msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/6/2011 10:42:06 AM ET 2011-05-06T14:42:06

An Ohio hotel has been fending off angry phone calls because a broken rope on its flagpole led some to think the business was mourning the death of Osama bin Laden.

The rope left the U.S. flag stuck at half-staff outside a Hampton Inn in Springfield in western Ohio two days before bin Laden was killed, its assistant general manager Connie Smith told msnbc.com.

However, people started noticing the flag and assuming its position was in honor of bin Laden on Tuesday.

The hotel and its company received dozens of calls from people who were either upset or angry. One threatened to run the hoteliers out of town.

Smith, speaking by phone after the Springfield News-Sun first reported the story, said the flag had become frayed and the maintenance man was trying to replace it.

"He was trying to lower it down and it got stuck ... and it got stuck at half mast," Smith said. "It was raining, we've had non-stop rain for the past two or three weeks. The rope was slippery, it was so rainy, so windy, we just couldn't mess with it."

"Next thing I know we start getting calls like left and right, a couple of dozen at least," she added.

One prospective guest on Tuesday night said he wasn't going to stay at the hotel because of the flag, but relented when told it was a maintenance issue, rather than in honor of bin Laden.

'Disgraceful'
Smith said the first call was polite with the caller saying "Did you realize your flag is half-mast?"

But the real deluge began Wednesday morning. "My first call was from a woman whose son was a sergeant in the army. She thought it was disgraceful," Smith said.

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"It was all over Facebook. I got a call from a man who said his boss told him about it at a meeting of 20 to 30 people," she added.

Smith said she was shocked by the volume of calls.

"It started getting out of hand. One person said we needed to be run out of town," she said, adding that another said the flag had to be fixed or he would "come out and chop that flagpole down."

It was fixed by 9 a.m. Wednesday, Smith said, but the calls continued until 9:30 p.m.

The hotel is part of the Hilton hotel group — its flag flies below Old Glory — and Smith said it also received "a ton of calls."

"They had one woman who was so distraught because she lost a friend in 9/11," Smith said, adding that the caller ended up in tears.

"The whole town thought we were supporting bin Laden. So many people really had a fit about it. They were calling the local newspaper, they were calling the police. I didn't realize how patriotic our city is," she added.

For the record, Smith said that while she didn't "want to see anybody die" she felt relieved when she heard bin Laden was dead. "A little justice was done for those people (his victims). He cannot hurt anybody any more."

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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