The pillbox hat that Jackie Kennedy wore on the day JFK was assassinated is missing. So is the original footage of Neil Armstrong's moon landing — along with a stash of gold from the Alamo, and the Wright Brothers' airplane patent. Many of the most iconic items in American history have been lost or stolen, and author Brad Meltzer is on a crusade to find them.
Beginning Oct. 31, the prolific author of best-selling thrillers, non-fiction, advice and children's books is playing detective in his new H2 series "Brad Meltzer's Lost History," searching for missing artifacts such as the Ground Zero flag from Sept. 11, Harry Truman's sword collection and John Dillinger's Tommy gun. In an interactive twist, Meltzer enlists the help of the public in his quest, inviting viewers to submit tips at the show's website, and offering up to $10,000 for information that leads to recovery of an item.
"On 'Lost History,' we're not just telling an old story. We're trying to write a new one. We're asking for our viewers to join the hunt with us as we try to reclaim priceless artifacts from all over the globe," says Meltzer. "Yes, you'll see what happened in the past. But if we do this right, you'll see new history being written."
He got the idea for the show while doing research for one of his novels. "I found out that the National Archives has a special team dedicated to recovering lost and stolen historical artifacts. From there, I became obsessed. What were they looking for? How'd they get things back? And most important: What else was missing? That was the heartbreaking part: So much of our history has been stolen. And the more I spoke to folks at the top museums and libraries, they told me that so many items get found in people's attics. An older relative dies, and a child or grandchild goes searching through that attic. Right there, the idea was born: Let's have the public help us with the search. It's just simple math: The more eyeballs we have looking, the more our chances go up for finding something. So I promise you one thing: 2 more million eyeballs looking for something certainly increases our odds.
"We started selfishly and began with the number one thing we wanted to find: the missing flag that the firefighters raised on 9/11," Meltzer continues. "From there, the more we kept looking, the more amazing missing items we [heard about]: James Bond's car, the Wright Brothers' first patent. The list just kept growing" to include "everything from Hitler's photo albums to JFK's brain, missing moon rocks to the Apollo moon tapes, James Bond's Aston Martin to George Washington's teeth." But the Ground Zero flag is his top priority. "Finding that would be something that would bring peace to so many people. I'd want to find that over anything else."
What most affects Meltzer about these cases is the boldness and lack of morality in the thefts. "The sheer gall to take these items … it's staggering to me. For that 9/11 flag, how could you possibly take that? Or the guy who stole millions of dollars in moon rocks from the first Apollo mission. You know why he did it? To impress a girl. I once wore a white suit to prom to impress a girl. But stealing rocks brought back from the moon? You win."
Meltzer hopes he'll be able to do follow-up success stories, and to cover new examples that he couldn’t cover in season one. “You have no idea how many more items are out there,” he says.
Meanwhile, his writing career continues; his current book is "I Am Albert Einstein," the third in a series (after Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln) about true heroes for children, and a fourth, about Jackie Robinson, will be released in January 2015. He'll return to the thriller genre in June with "The President's Shadow," his first in two and a half years. "All my favorite White House secrets are in there," he says.
Meltzer believes his books and "Lost History" have a common takeaway message. "I hope people start seeing the power of history. History isn't just a bunch of facts and dates that you memorize. History is a selection process. And it doesn't just choose a person and a moment, ramming them together. History chooses every single one of us, every single day," he says. "The only question is: Do you hear the call?"
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