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What flag is this?

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I know its awfully unseasonable to post a wintry scene but I wanted to point something out to you in this image. It is the cover of a holiday card depicting the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on a very snowy day. You'll also notice two flags on the card. When my uncle received it last Christmas he asked me why the library would fly a French flag. I thought to myself "that's a good question."


Well, on the card the flag really does look like the French flag but it actually isn’t. You’ll notice that the library still flies two flags at its main entrance but the flag to the right of the building is not the blue, white and red like the French flag but rather blue, white and orange with a blue seal in the middle section. This is the New York City flag and the seal is the New York City seal. Here, on the New York City website, is a brief explanation of the colors and seal of the flag. We also have materials on the city flag in our collection, like poetry written by John Erskine and a report of the flag's adoption in the Milstein Division at Schwarzman Building. If you didn't know that there was such a thing as city flags you may want to take a look at this book which has descriptions and images of 150 American city flags from cities from Akron, Ohio to Yonkers, New York.

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NYPL flags & flagpoles

One small correction: the seal on the New York City flag is that of the city, not of the state. But the main reason for my post is to relate the touching and little known backstory behind the two flagpoles on the library plaza. Both poles are monuments to onetime New York City mayor John Purroy Mitchel. Mitchel, who was called "the Boy Mayor" because of his young age, was an honest, well-liked, reform-minded public servant. But his policies displeased many Tammany machine politicians, and they launched an aggressive counter campaign that deprived Mitchel of a second term. Soon after Mitchel's failed reelection bid, the U.S. entered WWI, so the former mayor decided to join the war effort. He volunteered for the Army Air Corps and was killed in a flight training accident in Louisiana. (According to some accounts, he failed to secure his seat belt and fell to his death performing some aerial maneuver -- a common mishap, I've been told by an aviation historian I know.) Mitchel was greatly admired for having died in the service of his country, and even though he was buried in a very modest grave in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, he was honored with several civic monuments. Mitchel Air Field on Long Island, for example, was named for him, and the entrance to Central Park at Fifth Ave. and 90th Street (featuring a gold bust of the man) was dedicated to his memory. Which brings us to the NYPL flagpoles. They are identical in every way, and yet their inscriptions are different -- which might seem odd since they commemorate the same man. But it all makes sense when you study the plaques at the foot of each pole. You see, the northern flagpole, which flies the *city* flag, is dedicated to John Purroy Mitchel the former NYC mayor; the southern flagpole, which flies the *American* flag, is dedicated to John Purroy Mitchel the fallen U.S. serviceman.

Flag pole inscriptions

Thank you for the correction and for sharing such an interesting and timely story - I will have to take a look at the flagpoles today! Sachi

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