather, or at night without a light upon it. The American flag should always be on top of the pole, with any state or other flags beneath it. The flag should be properly folded when stored, not just stuffed in a drawer or box. The flag should never touch the ground. When a flag is badly worn, it should be burned or buried. Contact a veterans’ post or Boy Scout troop for arranging for a flag’s proper disposal.
By all means, flying the flag should be encouraged on patriotic holidays. We must also recognize that some choose not to fly a flag, and that is OK. There is freedom to fly the flag or not at an individual’s inclination. However, when the stars and stripes are displayed, these rules of protocol should be followed.
With close observation, it soon becomes obvious that some local governments and institutions that should know better could use a refresher course in flag etiquette as well. A letter to one’s local newspaper in late May would be an appropriate forum for making this point. It would also help promote the observance of Flag Day, one of the better-known Presidential Proclamation Days.
Krythe, Maymie R. All About American Holidays. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962.
Myers, Robert J. (with the Editors of Hallmark Cards). Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972.