Elephant Wisdom, a Party Animal at 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, is a bit distressing. The elephant was decorated by pediatric patients at Georgetown’s Lombardi Cancer Center, who covered it with mosaic tiles bearing poignant wishes: less pain, normal health, a cure for cancer, world peace. On its rump, however, amid cutouts of teddy bears and flowers, is a different kind of distress message—a tile with the District flag flying upside-down.
In traditional usage, an inverted flag announces a state of emergency, as when flown from the mast of a foundering ship. Latter-day political activists have taken to flying flags upside-down as a gesture of protest against the government.
Neither case applies to the bars-above-stars display on Elephant Wisdom. “There is no political statement behind it,” says E.J. Endler, an art therapist at Lombardi. “Just a little kid with some glue.” Endler says that the children modeled their version of the D.C. flag after one hanging in the clinic. “In addition to being upside-down, I think that it’s the wrong color,” says Endler. “It’s gray and red instead of white and red. There is a Moroccan flag that is the wrong color, too. When little kids are involved, you never know what’s going to happen.”
The D.C. Statehood Green Party, which has fought to get its sunflower party emblem thrown in with the donkeys and elephants, seems unconcerned by the mix-up. “There are other things to complain about regarding the Party Animals than a child’s mistake,” says Statehood Green spokesperson Scott McLarty. “We’re more interested in stressing that children in D.C. need a full course in civics, including knowledge about the extent to which their rights are denied. History and knowledge of the flag is just a small part of that.” —Sarah Godfrey