Museums do it. Theaters do it. People from Patterson Park to Roland Park do it. Announcing babies, birthdays, retirements and other personal delights on a banner has gotten quite fashionable lately. You see them fluttering from porches and flapping from flagpoles all over town, announcing love and honors, parties and opinions.
Flaunting a streamer to say, "Hey, look at this! Follow me!" isn't exactly new, of course. People have had a need to wave something around for one reason or another for centuries. Early banners were put up on poles to help soldiers find their own side in a battle.
These simple flags got more elaborate over time. The brightly colored lion, unicorn, and dolphin banners of medieval times were family crests embroidered in cloth-of-gold and costly colored silks by the ladies back home. You can still get a banner made up with your family name, often punning on the symbolism hidden in it. Suppose you're Francis Scott Key, and you marry Jody Rosen; you might want a family flag with a rose twined around a key. That's how heraldic flags started.
Next came banners with a message. These were the fabric equivalent of a light bulb over the head in a cartoon.
Suffragettes used them to agitate for the vote and equal wages; Elks used them to proclaim their lodges; Barnum used them to say the circus was in town.
Today, appliqued banners are popular with everybody from bowling teams to elementary schools and can be ordered from a number of shops, in sizes from modest to mammoth.
When the silk-screen process was invented, banners took a big leap toward mass production. One stencil could turn out clear, crisp letters and pictures on a large number of flags. Colors were limited only by the imagination; shapes only by the dexterity of the stencil cutter. This technique is also still popular, but today laser-cut stencils and flexible, acrylic-based paints make a much finer product than those blocky old letters the Army used to stencil on its equipment.
In the world of banners, storks still bring babies; hearts announce love; bunnies still bring eggs at Easter; skeletons dance on Halloween; and turkeys waddle toward Pilgrims, looking as ill-tempered as turkeys always do.
March 17 means shamrocks and leprechauns; the Fourth of July means the star-spangled banner, especially in Baltimore, where the song was written.
And in the flag stores around town, as well as the garden centers and hardware stores, you can find all those signs beloved since kindergarten, and a good many more. Big flags for the porch, little pennants for the door, wind-socks and kites -- which are only banners on a frame -- all in the seasonal symbol of your choice. You can hang them from a tree or a mailbox; flutter them from your bike antenna; stick them in the garden to spruce up those drought periods.
Catalogs like Lillian Vernon and Plough and the Hearth also are getting into the act with banners depicting everything from rainbows to magnolias, and all the equipment you need to flaunt your colors.
I think that nothing beats a stroll through the hometown marts. You can pinch the banners and feel the flagpoles. Want to fly the old Don't Tread On Me flag, just as an expression of political
opinion? Want to order a banner with your old Army outfit's patch, or a commemoration of five years as a non-smoker? Give yourself a day to do a little comparison shopping.
After all, some distant descendant may be mounting it proudly on the porch in the 21st century.
* A&A; Signs, 1718-K Belmont Ave., Baltimore; (410) 298-1100
* CRW Flags, Glen Burnie; (800) 662-6106
* F. W. Haxel, 200 N. Pearl St., Baltimore; (410) 539-7025
* Flags, Banners and Pennants, 409 Park Ave., Baltimore; (410) 685-1776
* The Flag Shop Co. Inner Harbor, Light Street Pavillion; (410) 625-2212
* International Flag Supply, 2356 Tanterra Circle, Brookville; (301) 924-4732
* Kite Loft, Inner Harbor, Light Street Pavillion; (410) 528-0888