, Derry, New Hampshire


January 2, 2014

Column: Things were quite different back in 1937

It’s the start of a new year; a time when most folks tend to look toward the future and think of how I/we/they can make things different. As your historian, I tend to look the other way and study how things are different today from how they were in the past. A good example happened recently when I was looking through some Manchester newspapers in pursuit of the obituary for Dr. Mary Danforth. While skimming through page after page I came across a few news articles in June 1937 newspapers which pointed out some interesting differences between then and now.

On one page, I was rather taken aback to see a photograph of a classroom full of elementary students giving the straight arm Nazi salute. This photo was not from Germany but was taken in a New Hampshire school. Why were these local pre-teens giving what looked like a Sieg Heil salute? Was there a chapter of the pro-Nazi German-American Bund operating in the Granite State?

Quickly, I discovered that what was really going on in the picture was defiantly not un-American. The photo caption explained that our fresh-faced sons and daughters were taking part in a nationwide Flag Day celebration. On that day -- and at exactly the same exact time -- millions of kids across America recited the Pledge of Allegiance. It seems that from 1892 to 1942 pledging allegiance to the American flag consisted of extending the right arm straight out toward the flag. At the start of the pledge everyone would have the palm of their hand facing down; at the end of the pledge they would turn their hand so that it was palm-up. On Dec. 22, 1942, the salute was modified in the American Flag Code so that it consists only of putting the hand over the heart, thus removing any resemblance to the honors rendered to Hitler.

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