Chicago Flag Day is upon us! No, not Chicago ‘Flag Day,’ ‘Chicago Flag Day.’ Confused? We were too, so I spent a little time breaking it all down for you here on the Absolutely Chicago Segway Tours blog.
Chicago Flag Day
Today, Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Chicago’s preeminent hipster politician (sorry Ald. Ameya Pawar and Rep. Will Guzzardi), announced that Chicago’s flag get’s a holiday on April 4th. Ald. Rosa tweeted , that his proposal to give the Chicago flag it’s own day passed unanimously in the Chicago City Council. This comes on the 100th anniversary of the Chicago Flag designed by writer Wallace Rice.
Ald. Rosa, who’s office is in the heart of Logan Square, likely pushed for the six-pointed starred-and blue-barred flag to appeal to his neighborhood’s younger constituents who were responsible for his election. Logan Square has been one of the nations fastest growing neighborhoods, and a large swath of this growth has come from young adults who have fallen in love with Chicago and its icons. The Chicago flag tattoo has become a symbol of love and status for Chicago’s cultural fanatics.
Chicago’s ‘Flag Day’
The Windy City has had a long history of honoring flying fabric. Chicago has celebrated flag day for longer that any city in the union. According to Stephan Benzkofer of the Chicago Tribune, flag day celebrations began in Chicago in 1984. The ‘American Flag Day Association’ was formed to organize the event by musician LeRoy Van Horn and dentist Dr. Bernard J. Cigrand. “The festivities featured tens of thousands of schoolchildren, bands, songs, parades and speech after speech after speech,” says Benzkofer. Thirty years later President Woodrow Wilson created the national holiday, but now, thanks to Rosa, that flag waving feeling is coming back home.
In a competition that Wallace Rice set the rules for, Rice beat out over a thousand designs to create the image seen on coffee mugs and forearms throughout the Chicagoland area. The simple yet elegant design was passed through City Council by a unanimous vote on April 4, 1917–two days before the U.S. officially declared war on Germany.
So what exactly is the Chicago flag? It is simple and elegant, but can it really mean that much? Well, for a rectangle with just six effects, it tells a wonderful story.
2 Blue Stripes
The blue stripes represent the north and south branch of the river. Chicago’s origin story has always revolved around its “discovery” by Jaques Marquette in the 17th century. Though the natives did not view the mouth of the Chicago River as a “wild and wasted stream” as the legend tells us, they certainly could not have envisioned the site as an international port. When Chicago was incorporated in 1837, the I & M Canal (connecting the Chicago River and the Mississippi) was still eleven years from completion. By 1917, the Chicago River was an important reason for Chicago’s vast wealth in industry and agriculture, and seen as a divine setting for a city. Early twentieth century Chicagoans marveled at the foresight of the city’s founders.
Three White Stripes
The white stripes represent the cardinal directions in Chicago: North, South, and West. There is no East in Chicago, or as a young Barak Obama put it in 1985, “Chicago–a handsome town, wide streets, lush parks, broad, lovingly crafted buildings, Lake Michigan forming its whole Eastside, as big and mutable as an ocean.” Each other side is filled with neighborhoods formed by the immigrants, migrants, and refugees who made it their home.
Four Red Stars
The stars represent the two tragedies and two triumphs that make up Chicago’s brief and furious history. The first two stars, symbolizing the Great Chicago Fire and the Worlds Fair of 1893, sat waiting on the left hand side of the flag for almost twenty years before the picture was finally rounded out in 1933. The second Worlds Fair held in Chicago, called ‘A Century of Progress,’ was as good a reason as any to add a third star, and in order to create some closure on a hundred year old disaster, a fourth star was sewn on in remembrance of the Fort Dearborn Massacre.
Each of the 24 points on the flags 4 stars has its own meaning as well, but those may be for a different blog.
Until then, fly your Chicago flag high or raise your tattoo to the sky because on April 4, Alderman Carlos Rosa an the whole broad shouldered city salutes you!