Fun with Flags: Digesting Old Glory’s Story

Robin Seeley Roan, Abby, and Gabe show off their 1959, 1814 and 1776 models of our national flag. Gabe was a special guest from San Francisco.

 

The story of our national flag can be summed up with three “L’s:” Lore, Lyrics and Liberty. To commemorate the 240th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the Culinary Academy of Post Street explored all three.

Lore 
In 1776, when Old Glory was new, it had a ring of stars. According to a single source, Betsy Ross was the seamstress who sewed the first Old Glory. That source was her grandson, William Canby, who reported that she stitched stars and stripes at General George Washington’s request in 1776 during the Revolutionary War. Canby claimed to have learned about his grandmother’s patriotic deed from an aunt in 1856, 20 years after Betsy Ross’s death. The so-called Betsy Ross flag was the first to have 13 white stars on a blue field nestled among red and white stripes. 

Canby published his account in 1870 in anticipation of the first centennial in 1876. At that time, people were looking for reasons to rally ‘round the flag. While historians grumble that his tale lacks corroboration, they haven’t found anything to refute it, either. This story lives on in the hearts and minds of Americans because they want to believe it. That makes it lore.

A Copycat in Europe? 
The flag of the European Union today with its ring of 12 gold stars on a blue field is reminiscent of our original ring of 13 stars set in a blue rectangle. The E.U. retains those 12 stars to represent the first 12 countries in the original Common Market, although it has 28 members today. That means if the Brits actually follow through with the Brexit, the E.U. flag won’t need to change, although many other things will.

Lyrics
Fifteen stars and stripes flew over Fort McHenry in 1814. In the War of 1812, our fledgling nation was fighting the British yet again. The American flag then featured 15 stars and 15 stripes, because two new states had recently been added to the union: Vermont and Kentucky. 

During the decisive Battle of Baltimore in 1814, Francis Scott Key had an involuntary sleepover on the British ship Tonnant. From the deck he watched as the battle raged, bombs burst and rockets glared. When the Stars and Stripes were still flying high by the dawn’s early light, the sight inspired him to pen a poem entitled, “The Defence [sic] of Fort McHenry.” It was soon set to the somewhat challenging tune of a popular British song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” The combined music and lyrics caught on quickly as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was selected as our national anthem in 1931 from a broad field of competitors.

Liberty
The 50 stars and 13 stripes remain an enduring symbol. Not long after the Battle of Baltimore, the Treaty of Ghent ended the war and kicked off our era of continental expansion. It quickly became apparent that adding a new stripe for each additional state wouldn’t work, unless we wanted a tablecloth instead of a flag! We reverted to the 13 stripes in honor of the original 13 colonies, but the stars kept pace with the rising tally of new states. Our flag got its 50th and last star in 1959 when Hawaii entered the union.

Although our flag has changed appearance many times in the last 240 years, its power to inspire has endured. Watching our Star-Spangled Banner flutter in the breeze can move veterans, patriots, and citizens of every stripe to tears. 
Why? Because it still recalls the courageous colonists who fought and died for our country under that banner. And let’s not forget what they were fighting for, Liberty! 

The Star-Spangled Snack
For its 11th session, the Culinary Academy of Post Street followed Betsy Ross’s lead. Instead of stitching together scraps of fabric, however, the three young chefs prepared munchable models of the three most familiar forms of our flag: 1776, 1814 and 1959. As the photo shows, they did a great job. 
The word on the street (admittedly just Post Street) is that news of their successful project has gone viral. It reportedly has come to the attention of Sheldon Cooper, the quirky star of The Big Bang Theory. According to a single source, Sheldon may consider resurrecting his popular video podcast “Fun with Flags!” with three young co-stars! 

In addition to offering a dim glimmer of hope for a career in television, our project posed an interesting ethical dilemma: Is it patriotic to gobble down Old Glory? More like pedagogical! What better way to learn your history lesson than to eat it?

 

 

Robin Seeley is the grand-dame of the Culinary Academy of Post Street.