Old Glory: A Grand Old Flag

Remember some years ago in middle school when you stood up with the class and the pledge of allegiance slipped easily out of your mouth as your hand found the left side by your heart? People say the purpose was to salute a flag, a piece of cloth representing a country. It is a piece of living history that never dies but transcends generations. In times of casualties, the flag flies half mast to signify a death. Great loss reverberates throughout the nation. When a soldier dies far away at war, his family receives the flag after a ceremonial show of transforming it into a triangle as the crowd is reminded that his loss is remembered through his heroic deeds. But what is the significance of a triangular flag? The reasoning for this ceremony lays in obscurity, although several ideas come to mind.

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Foreman Charles “Wink” Batts placing a retired flag into the fire

During the Revolutionary War, General Washington and his company wore tricorn hats with brimmed sides and three corners turned up. Another story finds its origin at sea. As early as 1824, a ship captain from New England was gifted with a flag as a show of reverence to the captain and a wish for safe voyage. As a way to consecrate the flag, it was blessed in the name of the Christian Trinity by a high power of the church and folded into a triangle. As the Church invoked the Our Father prayer, the small congregation uttered, “glory” in return. The captain flew the flag high and told the crew, “I’ll call her old glory.” It is said that perhaps later on he folded the flag in a triangle when he presented a replica to the Ohio 6th Infantry who adopted “Old Glory” as their flag.

The “Write a Letter to a Soldier” program created by Oakwood Cemetery’s Summer Intern, Callaway King. Letters are sent to soldiers serving overseas.

So much symbolism and patriotism encompass the American flag. What is more unique is that folding it into a triangle is not a requirement by the United States Flag Code. It can be stored away so long as it is done in a manner that is appropriate and respectful without inflicting damage to the cloth.

On Veteran’s Day, Oakwood Cemetery found a number of guests attending the Flag Retirement Ceremony. The purpose honored the United States flag as it weathers with age and wear from usage. However, age doesn’t mean throwing things away. Rather, Old Glory is retired with decorum and regard.
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Flags adorning the Field of Honor

To start the ceremony, the flag is parted into several pieces. This makes for an easier incineration as the flag rests in fire, a symbol of rebirth. Ceasing to be a flag, the material becomes individual stripes of red and white, representing the 13 colonies. The blue background and white stars remain intact to show the the union’s will to never separate.

imageEntrance to Oakwood Cemetery

A speech called “Remember Me?” was read aloud as people returned to nostalgia about Old Glory and what patriotism meant. As the speech came to a close, the names of the colonies rang out as each fragment of cloth found the fire. Lastly, the blue field of white stars ended the retirement of the flag. Veterans and active military members carried triangular flags and placed them in the fire. Other members of the audience were also asked to indulge in the honor.

imageInterns Sandy Nguyen and Callaway King performing the flag retirement ceremony. King holds strips of the flag and reads the names of the original 13 colonies while Nguyen places each piece into the fire.

Grand salutes made way to remember those who fought wars and never came home. It also honored those who lived to see a brighter day with the end of war and continued their lives.

imageMoments before the ceremony

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Some Words from Bruce Miller

Some cemeteries display blooming gardens while others hold cinema nights. But no one has Bruce Miller. Oakwood Cemetery boasts the rights to a great historian whose dedication to little old Raleigh is nothing short of a blessing. Earning his tenure as a most knowledgeable guide to all things Oakwood Cemetery, it was only  fitting to etch his memory and name on a street. Miller’s Magnolia Walk houses one of the oldest and famous patrons whose history the eponymous figure knows all too well. Here lies Sophia Patridge, the founder of the Confederate Cemetery at Oakwood, John Haywood, the first Treasurer and Raleigh’s first Intendant of Police (Mayor), and Ellen Mordecai, the author of Gleanings from Long Ago of the Mordecai family whose plantation bears a short walk a few blocks away.

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On a Friday afternoon, Miller accompanied the Raleigh Governor’s Mansion docents through the maze of streets and stones. From far away, one would assume that this tour is rather quiet and normal. But Miller’s demeanor and presence turned even the most intriguing chit chat to a halt with his abundance of never ending wisdom. A true cognoscenti of his time, he never fails to enlighten the crowd with facts intertwined with lighthearted humor. If there is such a thing as a walking encyclopedia then he is it!

