Inspired by a flag in Excelsior Springs, a man created a painting representing hope and patriotism, for a nation on the brink of World War II.
Fred Tripp, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, painted “Our Flag” at his Beloit, Wisconsin home after a stay at the McCleary Memorial Hospital in Excelsior Springs. The inspiration came from the flag at the post office, which Tripp could see from his hospital window.
“Softy draped, with folds unstirred by even so much as a breath of summer breeze, Old Glory, our flag – the flag of destiny, rest, waiting,” a quote published in The McCleary News said. “It symbolizes the soul of America, standing in silent prayer before the Father of Light, receiving his strength and wisdom, asking his guidance and protection through another perilous journey. It is the morning prayer of the American people, the prayer that arms them to the problems of the day with courage and cheer. Before it, America stands in reverence realizing her sacred duty to mankind and her glorious destiny.”
No doubt, when Tripp shipped the more than 6-feet-tall painting to McCleary to be displayed, he never expected the recognition he received.
According to an article provided by the Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives, Blanche Greene, the editor of The McCleary News, said they published a photo of the painting on the cover of an edition published in 1940. Inspired by the patriotism only achieved by a country on the verge of war, readers wrote en mass asking for a copy of the printed copy in full color.
Many throughout the nation hung the photo in schools, homes and congressional offices. Copies were mailed to Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.
“It has been the most widely distributed flag picture in the United States,” information provided by the museum said.
Tripp, who painted “Our Flag” at the age of 71, worked as a professional painter his entire life. However, he did most of his work on the outside of homes and later, their interior walls. Although he dabbled in smaller works of art, he never attempted to sell them.
“I don’t make my living painting,” Tripp said jokingly in an article provided by the museum. “It takes too long to sell the work.”
Tripp never took a lesson. Some of his paintings have been sold to clubs and other organizations. Many he just gave away. Tripp painted for his own enjoyment.
Tripp’s painting inspired a nation. From the 1940s era residents who would soon send their sons across nations to fight an enemy. To school children who saw the painting hang on their walls each day as they learned their lessons.
It was said to be President Eisenhower’s favorite depiction of the flag.
Flag Day originated in 1885 when schoolteacher B.J. Cigrand observed June 14, 1885, the 108th anniversary of the flag with his students in the Fredonia, Wisconsin Public School, District 6.
George Balch, a New York City kindergarten teacher planned a ceremony for his school on June 14, 1889. The led to the adoption of Flag Day by New York’s State Board of Education.
The observances continued and included a 1914 speech where Interior Secretary Franklin K. Lane said the words he said the flag spoke to him that morning:
“I am what you make me; nothing more,” he said. “I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.”
President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation establishing the Flag Day Resolution of 1777 on May 30th, 1916. On Aug. 3, 1949, Truman established Flag Day’s observation to be held on June 14 of each year.
“It is our custom to observe June 14 each year with ceremonies designed not only to commemorate the birth of our flag but also to rededicate ourselves to the ideals for which it stands,” Truman said.
“This beloved emblem, which flies above all our people of whatever creed or race, signifies our respect for human rights and the protection such rights are afforded under our form of government.”
For more information on Flag Day, visit USFlag.org.
Tripp died in 1943 at the age of 78.
His famous painting depicted a flag in a time of peace, which Tripp said he wanted to inspire and encourage the many people who walk through the doors of McCleary Memorial Hospital.
Most of the flags he saw painted showed the flag unfurled in the midst of battle. Tripp simply wanted to show the flag as it should be, in a time of peace.
“This flag represents peace and we can very well imagine that everything we Americans have, and all of our hopes and aspirations, our joys and sorrows are wrapped within the folds of this beautiful flag.,” Tripp said. “I sincerely trust it will never have to be unfurled for battle and that it will always rest on your wall as an emblem of everlasting peace.”
The painting inspired a nation, just as the flag always does.
In a letter written to Tripp, Ella Cheesman said the painting provided such inspiration, a poem was born.
“It, I believe, can take its rightful place beside the National Anthem; something to love and honor and uphold forever and ever,” she said.
“And because of my deep feeling in the matter, I took the liberty to write a bit of verse about that flag as it (is) there - your flag.”
Cheesman took the inspiration she received from Tripp’s painting and composed “Our Flag.”
“Softly hanging from its staff, In peaceful ease and glory, An inspiration to a world, Now torn apart and gory; To but gaze upon its grace, Is to feel within one’s soul, An awe-inspiring love for it, Consuming, as a whole, The very inmost fiber, Of every honest man, Who, honestly, calls himself a true American. Unfurled, it symbolizes peace, And one can easily sense, Strong within one’s very heart, The peace it represents. It’s a God-inspired picture, Strong and beautiful as well, Calling all men to the colors, In tones clear as a bell; Pointing upward to the Master of our destiny, Who, we know, will lead us to a glorious victory. Mr. Tripp, I bow before you, For this work so truly fine, It bears a mystic something that words cannot define.”