Part II – It Happened First in

You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high-flying flag …

US Flag — 1959 to present

Prologue. Waubeka: lay of the land

The languid Milwaukee River begins as a set of mild-mannered creeks amongst some “highlands” formed by a “range” of moraine hills. These hills constitute a small divide, between Lake Winnebago’s watershed and the river’s own. Several river branches and creeks soon join in, most from the same highlands. When enough creeks have linked up, it has graduated to a real “river.”  Thence it begins meandering on a very twisty path – apparently aimlessly, like a band of nomads, or like one of my essays ?. It plods many dozens of miles through Kettle-Moraine country, collecting other creeks along the way. Twenty miles from its mouth it finally turns right and commits to a generally southward flow, albeit with a few jogs.  Finally, in downtown Milwaukee, it joins two other rivers and makes a sudden hard left turn just before it disgorges into Lake Michigan.

Typical Midwest rolling moraine country

Ice sheets of at least four glaciation periods have covered much of North America over the current Ice Age. Each period lasted tens of thousands of years. The last – which ended about 11 thousand years ago – covered all of Canada, and much of the upper Midwest. The ice sheets were one to two miles deep. Cartographical features remain, large and small.  The most obvious are lakes, including the Great Lakes.  Many subtler topographic features include:

        • modern river paths,
    • moraines (hills),
  • kettles (depressions),
  • and till plains (fine glacial deposits). [2]

Lying alongside this lazy river – ‘twixt two of its last big bends, 30 miles upstream from its mouth – one can still find the tiny and humble settlement of Waubeka.  The community remains unincorporated, its population still just a few hundred.

Waubeka was first settled by Europeans in the 1840s.  Its name comes from a local Amerindian — Waubeka (Anglos’ best phonetic Anglicization: Wau-BEH’-kah) — who was Chief of the Potawatomi tribe that remained in the area after White-man’s settlement. [note: my pronunciation may not quite coincide with locals]

The region was once thickly forested: beech, cedars, pines, oaks, maples, larch, and black walnut, to name several.  All grew well in the humid continental climate, and the rich glacial till soil.  A beaver population prospered among the many placid brooks. Thick forests provided ample timber for these industrious builders – the largest rodents in North America – to build dams and lodges.[3]

In time, the land was settled – or maybe “exploited.” Endless groves were substantially cleared by felling on an ambitious scale. Some timber was floated downstream for use elsewhere, but the river’s nature (slow, twisty, with occasional “rapids” and dams) precluded much of that. Some was used for construction, and much simply burned — either for heat, or just to get rid of it. Most of the beaver were harvested, too, although by then the beaver pelt rage was winding down; but they were considered pests, since their dams created large ponds where they’d otherwise not exist.

The cleared-out land has produced an impressive agricultural yield ever since. [4]  Soon after this initial clearing out, Waubeka had its own dam to power a grain mill.

Agriculture still supports much of the economy around Waubeka. The hamlet itself is now slowly — grudgingly — changing. Bits of commerce and refugees are wafting north away from Milwaukee’s gravitational pull. But little Waubeka still retains much of the “agricultural-small-community-keep-it-simple” feel it had 150 years ago, when our protagonist came of age there.



Essay Main Body

“… Forever in peace may you wave.
You’re the emblem of
the land I love,

The home of the free and the brave…”

Bernard Cigrand was born in tiny rural Waubeka, in October 1866.  He was the seventh of eight children born to Susanna and Nicholas Cigrand (one died in infancy in 1859).  Census data show Nicholas was a blacksmith and, for a while, hotelier.  Susanna is listed as housekeeper — quite a task I imagine with 7 kids in a remote community. Nicholas and Susanna were immigrants from Luxembourg. [Although Nicholas’ US naturalization record from 1858 says he was born in “Holland.”] [5]

In 1885 young Bernard was finishing his first year of teaching the school children of the area at a salary of $40/month. He was young, only 18.  Classes were held in the community’s small school (of course, small) called Stoney Hill School. Born and raised in Waubeka, he was considered qualified to teach by virtue of his high school diploma, times being what they were, and especially — as a local boy — he was well-known to be bright and trustworthy. Very young teachers in small remote communities were not uncommon at the time.

Bernard Cigrand, himself (looks like a wedding picture)

Bright, yes. After another year of teaching in Waubeka, Cigrand was accepted to dental school in Chicago. [6]

Upon dental school graduation Cigrand practiced dentistry in northern Illinois, starting in Chicago while also teaching at the dental school there. He set up a longtime practice in Aurora, IL, while residing in nearby Batavia, along the Fox River.

But before Cigrand’s pursuit of dentistry, while teaching in that small schoolhouse in Waubeka, he did something that started a national movement — one that is remembered to this day.

Monday morning, the 15th of June 1885, started out as usual for young Bernard. He opened the schoolhouse and opened its windows to allow a draft — humid warm June days are often oppressive. He went out to the hand-powered water pump and filled a watercooler – likely a Red Wing Stoneware ceramic cooler, or water ‘bubbler’ – thus securing his students’ hydration for the day. The cooler would be placed on a table in the back of the room. Then he did something quite new. Cigrand put a 38-star American flag on his desk.  His reason?  To begin promoting understanding of, appreciation for, and respect for the flag: its history, symbolism, significance, and its power to unify the many ethnic groups immigrating to America. (He himself was a first generation American.)

38-star flag, 1877-1890

A year passed. The end of his second, and final, year teaching in Waubeka. On Monday the 14th, Cigrand did the same thing.  He set out a flag.  He started talking about it, and he invited the students to talk too.

What a great idea! Word got out. The flag was a local hit.  A movement was started.  Flag Day, a day to honor the flag. Cigrand made it a personal mission.  Even after dental school he continued promoting Flag Day.