As the storyteller introduces each patron and their tale, one cannot help but wonder how this man can remember so much. The theme of the day revolved around the governors and state officials of Raleigh. From Robert Watson Winston to Charles Brantley Aycock, Miller’s genteel Southern introduction brings the past a bit closer to the present. At certain points, he goes on a first name basis with patrons. One can only surmise that given the chance, they would return the favor and tell their own stories about the man himself.

 

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Throwing in a few unrelated tombs and their origins, the crowd hung on his every word as curiosity peaked. As revolutions around the former first park of Raleigh were made, the tour ended with the trademark humble Bruce Miller philosophy as capturing the “spirit of the place” and making a small contribution to a lively place. Miller is no stranger to the plenty of tours and even lectures at North Carolina State University. He is the author of Oakwood to Oakwood which can be purchased at Oakwood Cemetery for $15. A huge investment of time and research was spent on learning and collecting facts and anecdotes about the people and through his generosity, all proceeds go to the cemetery. The book provides an insight on past figures whose influence on the neighborhood remains a great feat to this day. As Miller puts it, the book kindly depicts, “The lives and homes of people who lived in or developed Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood — and stayed.”

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All Saints Day

Now that Halloween is over, it seems that the only way to go is Thanksgiving. Actually, there is a holiday at the beginning of November. November 1st is the start of All Saints Day which for most people remains in an unfamiliar territory. Call it All Hallows, Day of All the Saints, Solemnity of All Saints or Feast of All Saints, this multinominal holiday honors saints who reached Heaven. Primarily focusing on unknown saints, the origin of this day began with Pope Boniface IV collecting the bones of saints and other remnants in order to rebury them in the Pantheon in Rome on May 13 in 609 AD. Eventually, Christians came to recognize the numerous martyrs and their lives on the anniversaries of their deaths. As the years flew by, canonization of the saints grew in great numbers. Pope Gregory IV officially put a stake on the November 1st as the day of commemoration.

The practice now extends to remembering members of a congregation. Names of churchgoers are read out loud during Mass on All Saints Day as their loved ones remember them. The day and its celebrations vary throughout the world. In some countries, lighting candles by graves marks the remembrance while laying flowers and wreaths is another way. Pope Boniface IV also takes credit for All Souls’ Day on November 2nd.

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In America, Halloween’s orange and black gloss and candy overshadows this day as children trick or treat for the colorfully wrapped squares and circles. Haunted houses find transient tenants for the night and delightfully scarified thrill seekers. The night ends with ghost tours and costume contests. But the night ends in a much simpler way at Oakwood. Driving along the streets inside, handmade vibrant orange ribbons tied into luminous bows  adorn several graves in honor of All Saints Day. So much solace can be found in the sacred day as Robin Simonton, Executive Director of Oakwood Cemetery explains the particulars. Typically held in churches, Oakwood finds that exception in their Mausoleum where the event is held. This year, the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church came by as the Oakwood Community gathered to remember the lives of the people as their names are read aloud.

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“It is a somber remembrance of those we lost. The whole thing is a big community event.”

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A Night in the Dark: Oakwood Lantern Walk 2015

Ever think about walking in the cemetery at night? Doesn’t it give you chills? Well, for those who are into the walking sans the feeling of shadows looming enjoyed a mild and family oriented annual Lantern Walk at Oakwood Cemetery. Processions of cars and an intrigued audience lined the pathways into the cemetery waiting for the night to come alive. Short, historical vignettes set against the beautiful backdrop of swaying oaks and Southern magnolias told visitors about life and death during the Civil War as the country felt the division between the Union and the Confederates. Along the path, luminaries revealed characters in period attire as each story unfolds into poignant and heartwarming moments. Soldiers spoke of lost friends while returning veterans found comfort in Southern hospitality and reflection years later. But a thematic approach to the storytelling consisted of laughter and empathy in scenes where Confederate and Union soldiers united in soft quibs at one another and end in a knowing of a shared humanity and camaraderie.

Around 1400 Confederate veterans rest in this part of the cemetery with a few Union veterans close by. Tours took a good hour and each group trekked up the hill every 15 minutes with their guides. A fond tradition, the tour is hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans with acting by local re-enactors and volunteers. Proceeds help Oakwood in the efforts to restore the Confederate Cemetery.

