But there was one tiny, little problem: That precious, well-traveled symbol of perseverance was never the real flag. The actual 3-by-5-foot flag from the photo disappeared on the evening of 9/11.
What with it being a rather busy day for everyone involved, it's still a mystery who took the OG flag, and where it ended up, but tracking it down was obviously a point of some interest. In October 2014, the History Channel ran a show about the lost flag, explaining that the authorities had precisely zero leads and asking anybody with information to come forward. Shockingly, this worked. Not only was someone actually watching the History Channel, but that person even knew something about the case!
Four days later, a man who identified himself only as "Brian" unexpectedly dropped off the original flag at a fire station in Everett, Washington. There was something off about Brian. He said he was an ex-Marine who received the flag one Veteran's Day from an NOAA official, who in turn got it from a 9/11 widow. However, he offered nothing to back up that story. Clearly this was a con man, trying to snake the $10,000 finder's fee with some random flag he'd bought on sale from Target, right? Except he never asked for the money. Also, right after giving the flag to authorities, he fucking disappeared. A lot of people had questions for him. Everett detectives went searching for him, and released a sketch to the local newspaper, but nothing panned out. No one knew where -- or who -- the guy was. Brian was gone.
Also, the flag was totally authentic. The Washington State Patrol forensic laboratory ran extensive chemical tests, confirming that the flag had traces of that unmistakable dust cocktail from Ground Zero.
Everett Police Department"The colors don't run. It's legit."
They even brought in the couple who owned the yacht from which the original flag was taken. They recognized it by its extremely particular and detailed halyard (the clip/rope thing you use for raising the flag). A former FBI detective working on the case felt confident enough to declare: "This flag is more authenticated than Rembrandts at museums."
"Brian" might have left us with more questions than answers, but he also definitely turned in the correct flag, and asked for nothing in return. Not even a slow, building clap. Which he is definitely getting from us right now, at least.
Make sure you never lose an important flag with a beautiful preservation case.
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