Crash Course: More Stories of Little Known History

America’s 50-Star Flag

Robert G. "Bob" Heft in 2008. Photo courtesy of the Heft Estate.

Robert G. “Bob” Heft in 2008. Photo courtesy of the Heft Estate.

Robert G. “Bob” Heft, born in Saginaw, Michigan, was the designer of the current American 50-star flag as well as a designer of a submitted 51-star flag proposal.

Heft designed the 50 star American Flag in 1958 while living with his grandparents. He was 17 years old at the time and did the flag design as a high school class project. He un-stitched the blue field from a family 48-star flag, sewed in a new field, and used iron-on white fabric to add 100 hand-cut stars, 50 on each side of the blue canton.

Heft originally received a B- for the project. After discussing the grade with his high school teacher, Stanley Pratt, it was agreed that if the flag was accepted by the United States Congress, the grade would be reconsidered. Heft’s flag design was chosen and adopted by presidential proclamation after Alaska and before Hawaii were admitted into the union in 1959. According to Heft, his teacher honored their agreement and changed his grade to an A for the project.

He died December 12, 2009 (aged 68) in Covenant Medical Center – Saginaw, Michigan.

Bonus: Whenever a new flag is designed, it is first flown over Fort McHenry, Maryland. This is the fort Francis Scott Key wrote a poem about during the War of 1812 – it would become the Star Spangled Banner – the American national anthem.

Queen Elizabeth I and the Banning of the Potato

Virgin English Queen and fashion icon, Elizabeth I. Coronation by unknown artist.

Virgin English Queen and fashion icon, Elizabeth I. Coronation by unknown artist.

1589 – Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618), British explorer and historian known for his expeditions to the Americas, first brought the potato to Ireland and planted them at his Irish estate at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork, Ireland.

Legend has it that he made a gift of the potato plant to Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). The local gentry were invited to a royal banquet featuring the potato in every course. Unfortunately, the cooks were uneducated in the matter of potatoes, tossed out the lumpy-looking tubers and brought to the royal table a dish of boiled stems and leaves (which are poisonous), which promptly made everyone deathly ill. She then banned all potatoes from court.

Audrey Hepburn – Nazi Resistor

Audrey Hepburn - not just another beautiful actress.

Audrey Hepburn – not just another beautiful actress.

Like a number of other celebrities, Audrey Hepburn helped fight against the Axis Powers during World War II. Her mother was a Dutch baroness and her father was a British businessman; as a result, she spent her childhood bouncing between Belgium, England and the Netherlands. In 1939, shortly after the start of World War II, Hepburn’s mother moved the family back to the Netherlands in the mistaken belief that the country, which had remained neutral and free from the devastation of World War I, would not be drawn into the conflict.

The country was occupied by the Germans in 1940. By 1944, they had executed Hepburn’s uncle, one of her brothers was in a labor camp, and the other had gone into hiding. Hepburn was still a young teenager when she began to help the Dutch resistance. An accomplished ballerina by age 14, she started out helping the resistance by dancing. How was this helpful? She danced in secret productions to raise money for the resistance. As she famously said, “The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performances.”

Like most of the Dutch, Hepburn and her family endured famine and other hardships throughout World War II. Hepburn herself suffered from respiratory illness, edema, and anemia during the Dutch Famine of 1944. When humanitarian aid finally arrived providing much needed relief, Hepburn witnessed first hand the transforming impact international aid agencies can have on suffering regions. As a result, she developed a life-long devotion to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador in 1989. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, four months before her death. She was also an animal activist.

An ultimate, epitome of a lady with class and honor, she was absolutely beautiful until the day she died; the work of her entire lifetime, an example to aspire to. This world needs a lot more “Audrey Hepburn’s”.

Mark Twain – The Duel that Never Was

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain - American author, humorist and bad shot.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by his pen name Mark Twain – American author, humorist and bad shot.

According to his autobiography, Sam Clemens (later known as Mark Twain) was in charge of the Territorial Enterprise during his editor’s absence in May of 1864 and ended up in a heated back-and-forth with James Laird of the rival Union newspaper.

“He was hurt by something I had said about him — some little thing — I don’t remember what it was now — probably called him a horse-thief, or one of those little phrases customarily used to describe another editor,” Twain wrote in his autobiography.

The feud escalated to the point where one challenged the other to a duel (some stories say Twain issued the challenge, others say Laird did so.) It was set to take place at 5 a.m.

The story is that Clemens wasn’t much of a marksman. He said in his autobiography that when he and his second,(a person who went along with each dueler to make sure if was all fair and proper – usually a friend) Steve Gillis, set up a rail from a fence against a barn door to practice shooting, not only could he not hit the rail, but he couldn’t hit the barn door.

As luck would have it, Gillis shot the head off a bird “no bigger than a sparrow” just minutes before Laird and his second arrived for the duel. When it was asked who shot the bird, Gillis said Clemens had done it from 30 yards.

“The second took Mr. Laird home, a little tottery on his legs, and Laird sent back a note in his own hand declining to fight a duel with me on any terms whatever. Well, my life was saved— saved by that accident. I don’t know what the bird thought about that interposition of Providence, but I felt very, very comfortable over it — satisfied and content. Now, we found out, later, that Laird had hit his mark four times out of six, right along. If the duel had come off, he would have so filled my skin with bullet-holes that it wouldn’t have held my principles.”

                                               – Mark Twain’s autobiography

Sam Clemens left Virginia City on May 29, 1864, leaving the gun he’d practiced with in the possession of his “Enterprise” coworker and friend, Dan DeQuille.

On the Web: Robert G. Heft –