Monroe County Museum Deputy Director Talks Flag Day

This early version of the American flag flies in the Monroe County Museum.

JJ Przewozniak, Deputy Director of the Monroe County Museum, presented “Why do we celebrate Flag Day? ” Thursday afternoon. The virtual program was offered by Monroe County Community College.

For an hour, Przewozniak, who joined the museum in May 2020, spoke about the origins of flags and the relatively recent addition of Flag Day.

“It’s a good opportunity to reflect and reflect on the meaning of some of our national symbols and the role symbols play in our lives,” Przewozniak said.

The discussion began with an overview of symbols. Przewozniak showed several symbols, including a barber pole and a Bluetooth symbol. He also showed Jan van Eyck’s 1434 painting, “The Portrait of Arnolfini”, to illustrate how familiar objects can also be symbols. A dog, for example, symbolized fidelity in the 1430s, while fruit symbolized wealth.

“All the little, tiny clues help show the bigger meaning. Symbols help us get through life and make things easier,” Przewozniak said. “Symbols help establish what things mean. We see symbols and let’s make connections.

Symbolism has found its way into the design of flags.

“Flags are the most important and most recognized (image) of the values ​​of millions of people,” Przewozniak said.

Flags, he says, were not invented by one person. On the contrary, they came gradually.

The earliest depictions of nations were things like pennants, banners, and even busts of emperors. In ancient Asia and the Middle East, rulers were depicted on national emblems. In ancient Europe, ornate 3D symbols identified soldiers.

The first modern flag was the Roman Vexillum, which is more akin to a modern banner. With the advent of woven fabrics, groups such as guilds, districts, and military formations began to create their symbols from fabrics.

“After the establishment of trade with Asia, Europeans have quantities of silk and natural fibers from the world. Then the large, colorful fabrics that we recognized as real flags began to be seen across the continent. They were very expensive. They were very big status symbols of royal houses, armies. They were very ornate and colorful,” Przewozniak said.

But, gradually, flags began to represent entire nations, rather than royalty and armies. New flags, for example, were created in the late 1700s following revolutions in North America and France.

“They were a bit different and associated with the kingdom and the national identity. They weren’t limited to one cause or one religion,” Przewozniak said.

In the past, purple was associated with royalty or the Catholic Church.

“If you look at the flags of the world today, there’s (little) purple, maybe four to six have purple,” Przewozniak said.

The Stars and Stripes-style American flag was established on June 14, 1777, with the Second Continental Congress. There were only 13 states at the time. A resolution stated that the flag would have 13 alternating stripes of red and white and 13 stars.

Przewozniak has dispelled a myth about the first American flag.

“Betsy Ross didn’t sew it. There is no proof of this. This story happened in 1870. Ross’ grandson told it to the Pennsylvania Historical Society a century later. Betsy Ross was a famous seamstress and she sewed flags. But there was no mention of him being alive,” Przewozniak said.

Francis Hopkinson, Congressman and signer of the Declaration of Independence, is sometimes credited with designing the original flag.

“He requested payment for the design. His request was rejected on the grounds that he was not the only one consulted,” Przewozniak said. “We may never know who designed the first flag.”

Przewozniak showed several early American flags that had features in common with the modern American flag. These included the Sons of Liberty Flag, the Grand Union Flag, the Guilford Courthouse Flag, the Serapis Flag and the Stars and Stripes Flag, which has 15 stars and 15 stripes.

“(The Star Spangled Banner) has lasted 23 years and through five presidents. The original flag is at the Smithsonian,” Przewozniak said.

The Monroe County Museum continues to fly this flag.

“It’s the same national flag that was flown when Monroe became a county in 1817 and the same that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem when he flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore September 12-15. 1814,” Przewozniak said.

A Zoom participant asked what the colors red, white and blue mean. Przewozniak said accounts vary.

“There is so much relativism, so much interpretation. Some say white represents innocence, red bravery or the blood of those who came before. Blue is for justice,” he said.

On June 24, 1912, the order and proportions of the flag were prescribed by President William Howard Taft. Prior to this, flag makers could take liberties with the placement of elements. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made changes to the star pattern. This model is still used today.

Flag Day was created, Przewozniak said, as an opportunity to express respect for the flag.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day. On August 3, 1949, National Flag Day was established by an act of Congress. Flag Day is not an official holiday.

Przewozniak mentioned some important flags to see in Monroe.

“The museum has the original state flag of the Seventh Michigan Volunteer Infantry that fought in the Civil War. It is very impressive and impressive,” he said. “A legend says that the very first American flag flown in Michigan was located in a blockhouse on the Wayne Stockage, which was originally located at the intersection of Monroe St. and Elm Ave. There is a historical marker about it by St. Mary’s Church. If that’s true, it’s a kind of unique feather that we can wear in our cap,” he said.

Przewozniak closed the program with a 1917 quote from President Woodrow Wilson, who declared Flag Day a holiday. In 1917, the United States was on the brink of World War I.

Wilson said: “This flag which we honor and under which we serve is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and our purpose as a nation. She had no other character than that which we give her from generation to generation. The choices are ours. It floats in majestic silence above the hosts who execute these choices, whether in peace or war. And yet, although silent, it speaks to us – speaks to us of the past, of the men and women who have gone before us and the annals they have written on it.

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