The nationally observed Flag Day on June 14 began in a one-room schoolhouse with a 10-inch flag on the teacher’s desk.
Stony Hill School, the birthplace of Flag Day in Waubeka, WI
I wandered into the backwoods of Wisconsin a while back for an auction of vintage taxidermy mounts I could never afford. The auction house was located in the sleepy village of Waubeka, whose claim to fame, apparently, is the birthplace of Flag Day.
What is Flag Day? I probably should have known this, being a citizen of the US my entire life, but somehow it eluded me. The day was established to commemorate the adoption of the American flag by the United States on June 14, 1777. That day, the Continental Congress “resolved 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.”
I was completely unaware of the holiday until I stumbled upon the small one-room elementary school where it originated.
The typically quiet streets of Waubeka were lined with cars that day (a lot of people with pockets much deeper than mine showed up for the auction), so I drove a few minutes out of town to find a good place to turn around and park at the end of the line. The first available driveway just happened to lead to an old fieldstone schoolhouse with a giant steel flag pole in front, and a historical marker recounting one man’s 31-year campaign for recognition.
In 1885, 19-year-old Bernard J. Cigrand was teaching at Stony Hill School. On June 14, he placed a 10-inch flag with 38 stars in a bottle on his desk and held the first formal observance of Flag Day with his students by assigning essays on what the flag meant to them.
Cigrand moved to Chicago the following year, where he began writing for various publications to promote reverence for American emblems and the need to observe Flag Day. Over the years, he authored hundreds of articles on the subject, beginning with “The Fourteenth of June” published in 1886 in Chicago’s Argus newspaper. As a contributing editor of the Encyclopedia Americana, he included his piece, “The Recognition and Meaning of Flag Day.” A pamphlet he wrote called “Laws and Customs Regulating the use of the Flag of the United States” received wide distribution. He also wrote books, including Story of the American Flag, Story of the Great Seal of the United States, History of American Emblems, and The History of American Heraldry.
Cigrand eventually became the president of the American Flag Day Association, now the National Flag Day Foundation, and toured the country to promote patriotism. In that capacity, he once noted that he had given 2,188 speeches crusading for his cause.
Finally, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day. Later, in 1949, Congress recognized it as National Flag Day.