670,000+ Flags Are Planted on the National Mall To Commemorate American Lives Lost to COVID-19

As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, one artist is using her creativity to express her sadness for all the lives that have been lost. Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg is a Washington, D.C.-based artist who actively creates work that touches on social issues. Her latest installation is one of her largest to date—over 670,000 white flags planted on the National Mall to symbolize the American lives lost to the coronavirus.

Her journey to the National Mall began in March 2020, as COVID-19 began to make a mark on the United States. At the time, there were debates about keeping the economy running versus implementing restrictions to dampen the spread of the virus. “That really disturbed me. I just felt as though someone had to do something to make a statement that with all these people dying, we had to value each of these lives as well,” Firstenberg told NPR.

That led to her initial installation last fall next to RFK Stadium, where she and a team of volunteers placed 267,080 white flags. Unfortunately, as the number of deaths continues to grow, so does the installation. Titled In America. How Could This Happen… the flags are intended to mirror the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery.


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At the time, Firstenberg also called on those who had lost loved ones to come and personalize flags. This led to an even more poignant section of the installation and some of those flags have now been acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

With her invitation to bring the installation to the National Mall, Firstenberg has turned her outrage over the handling of the coronavirus into a moving memorial. Once again, people have been invited to personalize flags and those who cannot do so in person are welcome to fill out a form so that a volunteer can write their message on a flag for them.

The sheer scope of the installation is difficult to capture in images, and as the number of deaths, unfortunately, continues to climb, more flags will be planted. In fact, Firstenberg had to order more flags after she realized that the initial 630,000 she had on hand wouldn't be enough. For her, the time and dedication to the cause is well worth it to acknowledge all those who have been lost and to remind us that these victims are more than just a statistic.

“So many of these deaths happened in isolation without acknowledgment,” she said. “When I had an opportunity to bring it to the National Mall, even though it's an immensely greater task, there was no hesitation. I knew I needed to do it.”

In America. How Could This Happen… is on view at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. until October 3, 2021.

Over 670,000 white flags have been placed on the National Mall to represent the American lives lost to COVID-19.


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Artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg created a similar installation last fall outside of Washington, D.C.'s RFK Stadium.


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A post shared by In America Flags (@inamericaflags)

Firstenberg wanted to ensure that those lost in isolation would not be forgotten.


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A post shared by Jonathan Thorpe (@jthorpephoto)


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A post shared by In America Flags (@inamericaflags)

Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg: Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
In America: Website | Instagram | Twitter

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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