Flag Day With Ben And Betsy

Posted: June 16, 1987

Benjamin Franklin dropped in on Betsy Ross yesterday to do some flag- waving. It was a perfect day for it.

"Betsy is quite a bit younger than I am, of course," Benjamin Franklin said as he handed out flags to visitors at Betsy's house. "But I always make it a point of visiting her on Flag Day."

This was just before the start of the 89th annual Flag Day ceremonies at the American Flag House and Betsy Ross Memorial, 239 Arch St. - better known as the Betsy Ross House - and Benjamin Franklin was making himself useful as a role player.

Not only did he hand out flags, but he also filled in as an usher, posed for photographs with tourists and even retrieved a piece of sheet music that dropped from the stand of a tuba player in the Philadelphia Police and Firemen's Band.

"Incidentally," said the distinguished utility man, who actually is Ralph Archbold, the official Ben Franklin for the Constitution bicentennial celebration, "there has been no rain on Flag Day here for more than 20 years. Not to sound boastful, but I take credit for that. Can't have things spoiled for Betsy."

Despite the heat and humidity - not to mention the fact that the actual Flag Day this year fell on Sunday, when a similar ceremony was held by the Philadelphia Flag Day Association at Independence Hall - Philadelphians gathered at the little house on Arch Street yesterday to honor the flag and the things it stands for.

They heard speeches and they listened to proclamations by Gov. Casey and by Mayor Goode. They pledged allegiance to the flag, and they listened to a medley of patriotic airs by the Police and Firemen's Band under the baton of Capt. Joseph T. Cifelli. And when the formal ceremony was over, many of them stayed for a performance of a historical sketch, Betsy Makes the Flag, in the Atwater Kent Garden of the Betsy Ross House.

The principal speaker was Weston Adams, former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Malawi in southeast Africa. Adams, now a lawyer in Columbia, S.C., is a descendant of Betsy Ross' sister.

In prefacing his remarks, Adams said that as he and his wife had traveled abroad in service of their country they found that "everybody wants to come to the United States of America, to enjoy the entitlements that we enjoy as Americans, and too frequently take for granted."

The dais had been set up directly in front of the residence of the woman who may or may not have designed and made the first American flag in 1777. Succeeding generations of historians have debated the did-she-or-didn't-she question. Adams lost little time in showing where he stood.

He cited evidence of historical paintings in which Betsy Ross is pictured, the dates of which are before the year 1870, when one William Canby, Betsy's grandson, first claimed that his grandmother had made the first flag. One of the points made by Ross detractors is that nothing had been heard of the woman with regard to the flag before Canby's claim.

Adams is the owner of one of the paintings cited. It was done by Ellen Sully Wheeler in 1851, and shows Betsy Ross with Gen. George Washington, Robert Morris and Col. George Ross, Betsy's uncle, discussing the making of the flag. Adams has lent the painting to the Betsy Ross House, through July 4.

Representing Mayor Goode, City Managing Director James S. White read the mayor's proclamation of Flag Day, then presented the fourth annual Betsy Ross Freedom Award to the family of A. Atwater Kent, the Philadelphia radio manufacturer and philanthropist, who 50 years ago acquired the Betsy Ross House and adjoining properties from private owners and presented them to the city. The award was accepted by A. Atwater Kent Jr.

The historical sketch in the Kent Garden was performed by Sandra Gibbs, as Betsy, and John Favorite, as George Ross, Betsy's uncle.

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