DARIEN — In 1912, Congress adopted an official arrangement of the stars on the United States flag, a design with which all Americans are now familiar. But prior to that, there was no set standard for the stars on the American flag, leading to many flags designed before then featuring creative designs.
The Darien Historical Society is now displaying some of those unique flags from their own collection. “Long May She Wave! The Evolution of Our Flag” opens Jan. 18 and will feature several antique flags as well as a timeline tracing both the local and national history of the emblem.
“We’re telling three stories in this exhibit,” said Bob Pascal, president of the board of the directors at the historical society. “Story one is the history of the flag itself, which is a fascinating story. For much of history, it didn’t have a strictly-defined pattern, so in some ways it was art. Story two is what was happening in the United States as flags and states were being added and then bringing that down to what was happening in our town until 1960 when the last star was added.”
The exhibit will begin with examining pre-colonial times and will also have photographs and a soundtrack with music and voices from the past. Visitors are also encouraged to engage in an interactive portion of the exhibit where they’ll be asked to try and design a 51-star flag and journal their feelings about the flags.
Attend the exhibit
The “Long May She Wave” exhibit will run through March 13 and can be viewed during the Darien Historical Society’s open hours and during lectures. The exhibit is free for members, Darien’s first responders, teachers and students. The cost for non-members will be $5.
For more information, or to sponsor the exhibit, call 203-655-9233 or visit darienhistorical.org.
The exhibit will also feature related lectures including:
“Star Spangled Banner & Opening Champagne Reception” will be held Jan. 18 at 7:30 p.m. with Ed Hynes, a local history expert and financial advisor at Merrill Lynch in Westport. Hynes will discuss the flag and the inspiration behind the national anthem. A Champagne reception will follow the lecture.
“Our Flag: Folklore & Fact” will be held Jan. 28 at 3 p.m. Did Betsy Ross make the first flag? Get the real story about our flag’s history with Susan Jerome, collections manager for the Historic Textile & Costume Collection at the University of Rhode Island.
“The Lincoln Flag — Rediscovered” will be held March 4 at 3 p.m. After 76 years in a cluttered storage area, the flag that decorated Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater was rediscovered. Hear the fascinating story with Ilene Frank, chief curator at the Connecticut Historical Society.
The cost for the lectures will be $5 for members, $20 for non-members and $30 for non-members and a guest. Students attend free.
“It’s going to be a visually-stunning experience and also a great learning experience for all ages,” said Maggie McIntire, executive director of the historical society. “Everyone is going to be able to get something out of this exhibit. It’s going to be fun for kids and fun for adults. I’m envisioning people of all ages trying to design their own 51-star flag. I’m also really looking curious to see people’s impression of the exhibit and to hear about what the flag means to them. For all of us at different points in our life, the flag took on more special meanings for us.”
“Long May She Wave!” will display a 35-star flag with hand-sewn cotton stars and a 13-star flag from the 1876 centennial. McIntire said many of these flags were given as gifts to the society between the 1950s to 1980s.
According to Pascal, these flags were too fragile to be displayed until recently when they were sewn onto a backer so they could be supported while on display.
“They’re actually so fragile that were you to hang them by themselves, gravity would cause them to tear or fray,” he said.
But now, for the first time in recent history, the flags are all restored and available for viewing during open hours and lectures. Three lectures related to the history of the flag will be held through the run of the exhibit, which ends March 13.