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A Brief History of Flag Day

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Ingloriously crammed between the summer’s other two big holidays – that would be Memorial Day and Labor Day – Flag Day doesn’t tend to get much respect. Perhaps things would be different if we got the day off, or if there was any kind of actual glamour surrounding the holiday, perhaps the advent of a signature Flag Day snack or cocktail? Or maybe Flag Day just needs something simple – like a brief history  to help contextualize it against the backdrop of summer’s better-known holidays.

What Is Flag Day?

Before we go digging for some Flag Day dirt, it seems prudent to address just what the holiday is actually meant to celebrate. Every June 14th, the United States doesn’t just celebrate the flag as a single entity; it actually celebrates the adoption of the flag itself, which happened nice and early in American history – June 14, 1777. Basically, Flag Day is the birthday of the American flag. Please don’t celebrate with candles and cake.

Flag Day’s Unfailing Supporters

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You’d think that getting a holiday to honor the most recognizable symbol of America, the Stars and Stripes, would be pretty easy. Sadly, you’d be wrong. Although the flag was adopted as the country’s official banner in 1777, it took nearly one hundred and fifty years for it to get its own holiday, something that a lot of people worked to make happen.

There’s some debate over who first suggested the holiday – one story holds that, in 1861, Hartford, Connecticut resident George Morris suggested the idea, which then led to a formal observance of the day (June 14th) in his hometown.

Other sources claim that it was B.J. Cigrand who invented Flag Day when the schoolteacher had his Wisconsin class celebrate it in 1885 at the Stony Hill School. Even if Cigrand didn’t really think up the day, he became its poster boy (he’s still known as “the Father of Flag Day”) and its biggest supporter, traveling around the country to chat up groups about the need for an official Flag Day and other ways to be patriotic. Cigrand eventually became editor-in-chief of American Emblem magazine, a publication dedicated to, well, American emblems. Later, Cigrand became the president of the American Flag Day Association and the National Flag Day Society.

In 1893, Pennsylvania resident (and Benjamin Franklin descendent) Elizabeth Duane Gillespie tried to get a state resolution passed that required the flag to be put on display in each of Philadelphia’s public buildings.

The next year, Flag Day was celebrated in Chicago, and the highly successful event was repeated the year after that. Flag Day was catching on!

In 1889, another schoolteacher, New York City’s George Balch, had his class celebrate Flag Day on June 14th, an idea that proved popular enough to be adopted by the State Education Board of New York for the whole state.

In 1907, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks officially designated June 14th as Flag Day, and the fraternal order and social club has celebrated it every year since (in 1911, they even made it mandatory for all Lodges to observe it, that’s how serious they are about Flag Day). The Elks even pushed the sitting President to give Flag Day some official status, which finally happened in 1916.

Why Don't We Get Flag Day Off?


President Woodrow Wilson issued the proclamation that created the official holiday we know as “Flag Day,” way back in 1916. Yet the holiday didn’t become a national one until 1949, when an Act of Congress turned the day into “National Flag Day.” Ever wonder why we don’t get Flag Day off? Because it’s not a federal holiday, most of which are celebrated by the glory of a free day from work and school.

If you live in Pennsylvania or New York, though, your Flag Day experience might be a bit different – Pennsylvania adopted Flag Day as a state holiday back in 1937, and New York has designated the second Sunday of June as the official state holiday celebration of Flag Day.

The Army Connection

The flag shares its birthday with another important American institution – the United States Army, which was created as the “American Continental Army” by the same Second Continental Congress that passed the resolution to adopt the new flag.

Celebrating the Holiday


What’s the best way to celebrate Flag Day? By flying your flag, of course! The week of June 14th is officially “National Flag Week,” and all U.S. citizens are encouraged to fly their flag for at least part of the period. You can get more serious with a parade or another fun event, as long as the flag is present and appropriately cared for and flown.

Want to really do up this Flag Day? Go visit the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia or Cigrand’s old school in Wisconsin, which has been fully restored to reflect the time period during which he supposedly thought up the holiday.

Other People’s Flags


America is, of course, not the only country to celebrate the creation of their flag with an official Flag Day – Australia’s Flag Day is in September, Argentina also celebrates in June, and Canada honors their own maple leaf the day after Valentine’s Day.

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Civilian Researchers Discover Wreckage of the USS Indianapolis
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On July 30, 1945, the cruiser USS Indianapolis sank in the Pacific Ocean after it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. More than 70 years after the historic naval tragedy— which claimed the lives of nearly 900 crew—The New York Times reports that the ship’s mysterious final resting place has been found.

The discovery came courtesy of a team of civilian researchers, led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His state-of-the-art research vessel, Petrel, located the wreck 18,000 feet below the Pacific’s surface, the team announced on Saturday, August 19.

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence, and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances."

Before it sank, the USS Indianapolis had just completed a top-secret mission to a naval base on the Northern Mariana island of Tinian. After delivering enriched uranium and components for Little Boy— the atomic bomb that the U.S. would drop on the Japanese city of Hiroshima about a week later—the cruiser forged ahead to Guam, and then to the Philippines. It was supposed to meet the battleship USS Idaho at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare to attack Japan.

The USS Indianapolis never made it to Leyte Gulf. Shortly after midnight on July 30, the Japanese submarine I-58 spotted the cruiser and fired six torpedoes. The USS Indianapolis—which was hit twice—sank within 12 minutes. Around 300 to 400 sailors and Marines were killed in the attack; the rest were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for several days.

Many of these survivors would ultimately lose their lives to sharks, a grisly scene that would be famously (albeit semi-accurately) recounted in the 1975 movie Jaws. Others died from drowning, heat stroke, thirst, burns and injuries, swallowing salt water or fuel oil, and suicide. More than 300 crew members were rescued after a bomber pilot accidently sighted the imperiled men while on a routine antisubmarine patrol.

The mass tragedy—which wouldn’t be announced to the public until August 15, 1945—sparked controversy: Charles B. McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis, was found guilty in a court martial of failing to steer the ship on a “zigzag” course to elude Japanese submarines. A Japanese submarine captain testified that this precautionary measure wouldn’t have thwarted the enemy, but McVay was charged nonetheless. The captain died by suicide in 1968, and wouldn’t be officially exonerated by the Navy until 2001.

For decades, the remains of the USS Indianapolis were lost to the ravages of time and nature. But in 2016, naval historian Richard Hulver found a historic ship log that mentioned a sighting of the USS Indianapolis. Allen’s search team used this information to locate the ship, which was west of where experts assumed it had gone down.

Allen’s crew took pictures of the wreckage, including a piece of its hull, and will search for more of the ship. They plan to keep the exact location of the USS Indianapolis a secret, however, to honor the sunken ship as a war grave.

"While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” Allen said.

[h/t The New York Times]

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The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.


In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

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Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.


In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

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When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.


By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.


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