O say can you come back - to Fort McHenry

The search is on for participants in the 1984 living-flag event

April 26, 2003|By Michelle Jabes | Michelle Jabes,SUN STAFF

If you were one of the youngsters who stood in the sweltering heat at Fort McHenry on Flag Day 1984, bravely taking part in a failed attempt to create "America's largest living human singing flag," Edward Standish Bradford has an invitation for you.

He wants you to come back to Fort McHenry on May 20 for the 20th annual Living American Flag ceremony, and join in forming a giant Stars and Stripes.

"Brad" Bradford, who has been involved with the Living American Flag for 17 years and is education committee chairman for the National Flag Day Foundation, believes this year's flag ceremony is a special one.

"When we think of what's going on in Iraq and everything else, it's very significant and very important," he says.

Important especially, Bradford says, for the children themselves. "It's a very exciting thing for the kids," he says. "Nobody on ground level can see this flag, but the pictures from overhead are flashed on the 6 o'clock news and the kids look and say, `There I am, Mom! You see the second to the bottom white stripe? That's me!' "

Baltimore's "living American flag" tradition dates to Sept. 12, 1914, when 6,500 children wearing red, white and blue formed a giant flag at Fort McHenry on the centennial of the battle that led Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The 1914 tribute inspired the modern Living American Flag series, which began on Flag Day (June 14) 1984. On that day, 7,300 schoolchildren, armed with 2-foot-by-2-foot placards and plastic-foam stars, were supposed to create a 65,000-square-foot flag while singing the national anthem. Unfortunately, the 95-degree heat kept many of the kids from participating, and the world record for "America's largest living human singing flag" was not achieved.

What was achieved, however, was the beginning of an annual Baltimore tradition. Since 1984, an estimated 75,000 to 80,000 children from all over Maryland and the nation have taken part in creating the Living American Flag at Fort McHenry. About 3,000 children in grades three through five are scheduled to attend this year's ceremony.

Besides forming a giant flag, the children get to enjoy music and visits with actors portraying historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and even Uncle Sam. "These actors in their period costume really take the kids back to the days of yesteryear," says Bradford.

One of the flag event's newer traditions is the Passing of the Baton of Patriotism. It features an original member of the 1914 flag passing on a baton to one of the children to symbolize continuity, Bradford says.

"It's a tearjerking part of the ceremony," he adds.

But as the years pass, fewer and fewer of the flag children of 1914 survive, or are able to attend the event. For this year's ceremony, Bradford hopes to have a "grad" from the 1984 flag pass the baton.

Of course, that "grad" would be just one of many 1984 participants in the event, if Living American Flag organizers get their wish. They are scouring the state for all 1984 "grads" to join the 2003 participants in a Living American Flag reunion.

If you are a "grad" of the 1984 flag ceremony or know someone who is, call Edward Bradford at 410-377-9262 or e-mail doran@comcast.net.

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