The County Flag – Heavily Ridiculed, Still Adopted

The Baltimore County Flag – Heavily Ridiculed, Still Adopted
Adam Youssi
June 2015

(Special thanks to the Baltimore County Department of Planning, Preservation Services, for access to their files for sources used in this article.)

Early in 1962, the Catonsville Business Association hosted a contest sanctioned by the Baltimore County Executive, Christian H. Kahl, and the County Council. The contest’s goal was to solicit designs for the first official Baltimore County flag, because to date the county didn’t have one.

Official Flag of Baltimore County, Maryland, as designed by Parkville High School senior John McLemore, and adopted in 1962.

The Baltimore County public schools got involved too: “The contest, carried on over the past two months as a voluntary addition to the art curriculum within the school, was limited to tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders.” (Jeffersonian, April 27, 1962)

Ultimately, there were thirty submissions to become the first official Baltimore County flag. They were reviewed and the top three were ranked by the contest’s esteemed judges: William E. Prince of the Maryland Institute; Olives Jabes, supervisor of art, Baltimore County Schools; Wilbur H. Hunter of the Peale Museum; Dr. J. Fred Andreae of the Catonsville Business Association and Porter Hopkins of the Maryland Historical Society. (Ibid.)

The winning design was by a Parkville High School senior named John R. McLemore, who was awarded a $100 U.S. Savings Bond. (Ibid.)

County Council is not impressed: “…too Communistic,” “miserable… a monstrosity.”

David L. Maulsby, “County Flag is Unfurled, But It May Never See Pole,” The Sun, August 7, 1962.

Having entirely forgotten about the event, the councilmen “appeared shocked,” when the winning flag was unfurled. Apparently, in the midst of their election campaigns, the Executive and Councilmen had both overlooked the on-going contest; “…this project apparently was forgotten. Many of the councilmen also were seeking reelection.” (David L. Maulsby, “County Flag is Unfurled, But It May Never See Pole,” The Sun, August 7, 1962.)

Despite their absent mindedness, all except one of the councilmen publicly ridiculed the high school student’s winning design:

“If only those judges had been at the county council session yesterday and heard what each councilman, with the exception of Mr. Dignan, said right out loud. Referring to the red plow on a white background in the right corner, one cried: ‘That plow is too big. Besides, they are not using that kind much.’ At the bottom left a wheel cog, red on white, was denounced as ‘too Communistic looking.’

“‘It’s a helluva looking flag.’ cried a councilman.

“‘It’s miserable… a monstrosity,’ cried another.

“County Council Turns Down Design for Flag: Dignan Withdraws Bill In Face of Colleagues’ Opposition,” Jeffersonian, August 10, 1962.

“‘I think it’s a real pretty flag,’ said Mr. Dignan.

“‘I’m not going to vote to adopt such a thing,’ asserted another.

“Mr. Dignan, who realized his bill for approval was doomed if a vote were taken, declined to call for a vote… he would seek the support of the two absent councilmen….”

Perhaps notably, “…the councilmen expressed sympathy for the feelings of the Parkville High School student….” (Ibid.)

The Jeffersonian reported: “The County Council, without casting a single ballot, this week rejected a proposed official flag for Baltimore County. They did so with ridicule.” (“County Council Turns Down Design for Flag,” Jeffersonian, August 10, 1962.)

County Executive Forced to Adopt Flag by Executive Order

“In his statement, Mr. Kahl [County Executive] criticized what he called ‘unbelieveable and regrettable behavior on the part of certain members of the Council…. It is beyond my comprehension that public officials could and would ridicule the work of the talented young man who drew the winning design,’ he said.” (“Kahl Says He Will Adopt Flag By Executive Order,” Baltimore Sun, August 19, 1962.)

Parkville High School senior, John R. McLemore, is presented with $100 U.S. Savings Bond for designing the winning entry for the first official Baltimore County flag, 1962. (Courtesy Historical Society of Baltimore County)

The Jeffersonian reported County Executive Kahl’s comments:
“I feel the deepest embarassment for young McLemore for the unfair and unjust criticism and mortification he has been forced to endure and I feel embarrassment also for the council members who sounded off and by so doing publicly exhibited their own blatant disregard for many hours of concentrated effort put forth by so many to bring this important civic protection to fruition. I had originally considered adoption of the flag by the Executive Order I am now exercising under provisions of the County Charter, but thought the legislative arm of government would appreciate and seize upon the opportunity to participate and join with me in hailing the result of such a county-wide effort, one which was initiated by a Catonsville business group and which drew widespread support from students, teachers, parents and individual citizens in virtually every section of the county.”  (“County To Adopt Flag By Order of Executive: Kahl Hopes Council Will Reverse Stand At Next Session,” Jeffersonian, August 24, 1962.)

The County Council Comes Around

“… It finally adopted by resolution the official county flag, designed by John McLemore, a student at Parkville Senior High School, in a county-wide contest.  Christian H. Kahl, County Executive, previously adopted the flag by executive order after Council criticism of the flag.” (“County Map Scored Again,” Baltimore Sun, September 11, 1962.)

A Year Passes, and Few Fly the Banner

“Sir: Your news article of August 9 stated that the F.M. Stevenson Company has had few takers for Baltimore county’s official flag, formally adopted about a year ago….  The new Perry Hall branch of the Baltimore county public library will be dedicated on Sunday, September 8, and at that time the American, State and county flags will be presented to the library. This will be the first county flag placed in a Baltimore county library.  The county flag also was used for the first time by the Baltimore County Historical Society on its prize-winning float in the July 4 parade in Towson. Frank Hennessy made the following remark, “This is the only Baltimore County flag in the parade and we hope to see many of them next year.’ To my knowledge there are a few standards flying over the county now. One is beside the Agricultural Building, high on a hill at Texas, Md. This belongs to the Historical Society. There is also one flying over the Courthouse in Towson….” (Evelyn Q. White, “Flags, Here and There,” Baltimore Sun, August 21, 1963.)