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Maine's proposed state flag similar but distinct from pine tree flag in recent headlines

In a January 2018 file photo, an original Maine flag design made by the Maine Flag Company in Portland sits on a table in the company's studio. The original flag sported just a pine tree and blue north star.
Troy R. Bennett
/
Bangor Daily News
In a January 2018 file photo, an original Maine flag design made by the Maine Flag Company in Portland sits on a table in the company's studio. The original flag sported just a pine tree and blue north star.

Maine's proposed new state flag bears design similarities to one in the national headlines recently. But experts said the flags have separate and distinct histories.

The so-called "Appeal to Heaven" flag was carried by rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and features a pine tree as a central element.

The design was originally used by American gun boats during the Revolutionary War, said David Martucci, former president of the North American Vexillological Association. "An Appeal to Heaven" references the cannons on the boats, and revolutionaries protecting themselves from British tyranny.

But the controversial flag was also reportedly seen outside Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's New Jersey Beach home, and was hung outside the Northeast Harbor home of conservative legal activist Leonard Leo.

Martucci said it's not the first time a movement has adopted a flag without understanding the historical significance.

"I'm a firm believer that historic flags should be respected and not abused," he said. "If they really want to symbolize a different kind of a movement, that they should be creative enough to come up with their own designs."

Maine's original state flag also features a pine tree, along with a blue star, but has a distinct look and history, Martucci said.

"That flag represents the people of Maine period, all of us," he said. "And I think that's understood by everybody. I don't think that any possible confusion between the two flags could exist."

Maine's pine tree flag was developed entirely separately, Martucci said. The pine tree represents Maine's people, and the blue star represents the state motto: Dirigo, or "I lead."

The pine tree design was adopted in 1901 as the state flag, but was replaced with the current version — a blue background with the state seal. In November, residents will vote to decide if the pine tree design should be reinstated as the official state flag.

Kaitlyn Budion is Maine Public’s Bangor correspondent, joining the reporting team after several years working in print journalism.