Maryland’s crowded flag

By James Breig

Maryland state flag

Maryland State Flag

On April 28, 1788 – 225 years ago – Maryland became the seventh united state. It came into the union with a unique history that would evolve into a cluttered flag.

Charles I of Great Britain granted Maryland’s charter in 1632 and assigned it to Lord Baltimore (Cecilius Calvert). The king’s command was “to transport an ample Colony of the English Nation unto a certaine Countrey…in the parts of America not yet cultivated and planted.” Maryland was named for Charles’ wife, Henrietta Maria.

Successive Lord Baltimores would hold sway over the new colony as royal governors, so it is no surprise that the Maryland flag would derive in part from the Calvert crest, making it the only state flag drawn from British heraldry. Another family is also represented on the flag: the Crosslands. They were the ancestors of the mother of George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore.

The Calvert crest, colored black and gold, resembles a distorted checkerboard; the Crossland crest is red and white with “a cross bottony.”

During the Civil War, a time of national division, supporters of the Union waved the Calvert flag, while secessionists opted for the Crossland crest. After the war ended, Marylanders began joining the two flags as a symbol of their reunion.

The combined banner was not officially adopted as the state flag until 1904 – 272 years after King Charles granted the land to the Calverts. A 1904 Maryland newspaper article remarked that the flag seemed to “have been adopted by common consent.”

Gold Botonee Cross

Gold Bottony cross for displaying flag indoors or in parades

Under an unusual – perhaps unique — state law that governs flagpoles, “any ornament affixed to the top of a flagstaff carrying the Maryland flag…must be a gold cross bottony (Botonee).”

Two mentions of “bottony” demand a clarification. The word doesn’t mean the study of flowers. A bottony is a cross with a trefoil design on the end of each arm. The word derives from a French term meaning “covered with buds.”

Memorial Day

By Cheryl Rings

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and although there are many conflicting stories on it’s beginnings, most of them agree that it began as a day set aside to honor the soldiers who had fallen in service during the civil war.  Dates and specific groups of soldiers are what separates many of the stories.

Washington Race Course graves now behind the race course stands near the intersection of Tenth Ave. and Mary Murray Drive.

One of those stories comes from Charleston, South Carolina.  The event was held by former slaves at the Washington Race Course in Charleston, SC, where there was a Confederate prison camp and mass grave for Union soldiers. In only ten days, the people built a fence around the graveyard so that they could call it a Union graveyard. On May 1, 1865, nearly ten thousand people gathered at the graveyard for a ceremony that included singing, picnics, and sermons. The Charleston paper declared it Decoration Day.

Continue reading

Woman hoists stadium flag

By James Breig

Baseball and flags have had a long relationship – and not just through the singing of “Oh, Say, Can You See” before every game.

After all, what are the pro teams chasing throughout their 162-game season? They’re after a pennant! Fans follow the pennant races throughout the spring and summer, but we seldom stop to think that, at one time, an actual flag was handed to the winners at the end of the season.

Even today, a visit to stadiums often includes a glance at the pennants circling the top of the structure – flags with the teams’ names on them that are arrayed in the order of the standings.

Ebbets Stadium flag-raising in 1913 (Photo from Library of Congress)

Ebbets Stadium flag-raising in 1913 (Photo from Library of Congress)

A century ago, an unusual flag-related event occurred at the debut of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the legendary – and no longer extant – ballpark of the Dodgers (then nicknamed the Superbas). When the Stars and Stripes were pulled to the top of a pole before an exhibition game against the New York Yankees in April 1913, a woman did the honors.

As described in The New-York Tribune, she was “strikingly gowned in white skirt and shoes and a vivid green coat and hat.” She strode across the field “with the band and the players straggling behind.”

However, one thing was missing: the flag! “A boy rushed frantically across the field and soon came staggering out with a monster piece of bunting that would have been a load for two full-sized men,” said the Tribune.

After “The Star-Spangling Banner” was played, the woman “struggled valiantly with the halyards and finally…hoisted Old Glory to the top of the pole.” She got the honor through her connections: She was Mrs. E.J. McKeever, the wife of a part-owner of the Brooklyn team.

As for the game, the Superbas topped the Yanks, thanks, in part, to an inside-the-park homer by Casey Stengel, who, decades later, would manage the Bronx team to several World Series victories.

New president, new flag

By James Breig

In three months, Americans will mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. A few months later, the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address will be noted. Those two occasions have led to recent postings here about Abraham Lincoln and flags.

Those stories focused on his 1861 rail journey from Illinois to Washington, D.C., for his first inauguration. Once he was formally installed, Lincoln continued to make news concerning the American flag. On May 22, for instance, Lincoln went to the General Post Office Building in Washington to hoist a flag above it.

General Post Office Building in Washington

the General Post Office Building in Washington where Lincoln raised the flag is now a hotel

“I suppose that extended remarks are not expected of me at this time,” he said, “but that it is desired by all that we shall proceed at once to the work in hand — of raising our glorious national ensign to the proud and lofty eminence from which it [will] wave.”

A newspaper recorded that, “amid the most deafening applause from the crowd,” Lincoln grasped the halyards and elevated the flag to the top of the postal building.

“There being but a slight breeze at the time of its reaching its place at the top of the staff,” the journalist noted, the flag “remained for a moment or two motionless, when suddenly, [with] a gentle wind rising from the North, its ample folds were extended to the breeze in a most graceful and beautiful manner, eliciting one universal outburst of applause from the assembled multitude.”

The symbolism of a breeze coming from the North was not lost on the audience at the beginning of the Civil War — or on the president.

“I had not thought to say a word,” Lincoln said, “but it has occurred to me that a few weeks ago [when Fort Sumter was attacked] the Stars and Stripes hung rather languidly about the staff all over the nation. So, too, with this flag, when it was elevated to its place….But the glorious breeze came, and it now floats as it should. And we hope that the same breeze is swelling the glorious flag throughout the whole nation!”

Lincoln raises new flag

By James Breig

As America marches toward the 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg (in July) and the Gettysburg Address (in November), this space has begun sharing some stories about Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. flag.

Last week, some of his flag-related speeches from 1861, while he was on his way to his first inauguration, were recounted. This week, we’ll focus on what he did on Feb. 22 in Philadelphia.

A sketch of the flag-raising from Harper's Weekly

The flag-raising from Harper’s Weekly

The date: George Washington’s birthday. The place: the launching point of American history. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Lincoln was invited to raise a flag at Independence Hall. Making the moment even more special was the flag itself. It carried a new star, representing the statehood of Kansas, which had been admitted to the Union on Jan. 29.

“When that flag was originally raised here,” the president-elect said, “it had but 13 stars. I wish to call your attention to the fact that, under the blessing of God, each additional star added to that flag has given additional prosperity and happiness to this country until it has advanced to its present condition.”

Then he added: “Its welfare in the future, as well as in the past, is in your hands.” The remark drew cheers from the assembled people, who were well aware of the onrushing Civil War.

“I think,” Lincoln continued, “we may promise ourselves that not only the new star placed upon that flag shall be permitted to remain there to our permanent prosperity for years to come, but additional ones shall from time to time be placed there, until we shall number…five hundred millions of happy and prosperous people.”

As the audience clapped loudly, Lincoln proceeded to what he called “the very agreeable duty assigned me” – raising the new flag that now displayed 34 stars.