A living U.S. flag offers interactive history education

3,000 youths to participate in re-creation of 1914 event

Family: events, activities

May 20, 2004|By Lori Sears | Lori Sears,SUN STAFF

It's a symbol of our country, our unity and our freedom. It's our grand old flag.

Each year since 1984 the National Flag Day Foundation has sponsored its Living American Flag event, an interactive and educational celebration of Old Glory. On Tuesday, more than 3,000 youths will participate in the Living American Flag event at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.

The event features area third-, fourth- and fifth-graders forming the shape of the American flag and holding red, white or blue rectangular cards over their heads.

"The kids love it," says Alice Anderson, a member of the Living Flag Committee. "It's always such a nice day, and Fort McHenry is so beautiful. It's fun to see all the kids so excited to hold up the cards."

The pupils will march in line to their positions and form a 130-by-230-foot Living American Flag meant to re-create the first human flag, formed by Baltimore schoolchildren at Fort McHenry on Defenders' Day in 1914, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of North Point and the bombardment of Fort McHenry. It was in 1814 that Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" after the attack on Fort McHenry and saw that "our flag was still there."

The Living American Flag will have 15 stars and 15 stripes, just as the flag had in 1814, signifying the 15 states at the time.

Once all participants are in position, the Living American Flag will be photographed from the air by helicopter.

Pupils from public, private and parochial schools all over Maryland will participate, as will home-schooled pupils.

Before the Living American Flag re-creation, numerous activities will take place.

There will be patriotic songs by the choir from Church Creek Elementary School and by the Boumi Temple Drum and Bugle Corps. Also, historic characters will interact with pupils and the public.

"The historical characters run the gamut from Mary Pickersgill to Clara Barton," says Pat Perluke, vice president of educational programs for the National Flag Day Foundation. Pickersgill was a Baltimore flag-maker, and Barton founded the American Red Cross. Francis Scott Key and Benjamin Banneker will appear, along with Harriet Tubman, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dolley Madison and Benjamin Franklin.

Eighteen living-history characters in period dress will roam the grounds, visiting with the public and with pupils, who must stay in formation in the Living American Flag area.

"We'll also be leading programs from the stages," Perluke says. Robert Heck, star of Maryland Public Television's Bob the Vid Tech, and Alan Gephardt, executive director of Carroll Museums, will lead the events.

Other events include the Pledge of Allegiance led by Uncle Sam, remarks by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a talk by Fort McHenry ranger Vince Vaise and award presentations by Philip F. Haxel Sr. of the F.W. Haxel Flag Co., to pupils who have exhibited exceptional patriotism.

One of the highlights of the event is the passing of the baton of patriotism, in which a participant from the 1914 Human Flag event passes a baton to a current participant.

Perluke says Rudy Mann, Frances Schoenfelder and Stephen Sikorski from the 1914 event will attend and that "all three will pass the baton."

Visitors are encouraged to take a chair or blanket, as seating will be limited.

The Living American Flag event runs from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, East Fort Avenue. Free. Call 410-563-FLAG or visit www.flagday.org.

For more family events, see Page 41.

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