Archive for March, 2012

The ‘strait’ scoop on Detroit’s flag

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Found another rabbit hole to explore. A short while back, and perhaps still going on, there were some TV commercials touting a particular Motown (as in “Motor Town”) manufacturer of automobiles. While, most likely, other viewers were admiring the styling of the commercial, yours truly noticed the tiniest fluttering of a then-unfamiliar flag down in the corner of perhaps a frame or two of the commercial.

Flag of Detroit

Pretty isn’t it?

Turns out, this is the flag of the city of Detroit, Michigan (surprise!) and was designed in 1907 by one David E. Heineman; it wasn’t officially adopted as the city’s flag until 1948. The original design had the seal as an oval. Apparently sometime in the early 1970s, the design was redone and the seal was made into a circle. Don’t ask. Ever wanting to tinker with things, those Detroiters (Anyone know the correct demonym? Remember last post talking about that?) changed the seal again around a dozen years ago to reduce the number of colors. Again, don’t ask.

The background is what we vexillologists call “quartered”. (Pretty tricky technical term there, eh?) The sections represent the countries that controlled the city at various times. Actually, there were only three countries (France – from 1701, Britain – 1760-96 and the US), but dividing it into three sections didn’t seem to be an option. So, France is shown on the bottom left (the “lower hoist” – to us geeks) with five of their cute little fleurs-de-lis (yes, that’s correct; they’re cute). Britain gets the upper right (oops; the “upper fly”. Got it?) with three of their little lions. And the Stars and Stripes (well thirteen of each of course – for the original colonies) take over the other two quadrants (You got it: the “upper hoist” and the “lower fly”. That wasn’t so hard, was it?).

Now about that seal. Back in 1805 the entire town, as it was then, burned to the ground – save one building. (Do your own research on that.) So the woman on the left is looking at the charred rubble, pretty bummed. Under the rubble is the Latin (always has to be Latin doesn’t it – makes it classier) Speramus Meliora meaning “We hope for better things.” The woman on the right is saying, “Buck up, sis” and gesturing to the new city that will be built. Under that is the Latin Resurget Cineribus, “It will rise from the ashes.” Nice attitude.

So why is ‘strait’ in quotes in the title of this post? Please excuse the little pun. The straitsYou see, in French the words ‘Détroit’ and ‘Détroits’ mean strait or straits. (Remember, the French were the ones who established the first (European) fort there.) Check out the straights between Lake Erie, Lake St. Claire and Lake Huron. So Detroit was a pretty good name for the place. Don’t you think?

By the way, this little picture is shown on the right, or in French, á droite. Don’t confuse that with Detroit. Now you know about those tinkerers – and their flag.