THE RESCUE OF BETSY ROSS

"The Phillips Manor House"


As with all stories of rescue, no one individual can be responsible for the entire adventure. My adventure starts at the age of 4, back in the city of Yonkers, New York and spans two centuries.


While taking a short cut along the Hudson River on my way back to my hotel returning from a meeting in New York, I past an old building lurking on my right. As I passed this structure, I had a flashback, a glimpse of a fleeting memory. This glimpse was similar to the level of recall you have when waking after a deep sleep and struggle to recall your dream, by grabbing little bits and pieces of wisps' of thought here and a mental image there.


I saw myself 36 years earlier at the age of 4, standing with my dad looking into a glass case at a small book. Yes, it was a small Bible. Now I can see a small plaque that had my name on it. It was a dedication plaque. I now can hear my dad read the inscription that said: "1863, New York State Bible Society, Civil War Bible, donated by Lon Safko, August, 1959."


How strange to see and hear this fleeting drama from 35 years previous. I hadn't any recollection of this building, or it's contents before. I turn my rental car into an about-face and headed back toward this place and memory.


The building seemed dark and deserted but appeared to be a public place judging from its parking lot. It was. It was a museum. It was the southern estate of the long deceased Phillips Family.


The Phillips was a large land holder throughout the seventeenth century and up to the revolutionary war. During the sixteen hundreds, England issued Land Grants to wealthy English and Dutch families in the New World. The land generally represented areas that have become counties. These grants contained literally hundreds of square miles of some of the richest farmland in the country.


These families were land lords who would lease the land to settlers, take a majority share in their crops, split they're takings and pass a portion back to England.

This estate house was the southern most residence and office of the Phillips. This would later become the residence of the original Phillips son who became known as "The Young Gentleman" or in Dutch, Young Kers. This later became the name of the city, Yonkers, New York.

I parked my car walked toward the building trying to get a view through the windows as I approached. I was looking for sign of life. It seemed odd that there was no one to be found as this was a public museum. I walked completely around the building when I happened upon a window I could get close enough to see inside.

It became obvious that the structure was closed and under renovation. The floor in the room I was observing was removed and an excavation was underway. Some dirt was removed and carefully piled on the floor near its opening.

I continued my search for signs of intelligent life when I came upon the old carriage house that was now an administrative office. I walked up the steps and briskly know on the door hoping someone was inside who could shed some light on my intangible visions.

About the third knock, the door opened, and standing before me was a man also in his late thirties, who asked if he could help me. Now it was my awkward moment to try to explain why I was there and why I needed help. No pun intended.

"Sibley Smith, III"

This individual introduced him self as Sibley Smith, III, and invited me in and motioned me to take a seat in his office. Once seated, I began to explain the vision I had and asked if he could help me decipher it in any way. He asked me the date I had remembered and turned to a large bookshelf that contained volumes of old, hard bound books. He selected the one labeled, 1959.



He flipped through the pages of this old journal to the chapter marked, August. Then running his index finger down page after page of calligraphic hand entries, he exclaimed, "Ah Ha.", "Here it is."



It seemed that my father who was a bit of an explorer himself had discovered the pocket edition of a New Testament, Bible that was given by the New York Bible Association, to young men going off to fight the civil war in the 1860's. I dad, not knowing what to do with it, donated it to the then, most prominent museum in the area, donated it in my name.



I then asked who he was and as what was the status of the museum. Finally, here is where the tale begins.



He explained that once he left the navy after being stationed Virginia Beach, holding a Ph.D. in American History, he didn't feel there was a much opportunity available to him. After sending out many resumes, he was offered a position here at the Phillips house as curator. He took the position, but longed for an opportunity to become more involved in the "renaissance" that was occurring in the rewriting of history. He explained that "History is written by the victors." "History is often a compilation of some fact, some folklore, and some lies." It has recently been decided by a group responsible for the American History that "Truth must prevail above all." I supposed we needed more history and less his story.



He further explained that too often we find history, obscured by fun stories, not history. He then motioned me to walk with him outside. We walked across the parking area toward the museums' main structure. We walked around the building to where a brass corner stone was installed twenty years earlier. Upon closer inspection, it was apparent that the last two digits of the erected date was chiseled off! I asked if this was an act of vandalism, and was told that it was done deliberately.



He went on to tell me of how the original structure was erected in 1680, then added to in 1720, and again in 1740, or so. He explained that they thought the building was built in 1680, plus or minus 10 years. The Historically Society's dictum says, "If you can't prove it, it's not History. Chisel it off!" These guys were serious!



We turned and walked our way back to his office discussing his participation in this renaissance and what their current search for truth entailed. He said that there was an official panel or committee that met once per month in Historic Williamsburg in Virginia that he was proud to be a member of. Currently, they were verifying Betsy Ross' place in American History.



Sibley asked if I were familiar with the story of Betsy Ross. I proudly announce that I was and quickly summarized it for him while he shook his head from side to side. I then realized that my understanding of this particular piece of American History was not as good as I had hoped, or there was bigger trouble brewing. The latter was true.



Mr. Smith explained that the familiar story of Betsy Ross presenting a flag of her creation that was eventually accepted as the official flag of then 13 Original colonies of the United States of America, lacked factual proof to substantiate it. He and the Historic Committee felt that it was only hearsay and was slated to be removed from our history books for ever.



