image of Syracuse city flag and American flag flying in downtown Syracuse, New York

The New Syracuse City Flag Takes Inspiration from Many Local Places

For this piece, I’m channeling my inner Sheldon Cooper and having a little ‘Fun with Flags.’ The flag at the center of this chat is none other than the new Syracuse city flag.

When the top contenders for the new city flag were first announced, waves of confusion shook Syracuse. Surprisingly, many locals had not realized that our beloved city even had its own flag. (But of course it did!) Nevertheless, the flag that existed was dated and lacked the symbolism that a Syracuse flag truly deserved.

The search for a new Syracuse city flag was spearheaded by local nonprofit organization Adapt CNY. The members live and breathe for the people of Syracuse, and they wanted the city flag to represent the people that make up the Syracuse community. That’s how the aptly-named Syracuse Flag Initiative came to be.

Like the current flag, the original city flag was conceived through a contest, albeit in 1915, making the flag over a century old. It lacked creativity, recognizability, originality, and simplicity. In fact the previous flag design was basically the city seal stamped on a white piece of fabric. So the search began for a new design.

The Syracuse Flag Initiative kept the parameters very simple, and opened up a world of possibility for what the new flag could look like. Anyone was allowed to enter a design, whether or not they lived in Syracuse or even had any design experience. By the deadline in February 2023, approximately 300 different designs had been submitted. It was then up to a small committee of judges to narrow it down to four: The Unity Flag, The Evening Tree, The First Light Flag, and The Grain of Glory. The finalists were announced in May and over 1000 votes from the public determined that Eric Hart’s First Light Flag was the winner. The flag was raised at Syracuse City Council on July 5, 2023 with Mayor Ben Walsh present.

As a kid growing up in the valleys of Syracuse, Eric Hart was a proud member of a family with deep local roots. In fact, his family goes back 8 generations in Syracuse, originally from the Nedrow area. After attending Corcoran High School and then Onondaga Community College, Eric graduated from Syracuse University. He earned his BFA in Communications Design in 2010. With a history like his, there couldn’t be a more perfect person to create the new Syracuse city flag.

Before creating the First Light Flag, Eric spent a decade traveling between New York City and Tokyo for work. He is associated with major projects from impressive clients including Disney+ and HBO Max. Most recently, he has focused on growing his own brand. Earlier this year Eric founded his own design company, Hartbreakers Creative. His focus has shifted to the local community, with his mission to “give back, empower and inspire.”

When Eric went about designing a flag for the city he knew and loved, he did extensive research. He looked through flag symbolism, the history of flags around the world, and the reasoning behind flag colors. He even met with people around Syracuse, including members of the Onondaga Nation.

It goes without saying that he did not come about the final design lightly. Believe it or not, Eric scrapped 269 designs before being satisfied with the 270th – and final – design of The First Light.

While the design may look simple at first glance, that’s actually the beauty of it. There is such depth to the meaning behind every design choice. Each piece represents an important element of the people, history, culture, landscape, and industry that make up the Syracuse community. Eric goes into great detail on the meaning behind each element on his Instagram and the First Light Flag website.

To me, the most prominent feature of the new city flag is the six-pointed star in the center of the design. And rightfully so. The six points represent the six nations of the Haudenosaunee, the people who lived here first. Without the foundation laid by the native Onondaga people, we would not be who we are today.

Not only do the six points represent the indigenous people, but they also represent the six historical names of Syracuse. Did you know that Syracuse was once referred to as Salt Point, Webster’s Landing, Bogardus Corners, Milan, South Salina, and Cossits’ Corners?

Additionally, the star represents THE star, our sun. It is the guiding light, rising in the east.

If you’ve ever driven through Central New York, you are very familiar with the rolling hills and valleys that make up the landscape. When I look at the flag design, I’m always reminded of the bend along 81 north when you first see the Syracuse skyline in the distance. That moment (around mile marker 70) always brings a sense of nostalgia like coming home.

Together, the three triangles also represent Syracuse’s past (azure blue), present (white), and future (navy).

Green Lakes State Park Sunset View

In other words, the “V” that is created from the triangles joining at the center of the design. It both represents the Roman numeral 5, for the 5 Syracuse Common Council districts, and also the international peace sign. ✌🏻

The official colors of the First Light Flag are orange, azure blue, navy blue, and white.

Sunset at Onondaga Lake Park
Mule Days of Summer
Liverpool Salt Museum
Dawn’s first light pours over Syracuse, reflecting the hills and valley of Onondaga onto its gleaming lake.

Syracuse: “Where the vale of Onondaga meets the Eastern sky”.

We look toward the sun and offer appreciation to the Keepers of the Central Fire and the Six Nations, here since time immemorial.

We salute the sun’s strength and are grateful that it could pull salt from our springs. We feel the sun’s warmth and are filled with resolve to weather our long, white winters. We trace the sun’s arc across the sky and choose for ourselves a new, radiant path. Hearts energized, bodies warmed, minds steeled. 

We propel ourselves together, ever upward, Syracusans.  

One of the most interesting facts about the new flag is that is under common licensing. Not only that, but the designer wants you to use it and make it your own! It’s important to Eric that the flag truly represents the community of Syracuse, and that means making its presence both known and adaptable to different individuals.

It’s not surprising that Eric had played with a few iterations of his own, but other community members are joining in. David Haas from Syracuse history incorporated the flag into his logo, and Instagram account @lezbein_syracuse uses the flag design but with the lesbian flag colors.

You’ll also notice a rendition of the First Light Flag on the 2024 Wandercuse passports

The easiest and best way to purchase a Syracuse city flag for yourself is directly from the designer himself — Eric sells them through his Hartbreakers website. There you will find full-size flags alongside apparel, stickers, pins, mugs, and other goodies bearing the First Light Flag design.

Use code “WANDERCUSE10” to get 10% a purchase of $15 or more from the Hartbreakers shop.

The are plans for more renditions of the flag in the future (ahem… perhaps a mural?) including other merch, so stay tuned!

Tell me your thoughts!