On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the official flag of the United States of America. That date has been commemorated throughout the years with parades and picnics, a rite of summer across the land. Although the oldest continuous Flag Day parade may have been in 1909, Flag Day was not officially proclaimed a holiday until 1916, when Woodrow Wilson established June 14 as Flag Day.
The people of America didn’t need an official proclamation, however, to celebrate their pride in our flag and all it represents. Our Helbling family documented their Flag Day celebrations through the years, and preserved them in family photo albums.
The above image shows the children of Gerard William Helbling (AKA G. W. Helbling) and Anna May (Beerbower) Helbling in front of their home at 5136 Page Ave. in St. Louis, Missouri. Edgar Helbling was about 9, May Helbling 6, and Vi Helbling just 4 years old.
Other photo albums hold earlier years of Flag Day celebrations. This picture shows G.W. Helbling in front of their home with their three oldest children. (Three more were to be born to them in subsequent years.) Edgar looks so stoic, the little soldier, the big brother, flag on his shoulder, ready to march off into history to show his pride. (…in his little short pants ;D) Little May Helbling is upset- is she scared of all the flags? Not wanting to pose for a picture? Maybe it is that giant bow on her head??? G.W. seems like such a loving father, trying to comfort her and get her to participate. (His youngest daughter, however, remembered him as very stern.) Cute little Vi Helbing, just one year old, is taking it all in- she always was so even-tempered when I knew her as an adult, and being a middle child, may have been that way too when young.
Note the sign on the house- “G. W. Helbling, Undertaker.” The 1914 St. Louis, Missouri, City Directory lists Gerard W. Helbling as being “with Ellis Undertaking Co, 727 King’s Highway boul.” His daughter Mary remembers that 10-15 years later, when she was young, he had his undertaker’s equipment down in the basement of the house. Visitation for the deceased’s family was on the first floor living area, and the children would stay upstairs on the second floor and have to be quiet. Wonder why the funeral home address was given in the City Directory, when he had the sign in front of the house? Maybe he had left the employ of Ellis Undertaking by this date and had his own business.
People were much closer to death, back in those days. Mary remembered that it didn’t seem strange or creepy at the time to have a dead body in the house- mostly, it was just hard to be stuck upstairs and be very, very quiet as a young child.
The family was living at 4927 St. Louis Ave., St. Louis, per the 1914 St. Louis City Directory. This address is between N. Kingshighway and N. Euclid Avenue, and has sadly declined very significantly. (Although valued at $40,000-50,000, the building sold in 2013 for just over $7,000.) Today’s websites, like GoogleMaps, Trulia, or Zillow indicate that the home was built in 1906 and currently has 2,482 square feet; it has 4 bedrooms and 2 baths. It is currently a multifamily home, and probably also was when the Helblings lived there. Husband and wife, Grandma (Anna May’s mother) and three children, all in 2 bedrooms and 1 bath- people lived a lot ‘closer’ back then.
Of course, back then you didn’t just display the flag in front of the house- you participated in a parade!
It didn’t always go well, however. Getting everyone dressed, primped, hats attached so they didn’t blow off in the wind (long hatpins to the rescue), finding umbrellas to shade delicate young (and older!) skin from the brutal St. Louis summer sun, and into the car was probably a challenge, especially with three little ones.
Oh, oh- trouble! A slight delay…
Looks like G. W. was a master of all trades- artistic and creative, but he could also build a garage or repair an automobile. The caption on the scrapbook page was written by Anna May (Beerbower) Helbling, we believe. G.W. had wonderful handwriting too, so it may have been his note.
Note that the steering wheel is on the right, and the windshield is split (on purpose). The lights that can be seen on the sides of the car would help in identification of the car type, and although I have looked, it is hard to determine which model they had. (Car model ID is definitely not my forte.) It may have not been the most current model, especially since there appears to have been some trouble. Hope they got to the parade or picnic on time!
Notes, Sources, and References:
2) Flag Day entry on Wikipedia, Accessed 06/08/14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_Day_(United_States).
3) Gould’s St. Louis [Missouri] Directory for 1914. Ancestry.com. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Accessed 06/07/14.
4) 4917 St. Louis Ave was sold in 2013 for just $7,237- sadly, the neighborhood has been in decline for a long time.
5) A great website of images of American autos through the years may be found at http://www.earlyamericanautomobiles.com/1900.htm. Pages 9-12 have some charming photographs of cars out on the streets of America, sometimes with famous people in them or nearby.
6) Helbling family photo albums owned by the author.
Please contact us if you would like a higher resolution image.
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