Monday, June 14, 2010

The Origins of Flag Day

“That the flag of the United States shall be of thirteen stripes of alternate red and white,with a union of thirteen stars of white in a blue field,representing the new constellation.”

That was the RFP (Request For Proposals) sent out by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. It was called the Flag Day resolution. Before the resolution, the exact design of the American flag had been fluttering wildly. The one George Washington carried had 13 stripes but had the British Union Jack instead of stars.

Sad to say, like most of the history you learned in school, the Betsy Ross thing is a bunch of hooey. She had nothing to do with the design or creation of the first flag. One of her ancestors made it all up. There is no record of her alleged commission by Congress to make a flag in 1776.

The first time a flag fitting the Congressional description was carried into battle was in 1777 at the Battle of the Brandywine.

This may drive wingnuts (right wing nuts) crazy but the first time an American flag was honored by another country was by their favorite folks the French, when they saluted Capt. John Paul Jones ship The Ranger.

For a while as a new state joined the union, a new star and a new stripe was stitched on. The flag got way too starry and bar-ry, so in 1818, a resolution was passed setting the thirteen stripes to represent the original colonies and the number of stars to equal the number of states. The last two stars were added on July 4, 1959 and then again on July 4th 1960 when we added Alaskan King Crab and Hawaiian pineapples to the American cuisine.


One of the more famous American Flags would have to be “Old Glory” The 15 star/15 bar flag that flew over Fort William McHenry during the War of 1812. Ole Francis Scott Key penned a poem about how the fort had undergone a British bombardment and as the sun rose he waited to see if it had surrendered. The Fort Commander, Major George Armistead had sent out his own RFP for a flag " large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance" He got one 30 feet tall by 42 feet long. When Key saw the flag flying his heart leapt and his pen scribbled. The poem was entitled “Defense of Fort McHenry”. You know the first stanza:

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

Key’s bro-in-law took the poem. He thought it’d make a nice top ten Rap song. He remembered a popular English Drinking Song called: “To Anacreon in Heaven” put the notation “sung to the tune of Ancacreon in Heaven” and it took off from there. The title was later changed to The Star Spangled Banner.

It’s interesting to note that The Star Spangled Banner was not officially considered our National Anthem for another 119 years. It was signed into law by Herbie Hoover in 1931.

On a related note: What do you do in front of a flag? Well you pledge allegiance to it.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a Baptist minister from New York in 1892 for the 400th Anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of America. He was Chairman of School Superintendents and was looking for a way to

Americanize his increasingly foreign born student body.

Here’s his pledge:

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

You’ll notice the wording is different than what you may know.

“My flag” was changed to “the flag of the United States of America.” But there’s one other thing missing. God.

This Baptist minister didn’t feel the need to mix God and country. The words “under God” weren’t added to the pledge until 1954 during the Cold War. It was supposed to be a not so subtle dig at the Godless Communists in Russia and China.

Back to Flag Day Trivia:

Scattered Flag Day celebrations started to be observed around the time of the Civil War.

Then on June 14, 1889, a New York City principal, in the hopes of Americanizing immigrant students (there was no McDonald’s yet) organized ceremonies to observe the anniversary of the 1777 Flag Day resolution. The NY State Department of Education liked the idea so much they had the day observed in all public schools statewide.

In 1937 Pennsylvania became the first state to establish Flag Day as a legal holiday. It is still the only state to recognize Flag Day as a legal holiday. (They bought the crap that it was one of their own, a Keystone Stater, Betsy Ross who had designed the first American flag.)

Both President Wilson and President Coolidge issued proclamations calling for June 14 to be observed as National Flag Day. But it wasn’t until August 3, 1949, that Congress approved the national observance, and Harry Truman happily signed it into law.

Unless you live in Pennsylvania you don’t get the day off. So what are you supposed to do on Flag Day?


Fly the flag. Salute the Flag.

Fold the flag. Unfold the flag.

However, if you have one of those tacky ones with a bald eagle, or Colonial Fife and drum corps or Abrams tank imprinted on it, I’d rethink that. Those are actually quite disrespectful. It is illegal and disrespectful to use/misuse the image of the flag. It doesn’t matter if you slap the words Support our troops on it and put it on the rear window of your SUV, it’s still disrespectful.

Personally, I’ve never understood the whole thing. If someone came out with American Flag toilet paper the country would be aghast. But those same folks wouldn’t think twice about wiping catsup off their face with an American flag napkin at a 4th of July barbecue and tossing it into the garbage can.

For some reason wingnuts think they own the flag.

Of course they don’t. Another thing they don’t seem to own is a handbook on proper respect for the flag. I’ve printed it below. I’d encourage you to forward it to anyone who advertently or inadvertently shows disrespect to the flag they think they are honoring.

If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing you should know at least a few flag no-nos:

The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.

The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. (HOLY PRESIDENT’S DAY SALE BATMAN!!!!)

It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or impressed on paper napkin, boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.

No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.

The flag should be flown from sunrise to sunset. If flown at night it must be illuminated. It should not be flown in inclement weather

and on and on and on.

Below you’ll find American Legion’s official Flag code.

Read it. Learn it.

Then fly it. Salute it.

At ease.



The Flag Code Title 4, United States Code, Chapter 1

As Adopted by the National Flag Conference, Washington, D.C., June 14-15, 1923, and Revised 
and Endorsed by the Second National Flag Conference, Washington, D.C., May 15, 1924. Revised 
and adopted at P.L. 623, 77th Congress, Second Session, June 22, 1942; as Amended by P.L. 829, 
77th Congress, Second Session, December 22, 1942; P.L. 107 83rd Congress, 1st Session, July 9, 
1953; P.L. 396, 83rd Congress, Second Session, June 14, 1954; P.L. 363, 90th Congress, Second 
Session, June 28, 1968; P.L. 344, 94th Congress, Second Session, July 7, 1976; P.L. 322, 103rd 
Congress, Second Session, September 13, 1994; P.L. 225, 105th Congress, Second Session, August 
12, 1998; and P.L. 80, 106th Congress, First Session, October 25, 1999.

(The full text of: Title 4, United States Code, Chapter 1,

will be found toward the bottom of this page.)

Display and use of flag by Civilians

Codification of Rules and Customs - Definition

The following codification of existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag 
of the United States of America is established for the use of such civilians or civilian groups or 
organizations as may not be required to conform with regulations promulgated by one or more 
executive departments of the Government of the United States. The flag of the United States for 
the purpose of this chapter shall be defined according to sections 1 and 2 of this title and Executive 
Order 10834 issued pursuant thereto.

Time and Occasions for Display

(a) It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on 
stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be 
displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.

(b) The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.

(c) The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all 
weather flag is displayed.

(d) The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on: 
New Year's Day, January 1; Inauguration Day, January 20;
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, the third Monday in January; Lincoln's Birthday, February 12;
Washington's Birthday, third Monday in February; Easter Sunday (variable); 
Mother's Day, second Sunday in May; Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May;
Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May;
Flag Day, June 14; Independence Day, July 4; Labor Day, first Monday in September;
Constitution Day, September 17; Columbus Day, second Monday in October; 
Navy Day, October 27; Veterans Day, November 11; 
Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November; Christmas Day, December 25; 
the birthdays of States (date of admission); and on State holidays;
and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States;

(e) The flag should be displayed daily on or near the main administration building of every public 

(f) The flag should be displayed in or near every polling place on election days.

(g) The flag should be displayed during school days in or near every schoolhouse.

Position and Manner of Display

The flag, when carried in a procession with another flag or flags, should be either on the marching 
right; that is, the flag's own right, or, if there is a line of other flags, in front of the center of that line.

(a) The flag should not be displayed on a float in a parade except from a staff, or as provided in 
subsection (i) of this section.

(b) The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle or of a railroad 
train or a boat. When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the 
chassis or clamped to the right fender.

(c) No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag 
of the United States of America, except during church services conducted by naval chaplains at 
sea, when the church pennant may be flown above the flag during church services for the personnel 
of the Navy. No person shall display the flag of the United Nations or any other national or 
international flag equal, above, or in a position of superior prominence or honor to, or in place of, 
the flag of the United States at any place within the United States or any Territory or possession 
thereof: Provided, that nothing in this section shall make unlawful the continuance of the practice 
heretofore followed of displaying the flag of the United Nations in a position of superior prominence 
or honor, and other national flags in positions of equal prominence or honor, with that of the flag of 
the United States at the headquarters of the United Nations. 

