Is Old Glory flagging?
Bill Craig of Hamilton thinks so.
He remembers when the U.S. flag flew proudly and prominently from most homes on Independence Day, but now he might drive a block before seeing one.
"You used to find a flag at every other house," said Mr. Craig, 72, assistant curator of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument along the Great Miami River in Hamilton. "Those days have passed, although you can still see a few flags. They're mostly put up by veterans, I guess."
On a day when flags, fireworks and reprises of Yankee Doodle Dandy rule, it's a curious development -- and, some people say, a serious commentary on the status of our nation's symbol. After all, they say, the way citizens treat the symbol is how they really feel about their country.
"There's too little respect," Mr. Craig said.
In Mount Washington, American Legion Post leaders share free flags with residents who come to their post. But there's a catch: They also must listen to a short sermon on the importance of Old Glory. It's a reaffirmation that patriotism is alive and well.
Nevertheless, some local retailers say flag sales don't indicate anything positive.
In the last several years, the number of U.S. flags sold by the R.J. Patton Co. -- a 110-year-old Cincinnati firm that makes and sells flags -- has declined.
"I really don't know why," said Linda McCart, 38, the company's vice president. "I don't know if we are losing business to the larger companies, or if people in general are losing interest in the flag.
"I do know that we used to sell three or four grosses of the smaller flags for parades, but now we sell them only on Memorial Day, and just to decorate graves. This week, we've sold only three or four (larger) flags. It was the same for Memorial Day."
Once, she said, the flag was considerably more popular.
JoAnne Folzenlogen, 37, a Sycamore Township resident who owns Stars and Stripes Marketing, wonders if the decline wasn't caused by the times, when it's cool not to appear to be patriotic.
"When I was growing up, my parents always flew the flag," she said. "They still do; so do I. I count flags at people's houses. Not even 25 percent fly flags on the so-called flag days. During the Gulf War, sales were high, but now maybe people are disillusioned. It's a great country, so there's no reason not to fly the flag."
Equally disturbing to her is the origin of some U.S. flags -- China.
"That's ludicrous," she said. "Our symbol of freedom is being manufactured in a country that's basically anti-freedom."
In Coshocton, people aren't worried about that yet. The central Ohio town's Colonial Flag Co. has enjoyed a mini flag revival -- the best since 1991. The firm will manufacture 500,000 full-size flags this year.
"For some reason, sales have been strong," said plant manager Budd Scott. "Of course, Desert Storm was incredible. We called it Flag Storm. We just couldn't make enough flags. After that, things slacked off. This year, though, I've employed more people than any previous year -- 115 seasonal people at one time. Normally, we employ about 70-75."
Colonial's flags go to Lowe's, Wal-Mart and many Army, Air Force and Navy exchanges (department stores on bases) in the country.
"The flag itself used to be more revered, more respected," Mr. Scott said. "Nowadays, if you go to ball games and parades, you can barely get people to place their hands over their hearts, let alone sing the national anthem."
As a kid, Mr. Scott, 40, of Newcomerstown, a small town 15 minutes northeast of Coshocton, learned to love the flag. He still removes his cap when the flag unfurls.
"It doesn't bother me when people look at me and say, "What's wrong with him?' I think something's wrong with them," he said. "We're a relatively conservative area, patriotic, so we're luckier than the bigger cities."
Mr. Craig said he hopes that feeling has returned to Hamilton, which holds its downtown Fourth of July parade today.
"It's the biggest one we've had in years -- 150 entries," he said. "I'm encouraged."