Friday, July 07, 2006

Urban Legends and Government Documents

Did you ever hear the one about how which way the eagle is facing? Or maybe you heard about statues of generals on horses? Or maybe that a gold fringed flag in a courtroom means you are under admiralty jurisdiction? Today, the Government Publications Interest Group (GoPIG) got together and discussed these three legends. Here is the answers to the questions.

1). The eagle on government buildings does not face a different direction based on whether the country was at war when the building was built. The reason it faces different directions is because up until 1916, the presidential seal and great seal of the United States showed the eagle facing towards the olive branch. In 1916, President Wilson turned the eagle's head to face the arrows (on the presidential seal). Then in 1945, President Truman changed it back. Want to read more about it and see the corresponding executive orders? Check out the (urban legends) web site.

2). When I was young, I was told you could tell how the military hero memorialized in a statue died by the number of hooves the horse had raised. One meant they were injured, two they died in battle, and three they died after the battle. Again, tells me the theory is false.

3). And to round out our afternoon of urban legends, I give you the yellow fringed flag in the courtroom. Over the years numerous litigants in court have stated that flying a yellow fringed flag in a court of law means that it is a court acting under admiralty law, or suspension of constitutional rights, or even martial law. In the military a gold fringed flag can be an American Maritime Flag of War, but the Army states that "[i]n flag manufacture a fringe is not considered to be a part of the flag, and it is without heraldic significance." Therefore, the court has rejected this plea. You can read more about it in the Department of Justice reading room.

Thanks to the other librarians for their wonderful stories and to Frank for finding the first truth behind the story. Want to have more legends confirmed or denied? Put them as comments on this post and we will see what we can find!

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