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Peace Over Blood

Texas Flag Causes Confusion

The Texas Flag: Peace over Blood
By Melissa Williams

March 1, 2001 | DALLAS --

It has just three colors: red, white and blue. Just two shapes: rectangle and star. No pictures, no writing, nothing to interfere with the strong, spare elegance of the Lone Star flag.

So what's the problem? A reversible error, you might say.

Deep in the heart of Texas, some folks mistakenly fly the flag upside down.

Along the flag's left third is a blue perpendicular bar with a white star. The right two-thirds are divided into two horizontal stripes of white over red.

"Because you have this blue vertical strip that runs next to the grommets, if you don't pay attention, it's very easy to put upside down," says Charles Spain Jr., a Houston lawyer whose humiliation at making that mistake as a schoolboy led to a lifelong fascination with Texas' most famous symbol. He is now secretary of the fledgling Vexillological Association of the State of Texas. Vexillologists are flag experts.

Dallas resident Donna Ohland, a 50-year-old real estate manager, flies a Texas flag at home to complement a native landscaping theme that features sage and prickly pear cactus. Last summer she learned she was inadvertently signaling distress by flying the flag with the red stripe at the top.

"Somebody told me that it's something to do with 'the blood runs down,' so that's why you have to have the white on top," she says.

The Texas prison system has its own method of avoiding that mistake.

"White is for 'clouds up.' Clouds are always up," says Ronnie Bond, who supervises female inmates who sew flags for governmental use. "I don't think people really know how it's supposed to go."

It's a problem worth contemplating on Texas Flag Day, which falls on Friday this year. Flag Day is celebrated on Texas Independence Day, which marks the day in 1836 when Texas broke away from Mexico.

The Lone Star flag, adopted in 1839, is bolder and more distinctive than other state flags -- more than half of which have the state seal on a blue background -- partly because it was designed to fly over an independent nation, the Republic of Texas, says David B. Martucci, president of the North American Vexillological Association in Trenton, N.J.

The main purpose of a national flag is identification, he says: "From a distance you can tell whose ship it is, whose plane it is."

He and other vexillologists praise Texas' emblem as one of the few state flags that meet good design criteria. For example, vexillologists discourage the use of words because they make a flag look wrong to half its viewers. The usual solution, sewing two flags back to back, produces heavy flags that do not fly well, Martucci says.

One drawback, though, is that the Texas flag is remarkably similar to the flag of a certain South American country.

The only difference between the flags of Texas and Chile is that the red bar on the Chilean flag goes all the way to the flagpole, making the blue field a small square. Even some who should know better get mixed up.

"We didn't intend to be in Chile," said a sheepish Larry Barkman, city manager of the Fort Worth suburb of Cleburne, when he learned a bronze plaque at City Hall featured Chile's flag.

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