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The Mystery of the Unsigned Pledge, Part II

Grave marker of Francis Bellamy(Didn't catch Part I? Read it first!)

From the city of Rome, New York, came a strongly worded letter from a citizens’ group that said it wasn’t Upham who wrote the Pledge, but a clergyman named Francis Bellamy (sometimes called Frank) who used to preach in that part of the country!

Margarette threw up her hands. Here was the Bellamy claim again, only this time dressed up in a minister’s suit of cloth. But wasn’t it strange that the youthful plagiarist grew up to be a man of God?

Then came a more disturbing letter. It was from a David Bellamy in Rochester, New York, who identified himself as the son of the late Reverend Bellamy. He said that he clearly remembered his father writing the Pledge of Allegiance after leaving his pulpit in Rome, New York, to work for The Youth’s Companion!

Margarette was deeply troubled. In her research on Bellamy, she had found no mention of a journalistic career, much less a ministerial one. But the really strange part was this: If the new information was correct, then Bellamy worked on the same magazine from which he allegedly pilfered the Pledge in order to win a school contest! It seemed fantastic.

The lights burned late on Portsmouth’s Hatton Street as Margarette pored over her newly thickened Bellamy file. The contradictions had grown. Bellamy was born in Kansas; he was born in New York. He served in the Spanish-American War; he did not serve in that war. He died in Colorado in 1915; he was seen in
Florida in 1929. Margarette wondered for a giddy moment if Bellamy had led a bizarre double life. She finally put out the light, but slept only fitfully.

At about 4 o’clock in the morning, she sat bolt upright in bed, her mind ablaze with sudden clarity. She knew now that there were two Frank Bellamys, and that they were unrelated. One was the Kansas “schoolboy” who stole the Pledge of Allegiance out of a magazine to win a contest. The other was the preacher from Rome, New York, who worked on The Youth’s Companion. It would, of course, be this second Bellamy who wrote the Pledge for which his boss, James B. Upham, took credit.

Now Margarette was sure she had the right solution, but even the best detective must take his case to court. Her court was the United States Flag Association, a private sector group that sets standards for honoring and displaying the American flag. At Margarette’s request, they chose three outstanding historians to sift through the evidence. Months later, Margarette received their final report, which boiled down to this:

In 1891 the country was a beehive of activity in preparation for the next year’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America. The Youth’s Companion was eager to take part. James B. Upham, an executive of the magazine, proposed that The Youth’s Companion sell flags, at cost, to schools
throughout the United States. His goal was a flag in front of every schoolhouse in America. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if on Columbus Day all the school children in the land recited a pledge to their newly acquired flags!

The job of writing the Pledge went to editor-writer Francis Bellamy, a former preacher from Rome, New York, known in his youth as Frank. It was published in the September 8th, 1892 issue of The Youth’s Companion without a byline as all staff-written articles were. No one saw any reason to make an exception in the case of the Pledge of Allegiance. No one imagined it would be used or remembered beyond that one Columbus Day in 1892.

But used it was. And used, and used. And plagiarized by the other Frank Bellamy. Was the similarity of names a coincidence? Certainly, but one that worked for the plagiarist. Programs of Columbus Day events containing the Pledge and Francis Bellamy’s name as a committee member were in fact distributed at festivals. How easy for the Kansas “schoolboy” to point to the Bellamy name, and say, “That’s me.”

In years that followed changes were made in the Pledge.

The phrase “my flag” was changed to “the flag of the United States of America.” Thus an expression of personal love was exchanged for a pledge of loyalty to government. Francis Bellamy opposed the change, but no one paid any attention to him. The change was made by a group of patriotic organizations that felt no need to consult with Bellamy; they believed that James B. Upham, executive of the Youth’s Companion, was the true author.

An act passed by Congress in 1942 made the Pledge of Allegiance, for the first time, the official Pledge of the United States. It was not until the 1950’s, at the height of the Cold War, that Congress voted to insert the phrase “under God," no doubt to prove to the world that we were different from the atheistic Soviet Union.