(d) The flag of the United States of America, when it is displayed with another flag against a wall 
from crossed staffs, should be on the right, the flag's own right, and its staff should be in front of 
the staff of the other flag.

(e) The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the 
group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and 
displayed from staffs.

(f) When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard 
with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown 
from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such 
flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag's 

(g) When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of 
the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the 
display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.

(h) When the flag of the United States is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an 
angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should be placed 
at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk 
from a rope extending from a house to a pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted 
out, union first, from the building.

(i) When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost 
and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window, the flag 
should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the 

(j) When the flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended vertically with 
the union to the North in an east and west street or to the East in a north and south street.

(k) When used on a speaker's platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and 
behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the 
United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the 
audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman's or speaker's right as he faces the 
audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or 
to the right of the audience.

(l) The flag should form a distinctive feature of the ceremony of unveiling a statue or monument, 
but it should never be used as the covering for the statue or monument. 

(m) The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then 
lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered 
for the day. When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the 
same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. 
When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted 
first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States 
or to the right of the flag of the United States (the viewer's left). When the flag is half-masted, 
both flags are half-masted, with the US flag at the mid-point and the other flag below.
 On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised 
to the top of the staff. By order of the President, the flag shall be flown at half-staff upon the death 
of principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or 
possession, as a mark of respect to their memory. In the event of the death of other officials or 
foreign dignitaries, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff according to Presidential instructions or 
orders, or in accordance with recognized customs or practices not inconsistent with law. In the event 
of the death of a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession 
of the United States, the Governor of that State, territory, or possession may proclaim that the 
National flag shall be flown at half-staff. 
 The flag shall be flown at half-staff 30 days from the death of the President or a former President; 
10 days from the day of death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the 
United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives; from the day of death until interment 
of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a 
former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory, or possession; and on the day of death 
and the following day for a Member of Congress. The flag shall be flown at half-staff on Peace Officers 
Memorial Day, unless that day is also Armed Forces Day. As used in this subsection...

 (1) the term ''half-staff'' means the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between 
the top and bottom of the staff;
 (2) the term ''executive or military department'' means any agency listed under sections 101 and 
102 of Title 5, United States Code; and
 (3) the term ''Member of Congress'' means a Senator, a Representative, a Delegate, or the 
Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.

(n) When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and 
over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.

(o) When the flag is suspended across a corridor or lobby in a building with only one main entrance, 
it should be suspended vertically with the union of the flag to the observer's left upon entering. If 
the building has more than one main entrance, the flag should be suspended vertically near the 
center of the corridor or lobby with the union to the north, when entrances are to the east and west 
or to the east when entrances are to the north and south. If there are entrances in more than two 
directions, the union should be to the east.

Respect for The Flag

No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be 
dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags 
are to be dipped as a mark of honor.

(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in 
instances of extreme danger to life or property.

(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or 

(c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.

(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be 
festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and 
red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used 
for covering a speaker's desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.

(e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to 
be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.

(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.

(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, 
insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

(h) The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering 

(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not 
be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise 
impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. 
Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.

(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch 
may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic 
organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, 
the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.

(k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be 
destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of the Flag.

During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in 
review, all present except those in uniform should face the flag and stand at attention with the 
right hand over the heart. Those present in uniform should render the military salute. When not 
in uniform, men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left 
shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Aliens should stand at attention. The salute to the flag 
in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

Modification of Rules and Customs

by the President of the United States.

Any rule or custom pertaining to the display of the flag of the United States of America, set forth 
herein, may be altered, modified, or repealed, or additional rules with respect thereto may be 
prescribed, by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, whenever he 
deems it to be appropriate or desirable; and any such alteration or additional rule shall be set 
forth in a proclamation.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Africatown, Irishtown, Italiantown, Chinatown

Chinatown where things can be bought cheaply has one of the richest histories in New York.

When the city walls only extended to Wall Street, the area north of today’s City Hall was the city’s first Hamptons. There was a beautiful spring fed lake surrounded by hills called The Collect Pond. (from the Dutch Kalach) It’s the area where all the courts stand today in Foley Square. Eventually it became the place where cattle were watered and then slaughtered. The pond was contaminated and quickly became a Colonial Superfund Cleanup site.

