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Wichita, get to know your flag

Originally published August 14, 2003

PRIDE OF THE PLAINS: Wichita's flag was designed for a contest in 1937. The winner, Cecil B. McAllister, was awarded $85. Photo courtesy of Lee Shiney.

Possibly the most important work of art in the United States would be the Star Spangled Banner. You know, the flag? It emotionally affects all of us. In one way or another it affects most everyone else on the planet, too. The flag is an artistic graphic design meant to be aesthetically pleasing and spiritually motivating. A visual image with the sole purpose of uniting an entire nation.

Art did that. Not weapons, violence, religion, sex, politics, television, porn or the gawdamm Internet. Art.

Guess that would make art the most important thing in the world. Well? Psychobabblists know that; why can't world leaders get a grip?

"Uniting under a banner" is why Wichita has its own flag. That's right, Doo-Dah has its own official city flag. Since 1937. Not that you'd know that from a USD 259 school. Several years ago there was a meeting of about a dozen school teachers in my home. I had a Wichita flag flying from my porch (it was recently stolen). Not one of these teachers knew what it was.

Not that you would know it from any art or historical facility anywhere in the ICT. Excuse me, save for the "Gallery of Nations" flag display at the Mid-American All Indian Center.

Most certainly not in front of our own City Hall! Well, hey, there are only two flag poles. It is much more important to spend more than a half-million dollars to remodel the ninth floor of the City building than to frivolously blow it on another pole to proudly display our banner.

But, hey, there is a small example of said flag on a small pole behind the desks of the City Council chambers. I suppose that should count.

So, art history. Back in 1937 the mayor ( I forget who, I lost my notes) and American Legion Post Six decided we needed an official city flag. Damn few other cities do, so why not?

These officials gathered up a sizeable purse ($85!) and put on a design contest. A few dozen artists showed up to claim the grand prize of 85 big Washingtons. Sounds like what a lot of art patrons spend around here on art, eh? Big money back then.

Cecil B. McAllister proved to be the most talented of the bunch. He came up with a design that has proven to be as timeless as it is bold and beautiful.

So why in the hell is it not emblazoned on public buildings? Police cars? Fire trucks? City vehicles? Maybe a city document? Why in the hell is it not in front of City Hall? Why isn't it anywhere?

OK, here are the actual locations:

  • Century II. Two have been flying there since 1970.

  • Inside the Mid-American All-Indian Center.

  • My porch. Until it was stolen.

  • Some guy's porch, somewhere in Tallgrass. He called me on where to buy one.

  • Lawrence-Dumont Stadium (since the facelift).

  • The back wall behind the City Council chambers.

  • Very recently, Exploration Place.

    [Editor's Note: There's one in the lounge at Carmody's house.]

    Exploitation Place flying a flag is when I finally felt vindicated. You see, a few years ago I inquired with their public relations office as to whether they might be interested in placing a city flag on their third flagpole, which had sat empty since the facility opened.

    The response was, quote, "People don't understand it. They don't know what it means."

    OK "Would you care for me to bring some information? We have a website you"

    "No thanks." No thanks? An educational facility refuses free info regarding a historical piece of the city? Oh, things keep getting stranger as I continue my quest to resurrect this inspired image.

    Some time previously, I had developed an association with the folks at Helgerson's Supply. They distribute about every type of flag known to human or beast. They are the sole supplier of the city flag. At $60 each, they don't exactly fly off the shelf.

    The dear lady at Helgerson's gave me a few bits of weird flag history.

    Seems that the flag used to be rather prolific at one time. Apparently it was the banner of choice downtown during holidays, festivals and other PR events. Where'd it go? It was displaced by banners for the River Festival. The ICT flag just disappeared after that. Oh, I did not need another reason to be disgusted with the festival.

    A few years ago, the city manager's office decided we (the whole city) needed a new logo. Seems the old one was, well, old.

    Did they use the already available, all-inclusive image of our flag? Nooooo! Did we develop a community-wide competition among the hundreds of creative professional and amateur artists for this much needed new logo? Nooooo! The manager's office outsourced the work to a firm whose owner has been on the (previously known as) Public Art Advisory Board. And to the tune of almost $10,000.

    I'm not a superstitious person. But I gotta tell ya, working on this flag thing just got weird and stupid. The bizarre resistance and lack of interest at the public leader level just got as insanely frustrating as anything else that involves city government.

    But I am, as I mentioned in a previous commentary, done with the war.

    When Exhalation Place finally put out a flag, I felt emotional serenity. I decided that was about as good as it gets and that's good enough.

    Bottom line: Our official city flag is a fine piece of art. Go to Helgerson's and buy one. Fly her proudly. Godspeed.

    Graffiti tag-o-da-week: Success comes in cans. Failure comes in can'ts.