So how did the Herald Building flag end up inverted to ‘distress’ signal?

American flag atop Herald Building upside down

The U.S. flag atop the Herald Building was flying upside down Sunday, Nov. 20, an international sign of distress. Bellingham Police are investigating the overnight incident.
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The U.S. flag atop the Herald Building was flying upside down Sunday, Nov. 20, an international sign of distress. Bellingham Police are investigating the overnight incident.

Residents have been abuzz on social media since Sunday morning, when the U.S. flag atop the historic Herald Building was seen flying upside down.

Kane Hall, CEO of Daylight Properties, which manages the building for owners Bob Hall and David Johnston of Herald Building LLC, called the act “dangerous” and “disgraceful.”

Hall said he felt a “sense of duty” to right the flag when he learned of the situation about 2:30 p.m. Sunday as he was watching the Seahawks-Eagles football game. He said he went to the roof and fixed the flag immediately.

“As annoying and disrespectful as it was, it was an honor to go back up on that windy afternoon,” Hall said. “We have a duty and responsibility to keep that (flag) the way it should be.”

Hall said he filed a police report Monday morning, and that building staff was reviewing surveillance video. Hall said he believes someone scaled the side of the building to reach the roof of the building’s two-story south side, then climbed the fire escape six stories to the roof.

Bellingham police didn’t immediately return a call for comment. Hall said there were no signs of forced entry to the building, and no indication the flag was inverted to make a political statement. He said his staff was reviewing building security in an attempt to prevent similar action in the future.

“We really want to discourage this type of thing,” Hall said, adding that he feared someone could be injured or killed.

Flying the flag upside down is an internationally-recognized distress signal, and has been used for years by protesters across the political spectrum to protest U.S. government policy.

U.S. Flag Code Title 4, Chapter 1, Subsection 8(a) states “The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

The Bellingham Herald Publisher Mark Owings emphasized that the newspaper sold its flagship building in June 2009 as the paper downsized during the Great Recession. Built in 1926, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We found out through social media on Sunday that the flag had been vandalized. Unfortunately, some commenters assumed that The Bellingham Herald was responsible, which is completely untrue. The Herald respects the flag and everything for which it stands. It is our hope that authorities will find out who did this crime and prosecute accordingly,” Owings said.

But that didn’t stop passers-by, Twitter and Facebook users from making assumptions about the incident and sharing photos of the inverted red, white and blue banner flying in a stiff breeze, framed by the iconic HERALD sign.

“Shortly after Veterans Day and you guys do this. It’s really disrespectful to us,” Brendan Gabriel wrote in a Facebook message, along with many other readers – some of whom were outraged and wrongly assumed that it was done with The Herald’s knowledge or consent. Others cheered, and some comments linked the action to the recent U.S. presidential election.

“Flying the American flag upside down... disappointed, I thought more of you. I’ll be encouraging others to boycott,” wrote Tadd N Charity Sheffer in a Facebook message.

“Great! I guess someone there in charge of the flag has actually been reading the national news! said @LibShrink on Twitter.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty