Twenty years ago, when the nation was warming up for the American Revolution Bicentennial, civic silliness vied with serious historic projects for a place in the celebratory sun.
In Baltimore, fireplugs were painted with caricatures of revolutionary figures. And then-City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky fostered a 69,000-pound birthday cake that earned an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "largest confection."
Most projects vanished quickly into history's dustbin, but one linked peculiarly to Maryland never disappeared -- and is making a comeback.
The elegant and colorful Calvert Arms-Grand Union flag -- flown by Maryland troops from the French and Indian War until the Revolution and adoption of the Stars and Stripes -- was reproduced in limited quantities for the Bicentennial. Now, by popular demand, it is available again, said Frederick T. Wehr, deputy governor of the Society of Colonial Wars.
One of the flags -- with the red, white and blue British Union Flag and the black and gold stripes of the arms of the Calverts, Maryland's founding family -- hangs among the early American flags above the Towson library's circular ramp. Mr. Wehr said he also has seen a few flying in front of houses in Ocean City.
During the Bicentennial, the Calvert Arms-Grand Union flag was a project of Church Hospital. Two hundred of the 3-by-5-foot flags were sewn in cotton and sold out quickly, at $25 each.
A 5-by-8-foot flag, in nylon, flew in front of the Broadway hospital XTC until 1977, when Mr. Wehr presented it to Sir John Eden, now Lord Eden. He is a a descendant of Maryland's last Colonial governor, Robert Eden, whose wife, Caroline, was the sister of Frederick Calvert, the last Lord Baltimore.
"For the last 15 years people have been calling me, asking where they can get one of those flags," Mr. Wehr said. "They must have thought I had a cache of them somewhere, but I didn't."
Recently, the Society, descendants of colonial military and civil officers, agreed that demand would justify sponsoring a reissue of the flags, Mr. Wehr said. The initial order is for 50 flags to be produced, by silk-screening on nylon, through F. W. Haxel & Co. Inc., the Baltimore flag company. They can be ordered for $95.
The Calvert Arms-Grand Union flag became Church Hospital's bicentennial project almost by accident, said Mr. Wehr, who in 1975 was the hospital's public relations director.
As an amateur historian, he had seen a reference to the flag in his reading and then found descriptions of it in old records in the Maryland Room of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
However, the state's Bicentennial Commission ignored the banner in favor of 12 other colonial and Revolutionary flags, "none of which had any association with Maryland during the period," Mr. Wehr said.
The hospital undertook the project itself and contracted with State Use Industries, the agency that handles prison-inmate labor, for 200 of the Calvert-Grand Union flags to be sewn by female inmates in Jessup. As the agency's bicentennial project, the women were already sewing replicas of the Betsy Ross flag, with its 13 stripes and circle of 13 stars.
References to colonial-era flags in Maryland are scarce, but the one now called the Calvert Arms-Grand Union flag appears in minutes of the Aug. 6, 1755, meeting of Gov. Horatio Sharpe's Council.
Gen. Edward Braddock's British column had been massacred near Pittsburgh by French and American Indian forces a few weeks earlier. Governor Sharpe had been appointed commander of Maryland's forces in the war against France.
In preparing for repelling French and American Indian raids on Maryland frontier outposts, such as Fort Frederick, in what is now Washington County, the Council ordered supplies from London, including a large quantity of gunpowder and musket flints and "a black and yellow flagg 24 feet long and 16 feet broad with the Union in One Corner."
After the 1707 union of England, Scotland and Wales, all British regimental flags were required to have the Grand Union in one canton. "It is logical to assume that at least some Maryland military units carried these colors until the ties with Great Britain were cut formally in 1776," Mr. Wehr said.
The Calvert Arms-Grand Union flag may be ordered by sending a check for $95, made out to the Society of Colonial Wars, 2105 Kennicott Road, Baltimore 21244.