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The Quick 10: 10 Facts About the American Flag

Sunday commemorates the United States' 93rd Flag Day. Sort of. We'll get to that in a second. It's one of those underrated holidays that doesn't get too much attention, but we're bucking that trend here on the _floss by dedicating 10 facts just to the flag.

flag day1. It was 1916 that Woodrow Wilson set aside June 14 as the the date for honoring the flag. But it wasn't actually declared National Flag Day until 1949, when it was established by an act of Congress. Why June 14? Because that's the day in 1777 that the Second Continental Congress adopted Betty Ross' (according to popular legend, anyway) flag as the official flag of the United States.
2. You know the story "“ George Washington prevailed upon Betsy Ross to create a flag for the country and she sewed it up with her bare hands. It's a nice story and all, but nearly all flag historians believe it probably never really happened. Our only source for this tale is her family "“ no historical records seem to back it up. No records show that the Continental Congress issued a flag to be designed, no invoice or any supporting documents have ever been found amongst Betsy's detailed records, and no mention of a national flag appears in Congress records until the Flag Resolution of 1777.

3. The United States Flag Code specifies that the flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. As far as we can tell, this custom dates back to the 1908 London Olympics. All countries were asked to respectfully dip their flags to the Royal Box when the procession passed by King Edward VII, but Ralph Rose, the American track and field athlete holding the flag, refused to comply. His teammate Martin Sheridan later explained, "This flag dips to no earthly king." The tradition has been upheld ever since and was officially written into the Flag Code in 1911.

4. I see this rule of the Flag Code broken all of the time, and I bet you do too: the flag should not be used for any advertising purpose, including worn on clothes or for decoration in general (it's fine on coffins). I'm picturing myself in the early "˜90s "“ cutoff jean shorts with cuffs and a big, oversized American flag t-shirt "“ and I feel guilty for so many reasons.

washington5. There's a theory that the red and white stripes on the flag were based on George Washington's coat of arms. There's no proof for this; the idea is based purely on the resemblance of colors and shapes. Most historians think the flag was probably based off of the Sons of Liberty flag. If you've ever read Johnny Tremaine you probably remember these guys "“ they were a secret organization that rebelled against British taxes and laws. Their flag was nine vertical stripes, commonly red and white (yellow and green were also sometimes used instead of red). It's thought that the nine stripes represented the number of colonies that would attend the Stamp Act Congress.

6. You no doubt know that "Old Glory" refers to the flag, but there's actually a specific flag that started the trend. It was made for Captain William Driver to fly from the mast of his whaling ship in the early 1800s. Measuring 10 feet by 17 feet, it was pretty large and rather difficult to conceal when the Civil War broke out. Old Glory had become rather famous thanks to Driver and his travels, and he believed that Confederate soldiers wanted to destroy his beloved flag to send a message to the Union. He had it sewn inside a quilt and it remained there until the Union took Nashville back. Then, the story goes, Driver flew Old Glory from the state capitol building in celebration. These days, she resides in the Smithsonian and will probably stay there for the rest of her existence "“ the flag was taken out for an exhibition in 2006 and it was determined afterward that it was too fragile to be moved from the museum ever again.

starspangled7. There is also a specific Star-Spangled Banner. It's the flag Francis Scott Key saw when he was watching Fort McHenry being bombarded during the War of 1812 "“ his tale goes just like the song goes: after gunfire and rain all night, the flag was still standing when the sun rose. Inspired, Key wrote down what he was feeling "“ but when he wrote it, it was simply a poem called "Defense of Fort McHenry." It became a song when Key's brother-in-law discovered that the poem perfectly fit the tune of a popular song called "The Anacreontic Song." Although the song was played at public events and on patriotic occasions from that point on, it wasn't officially named as the national anthem until after Robert Ripley of Ripley's Believe it or Not noted in his cartoon that "Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem." John Philip Sousa rallied for The Star-Spangled Banner to become the new national anthem, and on March 3, 1931, Herbert Hoover signed a law making it so.

8. The designer of our current 50-star flag was a high school student at the time. It was 1958 and there was some chatter that Alaska and Hawaii were going to officially become states 49 and 50. One of his teachers capitalized on the current events of the day and had his students design a new flag incorporating the two new states. Robert G. Heft did just that, arranging the stars so it wasn't very evident that he had added any. His teacher gave him a B-, saying that the design was unoriginal. When Heft balked at the grade, his teacher told him that if he could get the flag adopted by Congress, he would bump the grade up to an A. Heft jumped at the opportunity and sent the flag to his congressman, who ended up getting the flag approved. Heft got the grade increase. Since then, Heft's original homemade flag has flown over every single state capitol building, over 88 U.S. embassies, and over the White House for five administrations. He has a design with 51 stars ready to go if the need arises.

9. There are a handful of flags that are displayed continuously despite weather conditions. A few of the places you can find these flags include the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the Washington Monument; Gettysburg College at a spot that served as a lookout and hospital during the Civil War (fittingly, this one is a Civil War flag); at the Maryland birthplace and grace of Francis Scott Key; on the surface of the moon; at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, S.D.,; and in Nashville City Cemetery over the grave site of William Driver.

10. There's a proper way to fly a flag at half staff, and it's not just hoisting it halfway and stopping "“ it has to go to the top of the pole first before it is slowly lowered to the appropriate height. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first President to officially issue the half-staff proclamation.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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