By the time of the American Revolution the northern boundary of the city was where City Hall stands today. North of that in the undesirable area “outside” the city was where Little Africa was situated. Today just 3 blocks north of City Hall you can find the African-American Burial grounds. The site was uncovered, literally, when the Government Services Administration was digging the foundation for a new office building. To learn its history go to

It’s a physical reminder that New York played a major part in the slave trade. And that parts of the area that is today called Chinatown was once Little Africa.

The story of Manhattan is all about real estate. (After all, it originated with a “$24” real estate deal.) It wasn’t long before speculators got the idea to drain the pond, level the hills and dump them as fill. Guess what the name of the street is that marks the location of the old canal? Yup that’s where Canal Street got its name.

A veritable Levittown of 2 story homes was built stretching all the way up past Mott Street. One problem, the springs that fed the Collect Pond were still flowing. The houses began sinking. And so with them the asking price. Presto, chango instant slum.

In the 1840’s waves of Irish fleeing the Potato Famine began landing down at Battery Park. (This was pre-Ellis Island.) They’d simply walk up Broadway behind City Hall and find Little Ireland. They’d find lodgings in basements or cram 8 and 10 to a room. A building and its outhouse meant to service a family of 8, now had 30 or 40 inhabitants.

The Irish lived amongst the Africans. And the sight of Irish women living with Black men became a must-see for the Upper Crust who went slumming on Sunday to see how the other half lived. Abraham Lincoln and Davey Crockett both took the Five Points tour. Crockett cracked he felt safer with Injuns.

The center of the neighborhood was at a spot where five streets converged and thus the name Five Points came into being. The modern street grid has eliminated one of the streets but if you stand on the south side of Columbus Park you’ll be at the spot that New Yorker Martin Scorsese tried to replicate in his film Gangs of New York. By the way you’ll find the church that was attacked up in Nolita at Prince and Elizabeth. Old St. Patricks. It gives you an idea of how big Little Ireland was. And the movie was correct in depicting nativist gangs from over by the Bowery, "The Bowery Boys" making bloody forays into the Points.

Where the park stands today there originally stood ramshackle 2 story houses with grog shops in the basement. When Charles Dickens visited the US he took the obligatory slum tour. He walked away with two things. One was he said he found the inspiration for Jacob Marley’s ghost from the wailing of an emaciated prisoner in the Tombs, a nearby prison. The other thing he was impressed with was a show that he witnessed in one of those basement dives. He saw black men performing a strange dance. When the Irish moved into the hood, the African-Americans saw the micks doing a jig and from that invented Tap dance.

Eventually these small buildings would all be replaced by 6 story tenement buildings. The plot where Columbus Park is situated was packed with them and was once called the most densely populated area in the world. They were torn down in an urban renewal project and since by the 1930’s the area was Italian it was named Columbus Park.

One block to your left is Baxter Street. In the 20th Century archeologists were examining the site of an old outhouse. There you could determine the diet of the inhabitants, whether they ate beef, chicken etc. They were perplexed when they came across monkey bones. Did the Five Pointers consume monkeys? Historians set them straight and explained that when this was Little Italy this was the street where you could rent an organ and a monkey and hit the streets for spare change. Here’s an interesting article from 1889 about Organ Grinders:

And here’s an interesting blog post about the subject:

If you walk across Columbus park to Mulberry street and look at the shop signs you’ll notice behind the Chinese signs you can still make out the Italian names underneath when Mulberry Street was the Wall Street of Little Italy full of Italian banks. One of those banks is still open the Stabile bank at Mulberry and Grand. It’s the site of the Italian-American museum and it’s right around the corner from the Museum of the Chinese in America, which gives wonderful walking tours of Chinatown.

The story of the area is an old one; the Irish drove the African-Americans out,the Italians followed the Irish into this new Catholic area, the Irish left for Hell’s Kitchen and the Chinese wound up around Mott Street in the late 1800’s. When they were finished building the railroads The Chinese Exclusionary Act was passed which forbade any more Chinese from entering the country. Which was why Chinatown was quite tiny until the 1970’s when immigration laws were loosened.

Now Chinatown has spread North, East, South and West and is about to devour Little Italy. And in Chinatown itself, you’ll find pockets of Little Saigon and Little Malaysia that are growing.

It’s an old story that echoes down the sidewalks of New York, New York, New York.