After the twin towers fell, three firefighters hoisted a 3-foot-by-5-foot flag up a lanyard above ground zero and a photographer captured the moment. The Associated Press picked up the photo, as did Newsweek, and countless other media outlets. It became a stamp and a symbol.
Twelve days later, Rudy Giuliani, at the time the New York City mayor, signed the flag at Yankee Stadium. It was also signed by his successor, Michael Bloomberg, and by New York Governor George E. Pataki. It would travel to naval ships in the Middle East, and in 2002 it returned to City Hall. Except the flag that had been signed and did all the traveling was not the flag pictured in the photo, the one raised in the hours after the September 11 attacks. For starters, this flag was 5 feet by 8 feet. So what happened to the original flag?
That remains, in part, a mystery. But on Thursday, the original flag, verified by forensic scientists, goes on permanent display at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York.
How the flag became lost and how it reappeared is a somewhat unsatisfying story, because there are so many unanswered questions. What’s known is it showed up at a fire station in Everett, Washington, in 2014, four days after the History Channel featured an episode on its disappearance.