Illustration of Edward Robert McClelland
Illustration: Greg Clarke

As a matter of symbolism, our city flag can be boiled down to its most distinctive element: its four six-pointed red stars. Wallace Rice, who designed the flag (it had only two stars when adopted in 1917), chose six points because they had “never appeared on any flag” (the American flag’s stars have five points) and would be “peculiarly and singularly a Chicago star.”

Each point carries significance. The six points of the star closest to the hoist represent the governments, starting with France, that have overseen the Chicago area. (Indigenous tribes are notably absent from the list.) The second’s? Various municipal ambitions, including health and populousness. The third’s symbolize values such as beneficence and civic spirit. The fourth star’s points stand for Chicago’s notable attributes, such as its onetime distinction as the world’s third-largest city.

Anglophobic mayor William Hale Thompson hated the six-pointed stars, which reminded him of the Union Jack, and insisted the City Council pass a resolution changing them to five-pointed “American” stars. The council did so in 1928, but bizarrely the ordinance was never recorded in the municipal code, and Rice’s stars were preserved — to one day appear as tattoos on thousands of bros’ forearms throughout the city.

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