Batavia to celebrate Flag Day and its ‘father’

By Kelli Duncan For Chronicle Media
Batavia's Dr. Bernard J. Cigrand, known as the “father of American Flag Day”

Batavia’s Dr. Bernard J. Cigrand, known as the “father of American Flag Day”

Batavia residents will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Flag Day and honor Batavia resident, Dr. Bernard J. Cigrand, known as the “father of American Flag Day” on June 12 and 14, according to Mayor Jeff Schielke.

Although Batavia has not held large celebrations for Flag Day in the past, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the day that President Woodrow Wilson declared Flag Day to be a national holiday back in 1916, Schielke said.

Batavia also honors former resident, Dr. Bernard Cigrand, who played an integral role in campaigning for the establishment of the holiday back in the early 1900s.

Cigrand, who at the time was living on South Batavia Avenue and working as a dentist, spearheaded a national letter writing campaign to convince President Woodrow Wilson to create the holiday, according to Schielke.

Schielke said Cigrand had been passionate about the idea of flags as symbols of patriotism and national identity since his days as a young school teacher back in the 1880s.

According to the National Flag Day Foundation, Cigrand was one of six children born to first generation immigrants from Luxembourg, Nicholas and Susan Cigrand, in the rural Wisconsin town of Waubeka.

In 1885, at just 19 years old, Cigrand began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in the neighboring town of Fredonia. According to, Cigrand began teaching his primarily immigrant students about the origins of the American flag when he realized that most of them knew very little about the history of their new home.

So Cigrand came up with the idea of celebrating what he called, “Flag Birthday” on June 14. Schielke said that Cigrand chose June 14 because it was on that date back in 1777 that the Continental Congress approved the original design of the American flag with its 13 stars and red and white stripes.

Over the next few decades, Cigrand continued to speak publicly of the value of a national holiday honoring the American flag. Soon schools and public buildings across the nation began flying the American flag outside.

Schielke said that President Woodrow Wilson finally signed a proclamation declaring Flag Day as a national holiday on June 14 of 1916 because he thought that the American people needed a symbol of patriotism as they were about to enter into World War I.

Schielke said that a citizens committee of around 25 Batavia residents was formed a few months ago to begin planning what has now become a two-day extravaganza to celebrate the American flag and everything that Cigrand worked so hard for.

On June 12, two days before the actual holiday, Batavia will hold a community ice cream social on the Batavia Riverwalk in honor of Flag Day. Shielke said the event will include live music from multiple local bands and a soap box race down Houston Street to mimic the popular pastime of Cigrand’s day.

Also on Sunday, Schielke said that the city will host an “artisan market” on the Riverwalk where local artists can display any kind of art that has a patriotic theme.

To conclude the event, residents will gather on the Houston Street hill to form a “human American flag” by holding up cards that, when arranged together properly, form the American flag.

“We’re trying to get as many children in town as we can to come down and be part of that with the idea that this will make a real nice memento and memory and picture for them to have, you know, 50, 60, 70 years from now when they can say well I remember when Batavia observed the 100th anniversary of Flag Day,” Shielke said.

June 14, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of Flag Day

June 14, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of Flag Day

On June 14, Batavia will have another celebration to honor the actual date of the holiday. Schielke said that this event will feature more live music as well as an educational program on Cigrand where a local school teacher will portray Cigrand writing his famous letter to President Woodrow Wilson. According to Schielke, a copy of the original letter will be read aloud while the school teacher pretends to be writing it on stage.

When it starts to get dark, Batavia residents will wrap up the day by lighting 1,777 luminaria candles to signify the year that the original design of the American flag was approved by the continental congress. Batavia students have decorated the luminaria bags with patriotic messages, Schielke said. The luminaria bags will be released all together along the Riverwalk in remembrance of this important day in America’s history.

Schielke said that Batavia’s remembrance of the “father of American Flag Day” won’t stop with this year’s Flag Day celebrations.

“We’re exploring the opportunity now to build some type of a small, permanent memorial to Flag Day and have it here in public view someplace in downtown Batavia where we can talk about Cigrand and his efforts to accomplish this and the success of it all and what it’s meant to the American spirit and our spirit as a community,” Schielke said.



— Batavia to celebrate Flag Day and its ‘father’ —