Somewhat aghast, I asked why was it hearsay. Sibley explained that during the Revolutionary war, there were hundreds of flags being used simultaneously. Every Calvary had their own, every general and troop had their own, the continental congress had several and every state had one. They felt the chance that an obscure seamstress from Philadelphia with a flag of her own seemed unlikely to be chosen over all others.



I asked then, how did Betsy's story of her flag weave its' way into the fabric of American History. (Like that metaphor?)



Sibley explained that during our Centennial, in 1876, the granddaughter of Betsy Ross, the then President of the Philadelphia Historic Society, published an article detailing the story of her grandmother's triumph of the flag. He emphasized that the only evidence of Betsy's Flag was a story published by her granddaughter, not necessarily an unbiased witness.


    
"Lon at The Betsy Ross Home" 


The Williamsburg Committee contacted the heirs of the Ross family and broke the bad news of their relative's impending dismissal for all times. The committee asked for simple proof. Just a letter or note from George Washington, or any member of the Continental Congress accepting the flag, a receipt, a diary entry, anything that could elevate this story from story to history. Nothing was offered.


The committee handled this case as others, the way a court of law would. They felt that if no hard evidence could support the case, they would begrudgingly accept circumstantial evidence. After careful consideration and investigation, the verdict was close at hand, "Betsy's history!"


It seems that the committee interviewed many seamstresses and asked their opinion on the construction of the original flag's design. And time after time the answer was the same; "Not likely." Most every seamstress interviewed shared some compelling common sense. They said that if that flag was accepted at the "official" flag of the new United States, their would have to be many them made, hundreds. And, if I have to make them, I would never have used a 5 pointed star. 


They said; "Have you ever tried to cut a perfectly balanced 5 pointed star!?" "I would have used a six pointed star, it's just two triangles." Seamstress after seamstress said the same thing, 6 points, not 5. Oh no!


It seemed that circumstantial evidence was condemning Betsy to obscurity. At this very moment I had another flash of memory. This time back to a rainy day when I was twelve. I received a Readers Digest book of things to do on a raining day and seeing it appropriate, I took the book from my shelf and began performing some simple crafts and other time consuming suggestions, such as the growing palm tree from newspaper, play dough from flour and water, and, how to cut a perfect 5 pointed star from a single piece of paper with a few folds and a single cut.


I then interrupted Sibley mid-sentence and asked him that; "If I could show you that you could cut a 5 pointed star more easily that a 6, could that be considered substantial enough circumstantial evidence to save Betsy's place in history?" He silently thought for a few moments and asked me to continue.


I asked him to hand me an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper and a pair of scissors. I folded the paper once, twice, thrice and a fourth time and snipped it once with the scissors and handled the folded clipped paper to Sibley and asked that he open it. He slowly opened the origami surprise to find a perfect 5 pointed star. He excitedly asked; "Can you do that again?!" With that he handed me a second piece of pad paper.


He watched intently as I folded four and cut one, another perfect 5 pointed star. Then, jumping to his feet he asked; "Can you teach me how to do that?!" "Sure"; I exclaimed, "It's easy." I then showed him again and again. He then asked if I could write him a letter and enclose instructions of how to duplicate this exercise. I told him when I returned to Arizona, I would be happy to satisfy his requests.


Sibley received my letter and instructions a few days later as promised. A week or so later, Sibley while meeting in Williamsburg at his committee meeting, presented this new found circumstantial evidence in favor of Betsy Ross' contribution to American History.


This new evidence was carefully considered and voted on. The verdict was returned quickly: Betsy Ross can keep her place in history. As circumstantial of proof as it was, it was he only evidence, and it was in Betsy's favor.


I have had the honor of since sitting in Betsy Ross' home in Philadelphia. Maybe it was all in my mind, but while there, I felt like a welcomed visitor, maybe even a friend.


P.S. As a result of our unusual friendship and because the Bible was now residing in a box in a storage warehouse in Albany, New York managed by the New York State Department of Parks and Recreation similar to the last scene of Indiana Jones's Ark of the Holy Covenant place in a plain wooden box, with en cryptic numbers stenciled on the end and placed in a basement with thousands of other boxes just like it.


      


"The Civil War Bible"


The Bible was returned to me and now resides in a place of honor under a domed glass in my living room and serves as a constant reminder as the importance and value of truth in historic literature.

 

Learn How To Make Your Own Perfect Five Pointed Star!


Star Instructions


O.K. Here's how you do it.


Step 1. Take an ordinary 8 1/2" by 11" piece of paper, place it horizontal, and fold it in half.


Step 2. Start to fold it in half again, but only press the bottom fold tight.


Step 3. Now, fold the tip of the top left corner down to the fold mark at the center bottom.


Step 4. Fold the lower left side up along the edge of the last fold.


Step 5. Fold the right side back under in half.


Step 6. Last step, make one cut along the dark line, from the fold point to a third of the way along the left side.


That's it! 


Unfold it and see your perfect 5 Point Star! 


Also...


Build Your Own Free...

"Flagwheel" Paper Model

Flag Wheel Model