Francis Bellamy died in 1931, still struggling to achieve recognition for his creation, not knowing that five years after his death a young woman in Portsmouth, Virginia would take up the battle, and win.

Margarette Miller died in 1984, secure in the knowledge that her solution to the mystery of the unsigned Pledge had been upheld by the Library of Congress and by every state legislature in the United States.
How fitting for this American story that the two leading characters in it are a Christian minister and a Jewish woman who brought his authorship to light.

Bellamy’s gravesite in Rome, New York is now adorned with a white granite monument and a plaque that attributes the creation of those 23 original words to him.

The author of our Pledge of Allegiance is not lying in an unmarked grave.


Jerry CoopersmithJerome Coopersmith has authored more than 100 television scripts for anthology dramas, episodic series and television movies and specials. His Broadway musical, Baker Street, based on the stories of Sherlock Holmes, earned him a Tony Nomination. He is a longstanding and much appreciated member of Mystery Writers of America.

The Mystery of the Unsigned Pledge

A young boy looks up at an American flag that he holds proudly above his head.I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands – one Nation indivisible – with liberty and justice for all.

That’s the original version – by whom?

It was a mystery for half a century until a young woman in Portsmouth, Virginia, solved it. At this moment in time when our country’s basic principles are in danger, I ask you to join me in honoring that woman whose role as “pledge detective” could have been created by Dashiell Hammett or Agatha Christie. When I met Margarette Miller she was a middle aged woman, a secretary in an elementary school, not exactly the private eye type. My perception changed when she told me her story:

In 1936 when she was 22 years old, she attended a Fourth of July celebration of the Daughters of Job, a women’s organization devoted to God, flag, and country. She had gone to the event at the urging of her parents who thought she might meet some young people there, though frankly she would have preferred to stay home
with one of her good English mysteries. Tall, thin, painfully shy, Margarette was, in her own words, “the perfect wallflower type.”

As she sat in the large Masonic hall, she wondered what the rest of her life would be. She hoped she would not turn into one of those women up there on the rostrum, those corseted women who wore hats with veils and corsages pinned to their bosoms. Dear God, she said to herself, don’t let me become one of them.

The main speaker, Mrs. Ethel Wetzel, wrapped up her patriotic oratory saying, “...and to think that the author of our glorious Pledge of Allegiance is lying today in an unmarked grave!”

Margarette was sorrowful to hear this. She had always loved the Pledge of Allegiance. They were 23 words of sheer music to her. How could its author be lying in an unmarked grave? When the speech was over, she made her way to the rostrum, and asked the speaker if she knew the name of the Pledge’s neglected author. The woman was happy to comply. She told Margarette that it was Frank Bellamy of Cherryvale, Kansas, and that he had written the Pledge at the age of 12 as his entry in a school contest in 1896, an entry that won.

What a wonderful child, Margarette thought. A poet! A genius! A great American patriot too! She felt that at last she had a purpose in life. She would make the name of Frank Bellamy known throughout the land! But during the next few days when she did some research on the Kansas “schoolboy” she found a peculiar discrepancy.

The year of Frank Bellamy’s birth was given in various sources as 1870 and also as 1875, which would make him either 21 or 26 at the time he allegedly won the grade school contest.

To sort things out, Margarette wrote to the Kansas State Historical Society, and learned that they had long ago discarded the Bellamy authorship theory. Bellamy had won a contest – that much was true. And he had submitted the Pledge of Allegiance to win it – that also was true. But in the minds of the Kansas
historians there was little doubt that Bellamy had lifted the Pledge from a copy of The Youth’s Companion, a popular 19th Century magazine for boys and girls.

But if not Bellamy, who?

