1958: New US national flag earns a B minus


In 1958 the United States was on the brink of admitting Alaska and Hawaii as its 49th and 50th states. In Ohio, a 16-year-old schoolboy, Robert G. Heft, was given a school social studies project with a broad focus: design an original visual artefact connected with US history. Aware that two states were about to be added to the union, Heft resolved to design a new national flag. At his local department store he spent $2.87 on a length of blue cloth, along with some white iron-on tape. Working on the dining table at home, Heft cut up an existing flag, something that horrified his mother. He then set about designing a new configuration containing 50 stars rather than 48. Heft presented his updated flag to his teacher – the appropriately named Mr Pratt – who was far from impressed and graded it severely: a B minus. According to Heft, Pratt told him:

“Why you got too many stars? You don’t even know how many states we haveā€¦ If you don’t like the grade, get it accepted in Washington then come and see me. I might consider changing the grade.”

Determined to prove his teacher wrong, Heft sent his design to the White House. Over the next two years he followed his submission with 21 letters and numerous phone calls. US president Dwight D. Eisenhower endorsed Heft’s design in late 1959 and on July 4th 1960 it became the new national flag of the United States. Mr Pratt subsequently agreed to change Heft’s grade from a B minus to an A, although by then Heft had graduated from high school.


Source: WBUR interview with Robert G. Heft, July 3rd 2009. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1511: Belgians amuse themselves with pornographic snowmen


From New Year’s Eve 1510, the city of Brussels was frozen by more than six weeks of sub-zero temperatures and constant snow. In a city with high levels of poverty, this prolonged cold snap caused considerable human suffering, leading some to dub it the ‘Winter of Death’. But those able to stay warm made the most of things by engaging in a spontaneous snowman competition. All across Brussels, life-sized snowmen began to appear in parks, on street corners and outside private homes. One contemporary report suggests at least 50 clusters of snow figures could be observed in various places around the city. By all accounts, most of these snowmen were cleverly sculpted and quite realistic; some may even have been created by prominent artists. Among the figures represented in snow were Jesus Christ, Adam and Eve and other Biblical figures, Roman deities, Saint George and the dragon, unicorns and several signs of the Zodiac.

In the city’s working class areas, however, the majority of the snow figures were pornographic or scatological. Near the city fountain, a snow couple fornicated while another snow figure watched with a visible erection. A number of snow women, ranging from nuns to prostitutes, appeared in various states of undress. Near the city market a snow boy urinated into the mouth of another; a snow cow could be seen, halfway through defecation; while a snow drunk lay amongst his own snowy excrement. The poet Jan Smeken, who penned the best known account of the Belgian snow figures, described one scene of implied bestiality:

“In the Rosendal, a wonder was to be seen: a huge plump woman, completely naked, her buttocks like a barrel and her breasts finely formed. A dog was ensconced between her legs, her pudenda covered by a rose…”

The snowmen of Brussels lasted for about six weeks, until the return of warmer weather in mid-February.

Source: Jan Smeken, The Pure Wonder of Ice and Snow, 1511. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.