More than any other city I’ve been to, Chicago loves its flag. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so. It’s just everywhere – on all public employees – police, bus drivers, water guys, you name it. It is also on just about every tourist attraction and hotel I’ve seen. People have it on T-shirts, hats and purses. Baltimore has a city flag too, but I don’t remember it being so pervasive.
At first, I had no idea what I was looking at. I saw it hanging off a
[OK, a brief time out here. I am writing this during the day in class (the girls are working in small groups on their final projects). We just took a “brain break” which we do every couple of hours to prevent melt downs. Normally, we do some sort of physical activity, but today I noticed something at lunch and acted immediately. Sometimes you just have to, before the idea escapes. Elizabeth Gilbert mentions that idea in her interview with Krista Tippett, “ideas are conscious and living, and they have will, and they have great desire to be made, and they spin through the cosmos looking for human collaborators.” So I became one. As I got my lunch, I saw that they were selling a candy I hadn’t seen in a long time, and a few minutes later, I bought 22 packets of Pop Rocks Candy so everyone in class could have one. I knew that some students would’ve had them before, but many not. I gave them out a few minutes ago. The looks as they poured them in their mouths: priceless! Wide eyes, smiles, mild fear, all wrapped in one, ”That’s SO weird!”, “My brain doesn’t know how to process this!” Awesome!]
flagpole at a nearby business. I wasn’t sure what it was. I thought may a flag for a foreign country I didn’t know. I started noticing it more often, and then I saw it on the sleeve of a public employee. I don’t remember exactly how I first learned that it was the Chicago flag.
I think part of its success is its simplicity and clean design. Not much to it. That is why it reminded me of a flag from a foreign country. Like the US flag, it is easy to recognize adaptations of the flag. There is one printed on a T-shirt at a business down the street which I’ve never actually seen open. In this variation, the red stars are replaced by red paw prints.
So, what’s behind the design? Quite a bit actually. If you are a hardcore vexillologist, there is a fully detailed description of the design behind the flag.
In brief, the three bars represent the northern, western and southern parts of Chicago. The top and bottom are pale blue, representing Lake Michigan and the north branch of the Chicago River on top, and the southern branch and canal on the bottom.
The four stars represent four significant events in Chicago’s history: Fort Dearborn, the Great Fire (1871), the World’s Exposition (1893) and the Century of Progress in 1933. They have six points rather than five because, apparently – I’m not completely up on my vexillology, in flag symbolism, five stars are used to represent a sovereign nation. Each of the points on the star symbolizes some facet of Chicago as well. I won’t go into them all here, some are historical events, some are achievements or themes, like labor. One interesting one is the sixth point on the Chicago Fire star: salubrity – which means favoring health. I didn’t know that.