Posted on

The Centennial State: Colorado’s Colorful Flag

Like many states in the Union, Colorado’s first state flag, (or banner perhaps) was the state’s seal, or coat of arms, set in a field of blue. Created by Mrs. J.J. Hagerman of Colorado Springs, who put the two elements together as a flag, this flag was officially adopted by the state in 1907, thirty-one years after Colorado became a state.

State Seal of Colorado

State Seal of Colorado

Many people overlook the importance of a state seal, but it represented the authority and legality of the state to conduct business, and was far more important than a state flag. Certainly the Colorado state seal is highly symbolic.

It was a logical flag to begin with, but that would all change in just a few short years, and if you have read my previous state flag articles on The Daily Flag, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that the Denver Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was involved.

The Elusive Andrew Carlisle Carson

Andrew Carlisle Carson is credited with designing the flag that Colorado uses now, and I have spent three days researching via the internet for more information about him. What information I do have about Carson came to me Courtesy of the Colorado State Archives. Lance Christensen, who is the archivist there, sent me a PDF copy of a clipping from Empire Magazine, which was a supplement to the Denver Post newspaper. It is dated July 26, 1964. I’ll come back to this later.

Carson came to Colorado from Ohio, and for eleven years he was the manager of the Orpheum Theater in Denver. I’m going to extrapolate now, and theorize that Carson was perhaps just a little larger than life. Certainly the Orpheum Theater was a magnificent structure and the entertainment there likely ranged from world class to the not-so-classy. My guess is that the manager for such a place would need to be a bit of a showman himself and an amazing promoter.

I wanted to show a photo of the Orpheum at The Daily Flag, because it was indeed a grand edifice (long gone now), and I thought it would provide a visual link to Carson. The Denver Public Library has two photographs of the Orpheum in their History of the American West 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library. While I can view the photos on-line because they have been digitally copied and stored, the library wants me to pay $15 to copy and paste one of them into this document. But if you will use a search engine and type in “Orpheum Theater, Denver CO”—you will see the links to follow on your own.

Next I contacted the Colorado Historical Society, a state agency, to see what information it had. Remarkably, there is a small biographical “vertical” file on Andrew Carlisle Carson, and for a fee they would reveal the contents to me, although if I were there in person I could look at it for no charge. So if you find yourself in Denver, and are curious to learn more about the elusive Carson, I encourage you to visit the Stephen H. Hart Library, operated by the Colorado Historical Society at 1300 Broadway. Then send me a note please, and tell me what’s in the file. (deborah*at*flagsbay.com)

What I can tell you about Carson—is that he loved Colorado so much he wrote a book about the state, titled Colorado, Top of the World. It was published by Smith-Brooks in Denver, in 1912, and has 82 pages—16 of which are “plates”—photographs and other graphic reproductions. The text is in the form of a poem. The Colorado Historical Society has one in possession, and so does the Denver Public Library.

Daughters of the American Republic

I don’t know how the story of Carson intersects with the Denver Chapter of the Daughters of the American Republic. This brief, cryptic paragraph comes from their website:

On November 14, 1910, Mrs. Jules Labarthe, Denver Chapter member and treasurer of the Colorado State Society NSDAR, advanced the idea for a Colorado state flag. A committee was formed, and after much work, the final design was a combination of one created by Denver Chapter and another by Andrew C. Carson. The flag was adopted June 5, 1911.

Colorado State Flag

Colorado State Flag

There’s a lot of missing information in the story. Did the DAR not know about the first flag made by Mrs. Hagerman? Did the DAR sponsor a contest to create a new flag? Because the DAR did sponsor flag contests in other states. What did the DAR ‘s flag idea look like? Regardless, the determined ladies of the Denver DAR persuaded the Colorado Legislature to adopt the new flag, and they did on June 5, 1911.

Will the Real C Stand Up

Back to the Empire magazine of July 26, 1964, and the article* written by Bernard Kelly. Apparently the flag design that the Colorado legislature approved was generally ignored because of careless attention to detail by the manufacturers. The original design specified for a very small C—one that would fit entirely with the center white stripe. But someone made it with a much larger C that overlapped the upper and lower blue stripes.

Two Colorado Flags

Colorado’s Two flags

Legalists who insisted that the flag should actually look like what the legislature approved, were simply overruled through the actions of Colorado citizens who nevertheless bought and continued to fly the flag with the super-sized C.

And that’s not the only controversy. It was strongly held by some that the blue stripes which represent Colorado’s vast blue skies, and their beloved blue Columbine, should actually be that shade of blue (which I found described as lavender blue on one website about the flag!). That was nixed in favor of the safer and more reliably quantified blue in Old Glory.

An amended law in 1929 described the flag’s colors more specifically and a second change in 1964 altered the proportions of the letter C. Its design is significant. The large C represents Colorado, Centennial State, Columbine and red color which is “Colorado” in Spanish. The gold symbolizes the gold state, all year sunshine, and another Columbine flower color. White stands for the greatest silver state, eternal mountain snow and the white in the Columbine. Lastly, the final feature of the flag were the cords and tassels in silver and gold—homage to Colorado’s mining heritage.

Conclusion

The flag of Colorado is a model of elegant design, and personally, I wonder how much of its design might be the result of the Arts and Crafts movement of that era. It is rich in color as befitting such a colorful and vibrant state, and rich in meaning, too. Congratulations Colorado, on your beautiful flag. Long may it wave.

*PDF of Empire Magazine Colorado flag story

3 thoughts on “The Centennial State: Colorado’s Colorful Flag

  1. What is the correct way to fold the Colorado State flag — all colors or only blue and red showing?

    1. Louis, I looked at the State of Colorado’s website, hoping I would find information about how to fold the Colorado flag, but did not find anything. I telephoned the Governor’s office and was referred to a person who has the answers on state flag etiquette, but was not able to talk directly to him so I left a message. When I know more, I will post again, and email you personally with the answer. Thanks, Deborah

    2. Louis, I spoke with the man in charge of flag protocol and etiquette in the Colorado Governor’s office. He told me that there is nothing written in Colorado statues that specifies precisely how to fold the flag. But there is still an “official” method, and it uses the traditional triangle fold. Fold the white stripe and “C” to the inside, then beginning on the hoist end of the flag, fold toward the fly end, so that when you are finished you will have an all blue bundle. Thank you for writing, and Best Wishes, Deborah.

Leave a Reply