And he had opportunity to do just that. Cigrand was well-traveled as Dean of the Chicago Dental School and attended conferences in that role where he spoke of the Flag and the need of having a national Flag Day.  He contributed to several Chicago papers and gave lectures on the significance of the flag.

The idea continued to spread. Schools and towns and cities across the country started honoring the Stars and Stripes every June 14th, as the number of stars increased to 48 over the following three decades.  Of course, since 1959, the grand old flag now displays 50 stars.

June 14th was the de facto Flag Day long before President Woodrow declared it so, in 1916. Congress then made it official (although it’s not a federal holiday) via legislation in 1949 – and President Truman signed it.

We “fly the flag” at our house on special days, Flag Day among them.

“ … should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.” [7]


Of course, America being America, the nation’s flag — like Little Free Libraries — has become contentious.  I really don’t want to spend much time on this sad aspect.  With full knowledge and acceptance that our country has many, many warts and blemishes from shameful historic acts, I prefer to focus on its positive aspects: historically, currently and in the future.  To focus on the positives the flag symbolizes: such as human dignity, responsibilities, liberties, and unity.

Dignity and unity are possible because of E pluribus unum. In many we are one. All men are created equal, with the right to pursue happiness.  Equal protection under the law.  Fundamental rights encompassed by the Constitution’s Amendments. A country willing to spill its blood and spend its treasure for freedoms at home and abroad.

The flag is a focus of controversy? Really? Can’t we all just get along?  Do it for the children; for the school children.

On August 1, 1889 Bernard Cigrand married Alice Crispe. She had migrated to Chicago from rural Michigan, near Kalamazoo.  She bore him three sons and three daughters. Among them, Elroy (b. 1895) also went on to be a doctor of dentistry, DDS.

Cigrand is a very uncommon surname.  As there are a few scattered across the area, especially in upstate Illinois, near Batavia, I would not be surprised if many – or if all – are descendants of Bernard and his brother Peter.

Bernard had a sudden heart attack and passed away in 1932, aged 65.  He is buried near his home, just outside Aurora, Illinois, along the Fox River. Buried nearby are his wife, Alice, and five of their children. [8]

…Oh, say does that Star Spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”


On some positive notes,

  • Stoney Hill School in Waubeka has been fully restored to a fine condition.

    Stony Hill School house, modern

  • Flag Day ceremonies are held there annually.
  • The main street through Waubeka is called “Cigrand Drive.” There is also a “Cigrand Court” in Batavia, near his longtime home and final resting place.

If wishes made dreams come true, then mine would be that all citizens appreciate their nation’s flag, pausing often (and before assigning blame) to consider and respect the symbolism of what’s good, beautiful and hopeful within their country.  In other words, be at least a little bit like Bernard Cigrand, DDS.


Joe Girard © 2022

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[1] Languid, indeed.  Over its 100+ mile length the river’s elevation drops just over 500 feet.  Much of that near its headwaters

[2] Technically we are currently in an ice age era, which has lasted about 2.6 million years, part of larger ice age that has lasted about 30 million years.
Some glaciation fingerprints referenced above:

[a] Glacial Kettles:

[b] Glacial Moraines:

[c] Glacial Till Plains (also sometimes called Ground Moraine):

[3] A feel for how the region looked pre-European settlement can be gained by visiting the nearby North Branch of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.  Beaver populations in the region are now protected as well (although can still be pest-like). Near Waubeka is a city actually named Beaver Dam.

[4] Thanks to glacial till much Midwest soil is among the most fertile on the planet. Positioned upon land that’s ever-so-gently sloped it’s very conducive to agribusiness, both crops and on-the-hoof.

[5] Luxembourg’s status and its sovereignty were in flux through much of the 19th century.  At the time of Nicholas’ birth, the Prussians, the Dutch, and even in some regard the Austrians, laid claim to parts of the duchy.  At one point the Belgians claimed all of it.  I was surprised to learn that regions of the duchy speak an offshoot dialect of French called d’Oïl. This could explain the “Frenchy” looking surname.

[6] Chicago had only a few years before been catastrophically burned (1871) and then picked up the nickname “Windy City” (1876). It’s not particularly windy, and the nickname’s origins probably come from its propensity for spewing “hot air.” Politicians and local business leaders were promoting Chicago and its rapid phoenix-like recovery from the fire.  The name stuck when journalists in rival cities used the nickname to describe the zealous windbags and gasbags who lived there.  This was envy: the city was known for its large, and growing wealth due to its hub as a financial, commercial and transit center.

[7] Song lyrics extracted from chorus to “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, by George M Cohan, who was born on July 4, 1878 (hence his famous lines in Yankee Doodle Boy: “[I’m] a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the 4th of July.”)

[8] Four children died in young adulthood, including, Bernard (not a Jr) who went young in 1925 at 35.  These might have contributed to father Bernard’s passing in 1932. Wife Alice passed in 1962, age 92.


Notes and extras.

  1. At right and below: extent of Midwest ice sheets in current ice ag

    Laurentide Ice Extent in modern USA

    e phase (yes, we are in the inter-glacial period of an ice age, called the Pliocene-Quaternary glaciation age), mostly the Laurentide ice sheets. Note that basically all of current Canada and much of the Pacific Northwest were also covered, the NW by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet.



Cigrand’s tombstone, Riverside Cemetery, Montgomery, Illinois (quite near Batavia)

2. Tombstone of Bernard Cigrand, DDS








3. 1870 census data for Cigrand family of Waubeka

Cigrand family census data, Waubeka, 1870  … Source: Elizabeth M Cigrand (1862–1951) • FamilySearch [then click 1870 census record]