Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 14 - Flag Day USA - Betsy Ross House

It is June 14 – Flag Day in the United States, celebrating the day on June 14, 1777 when the Second Continental Congress authorized an official flag for the new thirteen “United States of America”.
Part of the local folklore of Philadelphia during the Centennial, 1876, became the national legend of a simple Quaker seamstress named Betsy Ross making the first stars and stripes as pictured above.
I can remember when Betsy Ross’ House in Philly was a simple local tourist thing. You went in the front door where the tourist goodies were displayed. The gift shop, if you could call it that, was manned by a female volunteer in colonial dress and she seemed to be the only official person on site. Admission was free. The rest of your self guided tour was up and down winding stairs from a strange to me concept of a kitchen hearth in the cellar to very tiny rooms above and a really tiny bedroom in the attic. 
The building itself is a modified, with added on rooms, “trinity” type Philadelphia colonial building which was basically three rooms, ground floor room, second floor room and attic with dormer window all connected by winding stairs in the corner of the rooms usually located next to the fireplace.
It was perhaps strange for a boomer like me to understand all this stuff or that yes people used to heat their houses with fireplaces. Where were the radiators? Curious.
Along came the Bicentennial in 1976 with a lot of Nanny Government cash and Betsy Ross’ house has evolved into the giant gift store in back, bigger than the original house, and part of a new entrance way next to the admi$$on booth, and a crowd of Park Rangers to supervise your every body movement (“don’t touch that!”), that this tourist trap is today.  Disneyesque.  
For those of you wanting directions, it is half a block or so up the street from Ben Franklin’s grave.  In fact the area is all quite modern now.  In my youth this part of downtown was considered part of “the slums”.
When we went into that local simple Betsy Ross house of say 1959, there was no air conditioning or air filters.  The house felt like a standard Philly row house and it smelled like one, with a pine oil scent coming off the washed worn down wooden floors and the curtains smelling a bit musty etc. from the humidity in the building.
On the exit then, the gifts bought on a child's budget in the first floor parlor were likely to be ten cent pencils with the stars and stripes painted on the pencil shaft and a fifty cent copy of the Declaration of Independence printed on yellow parchment paper.  These natural type products also contributed to the smell, atmosphere of the organic whole of that old memory.
Happy Flag Day.  
Hope the flag you display today is not “Made in China”.
Have a nice day. 


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