Flag Day celebrates its 65th anniversary on Saturday, June 14. Much of the credit for the celebration of our nation's symbol falls to a former Batavia resident Bernard J. Cigrand.
It all started in 1885 in a one-room schoolhouse in the rural town of Fredonia, Wisconsin. Cigrand, a 19-year-old teacher, realized that most of his immigrant students knew nothing about their new country.
A lifelong student of American history, Cigrand taught his students about America. And he gave them a symbol to believe in. He gave them the American flag.
Prior to the turn of the century, the American flag flew over the Capitol and led soldiers into battle. It was not a symbol of patriotism. It was used more for identification.
Cigrand found a small flag and put it on his desk for his students to see every day. He told them of the flag's history. He celebrated the flag's "birthday" on June 14, 1885, which was the 108th anniversary of the June 14, 1777, official adoption of the stars and stripes by the Congress.
In June of 1886, Cigrand made his first public appeal to have June 14 set aside as the national observance of Flag Day. He began a personal crusade for a national Flag Day by writing magazine and newspaper articles and giving lectures. Soon schools across the country embraced the idea of Flag Day.
Public buildings also began displaying the flag. In Illinois, the first meeting of the American Flag Day Association was organized by Bernard Cigrand. He wrote articles about the American flag for the Encyclopedia Americana. He also wrote a 550-page volume on the "History of American Emblems" and an illustrated work, "The Story of the American Flag." He was a prominent lecturer for the Chicago Daily News.
Cigrand took up the practice of dentistry in 1888. He served on the faculties of both Northwestern and the University of Illinois. He served as president of the American College of Dental Surgeons for several years. He also served as president of the Chicago Public Library.
In 1912, Dr. Cigrand moved to Batavia and opened a dental practice in his home on South Batavia Avenue. He continued to petition for a National Flag Day observance. On June 14, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for a nationwide observance of Flag Day. At the age of 50, Dr. Cigrand considered this his greatest achievement.
In 1920, Dr. Cigrand joined his son, Elroy, in a dental practice in Aurora. The Cigrands moved to Aurora in the spring of 1932, but lived there briefly.
Dr. Cigrand died of a heart attack in May of that year. A bronze plaque and flagpole were erected at the Aurora Historical Museum in 1937. Many of his personal flags remain at the Aurora museum.
On Aug. 3, 1949, President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 National Flag Day.
So when you display your flag this weekend, remember the former Batavia and Aurora resident who worked so hard to establish a day to honor our nation's flag.