By Tom Clavin
“The Overlook” appears every Thursday at tomclavin.substack.com. An overlook is usually a place from which one can see in many if not all directions, including where one has been and where one is going. If you enjoy the column, please "like" it and let me know what you think by commenting (check out previous ones while you're at it). Likes, comments, and shares help with author discoverability on Substack.com, and all support is appreciated.And don't forget to hit the ‘Subscribe’ button – it’s free!
“You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high-flying flag, and forever in peace may you wave.”
George M. Cohan
Flag Day has become a rather overlooked holiday, yet it is not even the most overlooked anniversary on that date. June 14 is also the birthday of the U.S. Army. On that date in 1775, the Continental Congress’ Committee of the Whole authorized the “American continental army.” Just in case you’re wondering, the birth of the U.S. Navy took place four months later, on October 13, and the Marine Corps birthday is November 10.
Back to Flag Day, which greets us next Monday. Show of hands: How many of you know that we have this holiday thanks to a Wisconsin grade school teacher? This is just one more reason why we should celebrate teachers.
According to a resolution passed by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, “That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” And so it was. But there was no such thing as a Flag Day.
Flash forward 108 years to 1885, and we’re also transported to Waubeka, Wisconsin. Bernard John Cigrand had been born there in 1866 and at just 19 he was teaching at the Stony Hill School. On June 14, he organized what is now the first formal observance of Flag Day with the schoolchildren participating in festivities.
Cigrand was not done with the day. The following year found him in Chicago where he was attending dental school. He published an article in the Argus newspaper titled “The Fourteenth of June,” in which he advocated a national Flag Day observance. He continued his quest in June 1888 with a speech to the Sons of America. The group made Cigrand the editor of the organization’s magazine, American Standard, and in it he published articles extolling Flag Day. One result was in June 1894, Flag Day celebrations took place at several public schools in Chicago.
And Cigrand hit the road. As president of the American Flag Day Association and later the National Flag Day Society, he gave talks around the country. He later estimated he had given almost 2200 speeches on the American flag and patriotism. Finally, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation officially establishing June 14 as Flag Day. However, it took 33 years for Congress to chime in – National Flag Day was approved in August 1949. Pennsylvania, however, had not waited, becoming the first state to celebrate Flag Day, in 1937. And before that, all the way back to 1909, Fairfield, Washington had a Flag Day parade and has hosted one every year since.
What became of Bernard Cigrand, who is credited with the rather modest title of “Father of Flag Day”? He did become a dentist and practiced in Chicago. He continued to teach but this time it was instructing dental students at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He eventually became dean of the faculty there, and after turning over that role he returned to teaching, doing so into the 1920s. And he was a prolific writer of letters and articles published in several Chicago newspapers.
When Cigrand retired from teaching, he went back to being a dentist. He built a house ion Batavia, Illinois, and had an office on the lower level. He died in Batavia in 1932, at age 65.
Flag Day may not be as exciting as Arbor Day (!) but it is still worth celebrating.
Tom Clavin is the bestselling author/co-author of 18 books, including his latest collaboration with Bob Drury, Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and theFight for America’s First Frontier, published in April by St. Martin’s Press and still residing on national bestseller lists. Please go to your local bookstore or to Bookshop.org, Amazon.com, or BN.com to purchase a copy.