THREE CHEERS FOR THE ORANGE, WHITE AND BLUE

BRIAN NEARING Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Tuesday, November 30, 2004




ALBANY -- People of Albany rejoice! The beloved tricolor that has been your city flag for nearly a century has been judged and found more adequate than most.


That verdict came from those best acquainted with what separates a good flag from a bad flag: the North American Vexillological Association, a scholarly group based in Trenton, N.J., dedicated to the study of flags.


Among 150 city flags rated by the 450-member group, Albany finished a respectable 34th, sandwiched between the flags of Los Angeles and San Francisco.


And vexillologists can be a tough crowd, based on what they said about flag designs they didn't like.


One judge decried flags that look like ``convention bureau letterhead or a bumper sticker from the tourist office.'' Others complained: ``Some look like each member of the city council took a turn adding something to a sheet!'' or ``A very few striking designs in a sea of tedium.''


Albany's flag is stately compared with more newfangled designs. Composed of orange, white and blue stripes, the white stripe bears the city's 1789 coat of arms -- a farmer and an Indian standing on either side of a shield containing wheat sheaves and a beaver chewing a tree, topped by a Dutch sailing sloop. Underneath that is a scroll containing the city motto: ``Assiduity,'' which means the quality of acting with constant and careful attention.


Apparently, the professionals felt Albany's flag is reasonably true to the five principles of good flag design: Keep it simple, use symbols related to the city, limit primary colors to no more than three, omit letters or official seals, and be distinctive.


On a scale of 1 through 10, with 10 being a drop-dead gorgeous flag, Albany scored a respectable 5.2. The highest-rated flag, that of Washington, D.C., was the beauty queen, edging out flags from Chicago, Denver and Phoenix with a score of 9.17. The flag of our nation's capital has two red stripes and three red stars on a white background.


Elsewhere in New York, Buffalo edged Albany for bragging rights at 32nd; New York City was 37th; Rochester was 53rd; and Yonkers was 127th.


At the bottom of the heap nationally was poor Pocatello, a city of about 51,000 in southeast Idaho. That city's wildly colorful red, purple, yellow and white flag is emblazoned with ``Proud to Be Pocatello,'' stylized purple mountains, and a credit to the local chamber of commerce.


The survey results can be viewed on-line at http://www. nava.org/city_survey.htm.





Albany's flag was created as part of the massive 1909 Hudson Fulton Celebration, which commemorated both the discovery of the Hudson River by Dutch explorer Henry Hudson and the invention of steam-powered navigation by Robert Fulton.


Hudson flew the orange, white and blue flag of the Dutch East Indies Co. on his ship, the Half Moon, as he explored the Hudson River in 1609.


In 1909, the celebration of that feat's 300th anniversary was a major event all along the Hudson River, from New York City to Cohoes. In Albany, 28 committees with more than 1,000 members helped plan festivities, according to the committee's official report.


Highlights included 2,000 schoolgirls dressed in red, white and blue bunting who formed a giant American flag on the steps of the Capitol, nighttime bonfires from Albany to Cohoes, an ode to the city written by a fourth-grader, a parade of floats, automobiles and soldiers, and the ``thrill added by Capt. Jack Apple's jump from the Maiden Lane bridge.''


That flag was adopted by the city sometime after the 1909 celebration, said state Assemblyman Jack McEneny, a prominent local historian.


But the flag became embroiled in political controversy in 1916 and was nearly changed. World War I was raging in Europe, and although America had yet to enter the conflict, emotions in the Albany's Irish and German communities were running high, he said.


Both groups opposed British influence in the United States: the Germans for what they felt was a British propaganda campaign against all things German, and the Irish for British suppression of an Irish independence movement.


So in 1916, the city's Common Council voted to adopt a new flag, with the American colors of red, white and blue. The only thing that stopped that from happening was a veto by then-Mayor Joseph W. Stevens, McEneny said. Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by e-mail at bnearing@timesunion.com.