There are 14 Phoenixes and 5 Phenixes in the United States, but only one of these has a flag: to nobody’s surprise, it’s Phoenix, Arizona. And again, to nobody’s surprise, the flag of Phoenix, Arizona has a phoenix on it. It’s in the form of a highly stylized logo that won the Great Phoenix Bird Design Competition of 1987.
More interestingly, Phoenix is just one of eight US communities with phoenixes on their flags. Most of these refer to settlements quite literally arising out of the ashes of destruction. In the case of Phoenix, Arizona, this was only metaphorical: in naming the would-be city, self-proclaimed Lord Darrell Duppa decreed, “A new city will spring phoenix-like upon the ruins of a former civilization [that of the ancient Hohokam canal-builders].”
Here are the other seven phoenix-flagged places.
1. San Francisco, California
An effort is underway to redesign this flag.
2. Atlanta, Georgia
3. Portland, Maine
With this long history of destruction and rebuilding (which also includes the Great Fire of Independence Day 1866), Portland, Maine may be the US city most appropriately represented by a phoenix.
4. Lawrence, Kansas
5. Danbury, Connecticut
This is a rare example of a triple-named SOB: “DANBURY” appears three times in this undistinguished “seal on a bedsheet” flag.
6. Leonardtown, Maryland
Why, you may wonder, does a town in Maryland use the coat of arms of a 15th-16th century British aristocrat? It’s a bit of a long story. Maryland was founded by a 17th century British aristocrat, Cecilius Calvert, second baron and Lord Baltimore (1605-1675), and is well known for its aristocratic names and heraldic flags (see the state flag and the flag of Baltimore, for example). At the time of its establishment Leonardtown was briefly named Seymour Town (1708-1728), in honor the 10th Royal Governor of the Province of Maryland, Col. John Seymour (1704-1709). His namesake, Sir John, was the father of Henry VIII’s 3rd wife, Jane Seymour (1508-1537). In 1536 Henry gave Jane a badge with a crowned phoenix.
The following year Jane died giving birth to their son, King Edward VI. Her epitaph reads: “Here lies Jane, a phoenix, who died in giving another phoenix birth. Let her be mourned, as birds like these are rare indeed.” Edward VI later granted his mother’s phoenix badge to his maternal relatives, the Seymours.
And that’s how a phoenix ended up on a flag of a town in Maryland.
7. Phoenixville, Pennsylvania
The phoenix in the name and the seal refers to the Phoenix Iron Works, named by Lewis Wernwag when in 1816 he helped buy the French Creek Nail Works, the nation’s first nail factory, founded in 1790. According to Phoenixville’s Firebird Festival, Wernwag “was looking at his furnaces one evening from a nearby hillside and saw a Phoenix in the flames.”
Metal production in Phoenixville, now an exurb of Philadelphia, ended in 1987 and took a heavy toll on the borough’s economy. The decline began to turn around in the early 2000s, and in 2003 an annual music and arts event, the Firebird Festival, began to celebrate this rebirth. Each year it culminates, Burning Man-style, in the burning of a large wooden sculpture.