Civil War medical museum prepares to amputate Confederate flag from its logo

By MICHAEL S. ROSENWALD | The Washington Post | Published: January 6, 2020

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine, a quirky and fascinating repository of battlefield medical artifacts including skull saws and rusty scalpels, is amputating the Confederate flag from its logo.

Naturally, the Internet has opinions.

"Leave it alone," someone wrote on Twitter. "It is a shame you are so weak you cannot stand up for what you KNOW is right."

On Reddit, a commenter wrote, "Wow, so a museum dedicated to preserving a part of history that is the civil war, is too scared to educate people about the entirety of the civil war because they're afraid of offending some people that don't even like this country."

Not exactly, say officials with the Frederick, Maryland, museum.

Though the move comes amid a wave of controversy over the Confederate flag and monuments to Southern war heroes, David Price, the museum's executive director, said dropping both flags — Union and Confederate — had nothing to do with politics.

Rather, the decision was part of a year-long effort to rebrand the museum after some recent expansions.

"It's a little too complicated for social media," Price said in an interview. "But this is not about erasing history."

The museum opened in 1996 in Frederick, a town on the edge of Western Maryland whose churches, businesses and homes became hospitals during the war. It is housed in the Carty Building.

"Richard Burr, the most dastardly embalmer of the Civil War, operated out of the building," the museum says on its website, "sometimes embalming the dead in the building's front windows so passersby could watch."

(Embalming is no longer practiced in the building, which is welcome news to the trendy restaurants that have opened up nearby in the city's thriving downtown.)

In 2005, an expansion of sorts began. In partnership with the National Park Service, the Museum of Civil War Medicine took over operation of the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, a home that became a hospital during the Battle of Antietam.

Six years ago, the museum took over another property: the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum in downtown Washington.

To Price, his museum's logo — the two flags separated by the Rod of Asclepius, a symbol of the Greek god of medicine and healing — no longer represented the broader story of the museum's three outposts.

With grant money, Price hired the Invictus, a Pennsylvania marketing firm, to come up with a new logo. The company began with an online survey. Jeff Beck, the firm's owner, knew the Confederate flag would be "the elephant in the room," so he and Price decided to tackle the issue head-on.

"To state the obvious, our logo incorporates the Confederate battle flag," the survey introduction said. "The feelings that flag generates have changed over the past 20 years. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to study our brand identity, to confirm it represents our story and encompasses all of our locations."

The survey asked whether either flag should be in the logo. The responses, both in the survey and about the survey, were heated.

Steve Berryman, who runs the Confederate Monuments Protection Society, a local Facebook group, told the Frederick News-Post that the museum was embarking on a "gutless move" that "shouldn't be a public decision."

Still, the museum pushed ahead, dropping both flags. The new logo, to be revealed Jan. 15, is composed of a shield, the Caduceus medical symbol and three stars to represent the museum's three locations. The colors are blue, gray and red, a nod to both sides in the war.

Price acknowledged that dropping the Confederate flag could be viewed as a response to political pressure, especially after Destination DC, Washington's tourism bureau, declined to run a museum ad containing the logo in 2016.

"But there was really no pressure from any anybody to eliminate that flag," Price said. "The pressure was that we have a logo that doesn't reflect the organization right now, because we've grown from one to three. That's it."

And just because the Confederate flag is being dropped from the museum's logo, Price emphasized that images of the flag will continue to be displayed on the museum's properties — in exhibits and on souvenirs.

"This is not about banning the Confederate flag from our museum," Price said. "It has been around this museum since its inception. It's part of our history."

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