Margarette went to her local library, and dug up all the back issues she could find of the now-defunct Youth’s Companion. They were large cracked journals, yellowed with age, filled with nature studies, tales of American heroes, and tips on how to tie Boy Scout knots. In the copies the library had, there was no mention of a Pledge of Allegiance. But the trip to the library was not in vain. A librarian suggested to Margarette that she consult an old musty book called “The Flag of the United States, Its History and Symbolism.” Margarette leafed through it hoping to find some overlooked evidence, and then —

Yes! Yes! There it was! The name of James B. Upham, credited as the author of the Pledge of Allegiance. And to make things more conclusive, Upham was identified as an executive of The Youth’s Companion! It was all coming together, or so she thought.

Believing she now had the right author, Margarette persuaded the Portsmouth Star to publish a special edition saluting the birthday of James B. Upham, author of the Pledge of Allegiance. And then the roof fell in.

More to come next week...

Jerry CoopersmithJerome Coopersmith has authored more than 100 television scripts for anthology dramas, episodic series and television movies and specials. His Broadway musical, Baker Street, based on the stories of Sherlock Holmes, earned him a Tony Nomination. He is a longstanding and much appreciated member of Mystery Writers of America.

The Votes Are In

Every year a new board of directors for the chapter is voted in by Active members. The election ran from late November 19 to December 15, 2017, and the votes are in.

The chapter president for 2018 is Jeff Markowitz (pictured), author of the award-winning black comedy Death and White Diamonds. In his ballot statement, Markowitz said, "Fifteen years ago, knowing nothing about the craft or the business of crime fiction, I wrote my first mystery and became an Affiliate member of MWA. Two years later, I sold my second mystery and became an Active member. Whatever success I’ve achieved as a writer, I owe a debt of gratitude to MWA. During my time on the board, we have made efforts to more fully represent the needs of our diverse membership . . . . I look forward to building on those efforts."

New two-year board members are Ann Aptaker (Genuine Gold), Chapter President Emerita Laura K. Curtis (Mind Games), Chris Knopf (Back Lash), Erica Obey (The Curse of the Braddock Brides), and Charles Salzberg (Swann's Lake of Despair), and the new one-year board member is Tim Hall (Tie Died).

Leaving the board this year are Richie Narvaez and Andrew Peck. Remaining on the board for one more year are Scott Adlerberg and Joseph Goodrich.

The board of directors are volunteers who develop and run the chapter’s programs and events. You do not have to be on the board to help the chapter. The board is divided into committees, and they could always use more bodies and fresh ideas. if you're interest, please contact us.

The Path to Publication at Sussex County N.J. Library

Within the historic valleys and state parks of New Jersey’s northernmost county lives an active public library system with a burgeoning community of aspiring writers and, even better, mystery fans. And when a community of mystery loving readers and writers asks for an opportunity to hone their craft, MWA-NY answers the call — no matter the distance.

On Saturday, September 23 MWA-NY members Mistina Bates and Karen Katchur will discuss "The Perilous Path to Publication," at the Sussex County Main Library, 125 Morris Turnpike, Newton, New Jersey, from 1 to 3 p.m. The authors will share their unique experience navigating the perilous, and sometimes mysterious, path to publication. The program is free and open to the public, but you are asked to register by phone 973-948-3660 or at the library website here. Seating may be limited.

A member of the MWA-NY board and the editor of the chapter's newsletter, The Noose, Mistina Bates (pictured, left) will offer advice and insight from her own fiction writing and as founder and president of Market it Write, a content marketing agency based in northern New Jersey. Karen Katchur (pictured, right), from the Eastern Pennsylvania region of our chapter, will be sharing her experience of publishing her novels The Secrets of Lake Road (2015) and The Sisters of Blue Mountain (2017) with Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.

The presentation came about after Sussex County Librarian Louisa Bann reached out to see what MWA could offer their community. "Sussex County and its six branch libraries have a very large community of mystery readers," says Bann.

—Robert J. Daniher

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Robert J. Daniher lives in New Jersey where he works as an IT Support Technician for Madison Public Library and Library of The Chathams. He has been a member of MWA since 2009 and assists the MWA-NY Library Committee with planning author events at North Jersey libraries. His short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine for the Mysterious Photograph Contest and in the annual Deadly Ink Short Story Collections of 2007 and 2008.

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