It is not clear whether artists, pranksters or hooligans are responsible for placing the white flags on top of New York's Brooklyn Bridge, but whoever is to blame is in for some trouble if they get caught.
Brooklyn Bridge traditionally flies two 'Old Glory' flags from the top of its two towers, but in the early hours of Tuesday morning these flags were replaced with the traditional image of surrender.
At 3:30am construction workers reportedly noticed a change in the scenery, and by 7am images of the two white flags flying where there used to be stars and stripes had started hitting social media.
While many have joked that the flags symbolise Manhattan surrendering to Brooklyn, or vice versa, the office of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has now issued a $5,000 (£2,925) reward for any information that could lead to the arrest of the culprits who flew the white flags.The New York Police Department's deputy commissioner of intelligence John Miller told reporters that the lights on Brooklyn Bridge that illuminate the flags began to flicker before going out completely, first on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, and then on the Manhattan end.
The two white flags, which measured at 20ft by 11ft, were raised within 13 minutes of each other, suggesting to investigators that the switches were carried out by a team, while the operation had a certain air of DIY to it; the lights on the bridge had been blotted out with aluminium baking pans.
Police said the stunt had been carried out by someone with climbing, construction or bridge experience, and while it could be "some kind of statement," it was still an issue of trespassing and of security – patrol cars are usually stationed on both sides of the bridge at all times and security cameras point at the base of the towers.Even more baffling for police is how the flag-switchers scaled the bridge unnoticed, let alone how they got past the 24-hour patrols or how they left the alarmed gates to the towers intact.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the structure is unlike other New York bridges, whose towers can typically be scaled or accessed by internal ladders. The top of Brooklyn Bridge can only be reached by walking along its steel cables.
The cables are over a foot in diameter, but they are most easily accessed at the centre of the bridge, after the ‘suicide guards’ have been climbed over or forced with tools. Once the long walk up the cables has been accomplished, there is the matter of climbing the small metal ladders up the towers.
"If they had brought a bomb up there, it would have been over," a high-ranking police source told the Daily News. "If they were able to bring something large enough to cover the lights, then they would have been able to bring some kind of explosive up there."
By 11am however, Emergency Services police had taken the offending flags down, and Nick Krevatas, a DOT bridge painter, began scaling the cables to replace the flags, complete with a cigar held firmly in the corner of his mouth. The flags had been replaced by around 3:30pm.
"It amazes me nobody saw anything… I’m upset," Mr Krevatas told the New York Post. "They took the flags down and either painted them or bleached them," he alleged.
"Isn't there a better way to express yourself? Couldn't they have used social media?" he asked.
Brooklyn Borough president Mr Adams said that if the act was someone’s idea of a joke, "I’m not laughing".
"The public safety of our city is of paramount importance, particularly our landmarks and bridges that are already known to be high-risk targets. We will not surrender our public safety to anyone, at any time," he said.