International Municipal Lawyers Association - Local Government Blog

Yellow Ribbons Banned On Town Green | December 6, 2009

Posted By: Dwight Merriam, Partner, Robinson & Cole, LLP

The display of yellow ribbons in remembrance of friends and family serving far away goes back hundreds of years. Dr. Gavin Finley has an interesting website on the history. The American Folklore Center at The Library of Congress has more intriguing history and also cites the 1949 John Wayne and Joanne Dru film,  She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

As only Congressional folklorists could, they get a bit carried away.  I got lost when I hit this line:  “The second aspect that makes folklorists reluctant to view this as a traditional expression is the matter of structural inversion.”  I leave it to your further study.

Sing along with me, if you will, this 400-year-old tune, in an arrangement by the incomparable Andrews Sisters.  It reflects the popular view of what the yellow ribbon used to represent before it took on its current meaning.  Or you can listen to it here.

She Wore A Yellow Ribbon

By Russ Morgan
Sung by the Andrews Sisters

Round her neck she wore a yellow ribbon
She wore it in the winter
And the merry month of May
When I asked her, Why the yellow ribbon?
She said, It’s for my lover who is far far away

Far away, far away, far away, far away
She said, It’s for my lover who is far far away
Far away, far away, far away, far away
She said, It’s for my lover who is far far away

When, at first, she met a winsome Johnny
He wasn’t sure her heart was pure
Her eyes were far too bold
So, round her neck
He tied a yellow ribbon
He tied a yellow ribbon
‘Cause it matched her hair of gold
Hair of gold, hair of gold
He tied a yellow ribbon
‘Cause it matched her hair of gold
Hair of gold, hair of gold
He tied a yellow ribbon
For her eyes were far too bold

If, perchance, you spy a lovely maiden
And by her side, there walks with pride
A Johnny strong and gay
And round her neck there is a yellow ribbon
No matter how you love her
Please stay far far away

Far away, far away, far away, far away
No matter how you love her
Please stay far far away
Far away, far away, far away, far away
Her love is for another
So stay far far away
Far far away

Far far away
For her lover who is far far away

Back to the issue at hand.  The Hartford Courant reports that the Borough of Litchfield, Connecticut, has banned yellow ribbons on the town green, “Borough Of Litchfield Board: Get Those Yellow Ribbons Off Our Town Green Trees.”

For six years military mothers and their supporters have been decorating the trees on the town green with yellow ribbons.  Tuesday, the Borough’s legislative board voted to ban the ribbons.

How come?  One mother who asked why said she was told “…the ribbons had to be taken down because they were hurting the trees and that they looked unsightly and worn.”

Board members said that their forester had told them the ribbons were damaging the trees because mold was growing beneath them.  I searched “mold on trees from ribbons” on Google and got 318,000 hits.  I read the first 20 or so.  None mentioned mold under ribbons.  Must be something endemic to the Borough of Litchfield…perhaps the “Litchfield Yellow Ribbon Mold.”  Sounds scary.  Just to make sure I wasn’t missing something, I changed the search to “mold from ribbons on trees.”  Another 318,000 hits.  Nada.

The board identified their forester as Starling Childs from nearby Norfolk, Connecticut.

I know him. He is an expert.  Check out his website.   He maintains the Great Mountain Forest, all 6,000 acres, in nearby Norfolk.  Here’s what he said upon hearing of the ban: “They must be confusing me with some other botanist, because I don’t remember even noticing the ribbons at all and I certainly didn’t comment on them.”

It turns out there is another reason besides the dreaded killer mold as evidenced in this board member’s statement: “What happens next? The Boy Scouts will come along and ask for their ribbons. And the Breast Cancer Awareness people will ask for their pink ribbons. Before you know it, we have this big swatch of colors and Litchfield no longer has a classic green.”

Ah, now I get it — ribbon blight.

This is not the first ban on yellow ribbons.  Prince William County, Virginia’s police chief has banned them on his cruisers because he’s afraid that if his officers show up at a war protest driving cruisers with yellow ribbons “it could be seen as any action we’re going to take is against their cause.” The officers can still hang them on their own cars and in the office.

The City Administrator of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, banned them from all city property after a local restaurant operator complained, saying they were pro-Bush.A unanimous Cedarburg Common Council reversed the ban three weeks later, at least partially, by allowing two yellow ribbons on each of its three welcome signs.

The City of San Mateo, California prohibits private displays on public property but the mayor has simply said he won’t enforce it as to yellow ribbons: “Clearly there are many laws on our books that are enforced when called to our attention, but we don’t have the resources to enforce all the laws we have until somebody brings it up.”

Fieldsboro, New Jersey banned the yellow ribbons on public property in 2003. Mayor “Buddy” Tyler explained: “Where would you draw a line if you started allowing the use of public property to exhibit whatever cause anyone wanted? Suppose someone wants to tie pink ribbons, or black flags, or a Confederate flag or a Nazi flag on public property?”  I can’t find any reports of Fieldsboro reversing itself, though 100 protestors led by none other than Curtis Sliwa of the Guardian Angels have protested.  The have called for the mayor’s resignation and referred to him as “Bonehead Buddy.”

So here is one of the Litchfield yellow-ribbon-banded trees, not yet stripped of its illegal decoration.  This is the only place, so far as I can tell (but I’m no arborist) in the world where the Litchfield Yellow Ribbon Mold exists…

Courtesy of


  1. Great article – very entertaining.
    Does the name Theodore Freeman of GA sound familiar ? He is a member of IMLA.

    We moved to GA for Mike’s job. Hope all is well with you –
    Happy Holidays,

    Comment by Patricia O'Toole — December 11, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  2. Dwight –

    Great article and great series. Thanks for making this available. I’ll try to keep you up on anything happening out here.

    Comment by David Yearout — December 30, 2009 @ 4:51 pm

  3. This is the most pathetic act that the blue dogs have done yet!! I am a vet of this very war and i am beyond sickened with this act of childish behavior!!! If this so called town thinks they will get away with this well just wait to see what the solders do when they come to that town in protest!!! Oh yea to the NAM vet who had his unpatriotic remarks!! Just because you didn’t get a good welcome home doesn’t mean that i deserve the same!!!!

    Comment by Neil Calavan — February 3, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  4. This is ridiculous, what kind of age are we living in?? Just leave the damn ribbons up!

    Comment by Stockport Solicitors — March 31, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

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This blog is made possible by the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA), but may include guest bloggers (who are attorneys with experience in local government matters) who might or might not work for IMLA. Their views (and those expressed on this site) do not necessarily express the views of IMLA.







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