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Centro Day of the Dead 5k

If you happened to find yourself walking down Wilmington Street last weekend then you saw quite a sight. Participants gathered for a run while others walked from Centro Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar Downtown Raleigh for the Day of the Dead 5k. This footloose race included some fancy costumes and makeup in the form of adorable sugar skull children, brightly colored fairy women, ghoulish 80’s rock band members and other creative costumes. The day finished with a welcoming costume contest, live music, food and gorgeous art created by an array of artists.

There is no physical prowess to show in this race, but rather a fun community event that is runner/walker friendly, keeping the four-legged friends and children in mind. But another aspect of this celebration is the sweet fact that the Day of the Dead 5k benefits the Brentwood Boys and Girls Club of Raleigh. An organization known for helping children through many educational and fun after school programs, BBGC of Raleigh strives to promote healthy lifestyles, academic success, good character and citizenship by encouraging physical education, tutoring and mentoring. If you grew up in the 90’s then you probably saw a bunch of commercials endorsed by celebrities about the importance of giving back to the community by volunteering your time to this place.

And in Raleigh, the locals caught the volunteer bug as traffic controllers, race day breakdown crew and chummy cheerleaders while sporting gear in bright fall colors. Just in time to celebrate a holiday that although may not be as well known as Halloween, still manages to captivate quite a crowd. Director Pepe Caudillo reflects that this day holds significant meaning and the sense of tradition cannot be forgotten. Also known as El Dia de los Muertos, the beginning of this holiday is traceable to as far as hundreds of years ago with the Aztecs. Seeing how death is a natural part of life, rituals grew to celebrate family members’ departure and honoring the gods. With the arrival of the Spaniards, the tradition received an immersion of European elements. Soon, the Day of the Dead moved South and some Central American countries adopted it. Now, it is a beloved holiday in the United States that seems to coincide with Halloween.

The difference between the two is that the prior honors the dead. A Table of Remembrance known as Ofrendas (one can be found by Centro and the other at Oakwood) is set up with offerings and installations designed to help souls on the first two days of November to enjoy their favorite food, drink, personal object, etc… Decorations vary from flowers, fruit, candles, paper art and pictures of the dead. A familiar object is the sugar skull (also known as calavera), a confectionary with vibrant colors often seen on ofrendas. Signifying the soul of a loved one, these beautiful candies can be found with happy smiles whilst names of loved ones can be written on their foreheads or simply decorated in neon foil, pastel swirls, glittery dots and more. Smaller skulls represents children as bigger and more ornate ones are for adults.  

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“Over the years, it has become richer and more amazing than the Aztecs every thought which is great!”

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Caudillo shares that the celebrations make him feel philosophical about life since he often ponders about life and death. He also finds the idea of dedicating a special time to remember loved ones as something wonderful.

“It is a way to stay in contact with those we don’t see but we still feel. They still make us cry, laugh and feel alive even though they are dead. I think this is a powerful festivity since it is about something that no one can stop, but it can be assimilated into a positive, constructive, colorful and fun way.”

The inspiration for this race and street festival which is in its fifth year started through a collaboration with the Centro owner, Angela Salamanca. Ask anyone who has ever lost someone and they will tell you that you want to remember those tender moments that makes you remember their love. Salamanca lost someone near to her, a sister named Margarita 12 years ago this October. But she chooses to celebrate her life through a holiday that commemorates her life.

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“It is precisely a way to celebrate those who have a past and in a way that is not sad or heavy. There is a beautiful energy–loud and vibrant. It represents the holiday. There needs to be a role for mourning and life. It is an opportunity for celebration rather than a death anniversary, which is heavy I think.”

And great opportunities have been created. Going along with the lightheartedness of things, it is hard to believe that it was only five years ago, Salamanca came to Caudillo about raising money for BBGC of Raleigh. Each year has seen an increase in success and community involvement. Now, the hopes for this year’s race is to generate money to beat last year’s $12,000 mark and Caudillo hopes to surpass that with $15,000. As an effort to raise more money for this non-profit organization, Salamanca organized the All Saints Day or El dia De Los Santos Storytelling Supper on November 1st at 7:00 pm. Hosted in the Mausoleum at Oakwood, guests were guaranteed a front seat to the old fashioned art of storytelling and live music all while enjoying delicious eats and refreshments from Centro, Fullsteam Brewery and Wine Authorities.

While today is the last day of the Day of the Dead festivities, a number of people will be honoring their loved ones with flowers, candles, presents, toys and more by their graves as they celebrate their lives.

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