You might not have even realized Cook County has a flag, but you’ll certainly notice the new one when it hits the flagpole at the end of August.
Created by Glenbrook South High School student Drew Duffy, the new Y-shaped standard is chock-full of symbolism, which makes sense considering Chicago’s history with flags. “Look no further than Chicago to see how a well-designed flag can become intertwined with a place’s culture and civic pride,” Duffy wrote in an online statement — he clearly gets the vibe.
If you’re wondering how a teenager got the gig, his selection was the result of a competition put on by the County in honor of the 190th anniversary of the founding of Cook. It’s part of a longer-term plan to celebrate the bicentennial in 2031. Flag redesign efforts initially kicked off in 2019, but were stalled due to the pandemic. Just over five million people live in Cook County, making it the nation’s second-most populated county (only after Los Angeles County). Finally, we’ve got a flag with some personality.
Cook County’s previous flag was first flown in 1961. It unromantically features the seal of Cook County which somewhat grimly displays the 30 townships in Cook and the date of the County’s founding: January 1831. If you think it looks a touch bureaucratic and uninspired, that’s because it was designed by County bureaucrats — namely a highway department cartographer. In that case, it’s pretty good, to be honest.
To replace it, a Flag Advisory Panel oversaw a competition across Cook County, inviting high school students from 550 schools and organizations to participate. In the end, 297 student submissions were received. From there, the field was whittled to 23 finalists (using ranked choice voting!) and students were paired with professional mentors to help them elevate their ideas and deliver final submissions. Duffy worked with Cook County Bureau of Administration graphic designer Martin Burciaga, who helped him convert his original marker-drawn design into the competition-winning flag.
In their version, symbolism abounds, and every stripe, star, color—even the name—is dripping in Chicagoisms.
The new “I Will” flag
Called the “I Will Banner,” the name comes from a statue of a goddess suited for battle created for the 1893 Columbian Exposition by artist Charles Holloway. Duffy says the “I Will” sentiment “embraces the fighting spirit and go-getter attitude of the people of Cook County.”
- Blue: Represents water, of course. Eighty-eight percent of the flag contest submissions used the color blue, which makes sense given Cook County’s east side is Lake Michigan.
- Green: The green stripes symbolize nature and the Forest Preserve system, with the placement of green on blue a direct node to river banks in the area.
- editor: Duffy says it represents “the power of protest and the social change that can occur” here, like the pioneering work of Jane Addams.
- White: The crisp neutral mimics the Chicago and Illinois flags, and “represents innovation and commerce.”
There’s more water in Cook County than just Lake Michigan, and Duffy nods to it all. The top stripe represents the North Shore Canal, the Skokie River/Lagoons, the Des Plaines River and the North Branch of the Chicago River. The bottom stripe reflects the Grand Calumet River, the Illinois River, Salt Creek and the South Branch of the Chicago River. The central stripe marks the main stem of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.
Chicagoans might feel at home with red six-pointed stars, but take a harder look because Duffy’s Cook County flag goes one pointier. In a bit of a stretch, each of his seven points acts as a node to the five county regions, plus Chicago and the forest preserves.
Points aside, he’s spot-on in continuing the tradition of red stars symbolizing oddly specific Chicago events*. Duffy’s six seven-pointed stars represent “foundational moments of Cook County”:
- The 1831 founding of Cook County
- The founding of Cook County Health Hospitals Stroger (1832) and Provident (1891)
- The founding of the Cook County Department of Public Health
- The 1914 founding of the Forest Preserves
- The 1899 founding of the Arthur J. Audy Home
- An ode to townships and local governments that make Cook County (which were represented on the old flag by a ring of 30 stars)
* The Chicago flag sports similar red stars, representing four major Chicago events: Fort Dearborn, Chicago Fire of 1871, World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933. (There was chatter in 2020 that Mayor Lori Lightfoot wanted to add another star to symbolize the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but nothing has come of it.)
Many might know our Chicago flag, but technically, it only applies to the city proper. Now, finally, those Chicagoland residents who don’t reside in the 606 zip code can have their own red-star emblazoned flag to fly without feeling like a poser.
A flag-raising ceremony is scheduled for August 30 at Daley Plaza. If you want to take a look at the other finalists you can see them all here at the competition website. (Our Star was my personal favourite).
Here’s hoping the Illinois flag can be next. I think we can do better.
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