Debra Burlingame, whose brother piloted the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, couldn't believe it when she heard that someone was auctioning off a flag that allegedly survived the terrorist attack.
"I figured it had to be an urban legend," Burlingame said. Who, she wondered, would "traffic in human misery?"
Debra Burlingame speaks as Tara Stackpole and Deena Burnett, right, listen at the GOP convention in August.
(Jacqueline Larma -- AP)
But the auction, posted on eBay by a Virginia cancer patient who said he needed to support his family, was genuine. Yesterday, despite questions about the U.S. flag's authenticity, it sold for $371,300 to an unidentified buyer in Minnesota.
The sale was an emotional blow to many 9/11 families, who have tried to keep such souvenirs off the market to preserve the dignity of the dead. They said yesterday's sale set a precedent for profiteers.
"I understand that it's human nature for people to pick up mementos," Burlingame said. "They don't mean any disrespect. But to put it on the market is another thing. And the huge price tag [on the flag] will only encourage others to put their little piece of American history" on the market.
Carol Baroudi is an Internet industry expert and author of "The Internet for Dummies." Yesterday, she said it was only a matter of time before people could distance themselves emotionally from the tragedy and purchase artifacts, something that four years ago would have been unthinkable.
"It's like trying to stop a tide," Baroudi said. Today "no one would hesitate to auction World War II memorabilia. If it was something that was personal to your family and you felt strongly about it, you might be upset, but it's a question of time and timing. . . . We will be seeing more of it."
Last week, officials with the Internet bulletin board Craigslist yanked postings from a seller advertising a rubber toy bus allegedly found near the World Trade Center in New York, where terrorists crashed two other planes, causing thousands of casualties. The appraised value was listed as $44,000.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, eBay banned all 9/11-related objects, then lifted it after three months.
Despite the protests of 9/11 families, eBay officials maintained that David Nicholson's flag auction complied with their policies. "Some people may find it painful or wonder why anyone would want to own it, but diversity of opinion in the community is a strength," eBay spokesman Hani Durzy said. "We ask the community to respect other people's opinions."
Marcus Flagg's mother and father were on American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon. He criticized eBay for allowing a sale that exploits the victims, many of whose names are included in the flag's frame.
"If this happens, you'll see all sort of stuff from the Trade Center and garbage pits" for sale, Flagg said. "Where is it going to end?"
Already a second Pentagon flag has gone up for auction, posted on eBay by firefighters from the Mount Hope Professional Fire department in Keezletown, Va. Officials there said they plan to use the proceeds -- bidding reached $75,100 yesterday -- to buy a new firetruck.
Last week, they challenged the veracity of Nicholson's flag, saying that aerial photographs from that day do not depict his banner flying on a construction crane as was claimed.