Wichita’s flag turns 80 on Wednesday, and it has never been more visible than it is today.
Officially adopted on Flag Day in 1937, the red, white and blue flag can be seen not only in its natural flag state but also on murals, T-shirts, bumper stickers, license plates and, yes, the skin of some of its residents.
Wichitan Chris Baldwin is one of a group of residents and natives who have taken their civic pride to the next level with Wichita flag – or flag symbol – tattoos.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Baldwin said. “Wichita has always been home for me – it’s a great city, and the flag design translates really well to a tattoo.”
When he decided the time was right last month, Baldwin went to Hell Bomb Tattoo on East Douglas and got a Kansas-themed tattoo on his right bicep that included the flag, the “Keeper of the Plains” and some sunflowers.
While not every person walking around Old Town on a Friday night will be sporting Wichita flag ink, the tattoos are gaining popularity, said Ol’ Crow Tattoo shop manager Stephen Wise.
“We’ve done six or seven in the past year or so,” Wise said. “They’re definitely becoming more popular. I think it’s a sign of people’s increasing pride in Wichita.”
In 1937, a contest was held by the American Legion to design a flag for the city.
Cecil McAlister, a local artist, won the contest for his design that featured red and white rays extending from a blue circle outlined in white with a hogan – an American Indian symbol representing a permanent home – in the middle.
According to the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, the white circle represents the sun and the white stripes radiating from the circle represent courage. The red stripes represent virtue and honor.
The stripes together symbolize openness and freedom. For his winning submission, McAlister received $40.
“The last two or three years could be described as the resurgence of the flag,” said Courtney Sendall, a communications manager with the chamber. “With this being the flag’s 80th birthday, it took a while for flag fever to really take off, but it has.
“It’s been a grassroots movement, and it’s cool to see. It’s been a focal of civic pride.”
About a year ago, Riverside resident Leslea Roach and her two sons, Max and Riley, decided to get matching tattoos of the hogan symbol.
“We thought it would be something that could connect us,” Leslea Roach said. “It’s a super-cool symbol.
“I moved to Wichita in the mid-1980s from Garden City, and I’ve never not known about the flag since I’ve been here. I think there’s been a push lately to get that Wichita pride back.”
The Wichita flag tattoo club may get a new high-profile member soon if City Council member Bryan Frye can work out some placement details.
“I’ve gone to Hell Bomb Tattoo to see about getting one on my right arm,” Frye said. “I was told it would need to be a little larger than I wanted, but I’m still considering it.
“Flag fever is at an all-time high. I love seeing all the different uses and popularity among all Wichitans.”
Council member Jeff Blubaugh also said he would consider getting a Wichita flag tattoo, though fellow council members Janet Miller and Lavonta Williams said they aren’t likely to get any type of tattoo.
“When I started in office in 2009, I don’t think I knew anyone who knew we had a flag,” Miller said. “Chris Gulick (a local artist) was an early proponent of the flag. Janelle King can probably be credited with the current resurgence.”
King, an interior decorator and owner of custom sewing shop The Workroom, 150 N. Cleveland, said close to 80 percent of her store’s retail business comes from Wichita flag-related merchandise sales.
“Our old store was across the street from Abode Venue, which has been flying it for a long time,” King said. “That’s when I first became familiar with the flag, back in 2013.
“We decided to use our fabric remnants and just print an image of the flag on those.”
King said she began selling those pieces, which included a card with a history of the flag, for $1. Today, The Workroom is sort of an unofficial hub for people looking for flag stuff.
“It started as an educational thing,” King said. “Those did really well. Everyone who came in said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’
“It went from patches to coffee mugs to now we have an entire area of our store dedicated to Wichita flag and Wichita pride merchandise.”
Planting the flag
One of the ways that people are showing off their Wichita flag tattoos is through social media.
Sendall and Angie Prather, vice president of communications for the chamber, run the official Wichita flag Instagram and Twitter accounts. Together, the accounts had more than 7,000 followers as of Monday.
A quick stroll through the Instagram page will reveal several pictures of flag tattoos and the creative innovations that people have dreamed up.
“The people of Wichita have completely gotten behind those social media accounts,” Sendall said. “We get hundreds of new followers every month. We have so much content, we can’t post it all.”
Instagram user Johnny Freedom (@johnnyict), also a member of the flag tattoo club, is the artist behind a number of flag-themed pieces that can be seen around town, including some of the murals. One of his latest projects is a large tree stump that features a flag painted on it.
Freedom, who uses a pseudonym because of his job, said he left Wichita for the military after graduating from high school in 1991.
“I don’t remember much pride in Wichita back then,” Freedom said. “It was kind of like, ‘Wichita sucks.’
“In the Marines, I lived in California and I lived in Arizona and Nebraska after that, but I kept coming back because of family. We started noticing Wichita getting cooler and cooler.”
In 2009, he moved back for good.
“I began to miss it and began to realize while living in these other places how good Wichita actually was,” Freedom said.
Baldwin, who has the tattoo, may have summed up best what many in the city are feeling these days and what is represented by his Wichita flag tattoo.
“It’s a small-town feel with big-city stuff to do,” Baldwin said. “It’s an awesome place and a great place to grow up.”
Wichita flag by the numbers
80 years ago Wednesday the flag was officially adopted
19 murals with the flag around the city
32 places in Wichita where flag-related items can be purchased
4,456 followers of the @wichitaflag account on Instagram
Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce