The Stars and Strips Forever
Bernard Cigrand (D1888) dedicated himself to establishing Flag Day as an official U.S. observance.
“After the United Kingdom, Luxembourg is the most pro-American country in the world,” says Gerda Hansen, Luxembourg’s cultural and public affairs attaché in Chicago. “Our nation’s people are very proud of a man so patriotic.”
Cigrand, the son of Luxembourg immigrants and a Northwestern Dental School alumnus, is credited as the originator of Flag Day, celebrated on June 14. His quest for a national celebration of Old Glory began humbly in a one-room schoolhouse in Waubeka, Wis., a tiny hamlet due north of Milwaukee.
On June 14, 1885, Cigrand, then only 19, displayed a small star-spangled banner in his classroom in Waubeka and asked his students to write an essay describing what it meant to them. He chose that date because it was on June 14, 1777, that the U.S. Senate officially adopted the Stars and Stripes as the country’s standard.
“His parents came over from Luxembourg [in 1852], and they loved this country,” Barbara Trayer Michael, Cigrand’s great-granddaughter, told the St. Petersburg Times in an interview last year. “They instilled that love of the country in him.”
Seeing the flag as an important symbol of national unity, Cigrand intensified his efforts to have a “Flag Birthday” observed in subsequent years, writing hundreds of articles and delivering countless speeches. By 1894 many municipalities and states had joined Cigrand in celebrating the flag’s birthday. In Chicago alone that year, 300,000 public school students participated in events held in five city parks.
After three decades of lobbying, Cigrand met with success in 1916. President Woodrow Wilson declared June 14 to be Flag Day, stating that “the Flag has vindicated its right to be honored by all nations of the world and feared by none who do righteousness.”
As if all that lobbying wasn’t enough teeth-pulling for one lifetime, Cigrand also became a dentist after his Northwestern studies, practicing in Aurora, Ill., until his death in 1932. A success in his profession, Cigrand lectured at several universities and ultimately became dean of the Illinois School of Dentistry.
In keeping with his patriotic instincts, Cigrand even brought U.S. pride into his dental practice, starting a dental school for Navy men in Chicago. “It seems that he never slept,” Hansen says. “He was always trying to do something for his country.”
With the resurgence of national pride since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the country has seen a renewed enthusiasm for the banner that Cigrand loved so well. “Americans were looking to some common ground, a rallying point,” says Michael Olson, general manager of Advertising Flag Co. in Chicago. “They found that rallying symbol in the flag.” The company is selling more national banners than ever before.
With such enthusiasm growing, Hansen hopes Cigrand might finally get the recognition in the United States that Luxembourgers have given him for years. In recognition of his efforts, Luxembourg’s Ministry of Culture in the past few years has donated two full-sized busts of Cigrand to the United States, one of which is in Waubeka and the other in Aurora.
“Luxembourg is one of few European nations that has never forgotten how the U.S. helped liberate the continent in World War II,” Hansen says. “We owe it to Luxembourg to keep the memory of their American hero alive.”
— Gregory Presto (J04)