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Stars and stripes forever

Bill Zinnert shares lifelong hobby collecting flags

Created date

May 21st, 2013

When it comes to the most popular holidays, Flag Day doesn t usually top anyone s list unless you are a flag aficionado like Bill Zinnert. Until recently, Bill, who lives at Charlestown, the Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md., owned a collection of more than 50 unique historical flags. I had a large collection of full-sized, early colonial flags to later-era American flags and Maryland flags from the year 1632 to the present, amongst many others, says Bill.

Living history

Bill, a member of the Army, National Guard, and Air Force, began collecting flags more than 40 years ago after attending the Air National Guard Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Academy in Knoxville, Tenn. When I was there, I learned a lot about patriotism and the history of the American flag, says Bill. They had a museum with a flag collection. It struck me that it would be neat to do something along the same lines myself. So when I got back to Maryland that s what I did. I started out with the Cowpens flag and a Betsy Ross flag. The Cowpens flag, otherwise known as the 3rd Maryland Regiment flag, is an early version of the United States flag. Both it and the more popular Betsy Ross flag feature white stars arranged in a circle on a blue field; but the circle on the Cowpens flag consists of just 12 stars, with the 13th star in the center. In 1972, with the help of American Legion Post #289, Bill began collecting replicas of historical flags and initiated the Legion s flag program. I acquired some uniforms from the colonial period, says Bill. A few Legionnaires and I would dress up and travel to schools, Girl Scout and Boy Scout events, Kiwanis clubs, etc., giving presentations on the flags and describing the events that took place during the time of each specific flag. We did about 30 or so presentations a year from one end of the state of Maryland to the other.

Old Line State

A Maryland native, Bill says the history behind many of the Old Line State s flags fascinates him. Unlike many states which simply have a blue flag with their state seal, the Maryland flag is made up of the shield of the coat of arms from two families: the Calvert family and the Crossland family, says Bill. According to the Maryland Office of the Secretary of State website, George Calvert, first Lord of Baltimore, adopted a coat of arms that included a shield with alternating quadrants featuring the yellow and black colors of his paternal family and the red and white colors of his maternal family, the Crosslands. Bill recently appeared on Charlestown s in-house TV station, Channel 972, in colonial American dress visually depicting the history of the Maryland flag while tracing its roots and describing how to properly display it. Prior to moving to Charlestown this January, Bill generously donated his flag collection to the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, in Baltimore. As a keepsake, he kept a catalog of all the flags in his collection. I figured it was time to let them go, says Bill. It s been a few years since I traveled doing presentations. When asked which flag was his favorite, Bill says, I didn t have a favorite. Some of them were more impressive than the others because they had a little more history behind them, but each flag has its own history, and they are all interesting as far as I m concerned.

Celebrate Old Glory

Friday, June 14, is Flag Day! Visit the Star Spangled Banner Flag House, in Baltimore, Md., for a Flag Day celebration. Enjoy free tours of the home of Mary Pickersgill (the maker of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag). Then stick around for a special ceremony with the veterans from the nonprofit organization Catch a Lift. Fife and drum, patriotic music, and the Marine Corps color guard will make this a red, white, and blue day that you ll never forget! Free and open to the public.