This episode was narrated by Jay Thomas. In Appleton, Wisconsin, the birthplace of magician Harry Houdini, there's a life-like bust of the world's greatest illusionist. But this bust is said to be haunted by the spirit of a man that many believe could not die. The first airplane, The Josephine Ford, to have supposedly been piloted to The North Pole by Bennett and Byrd. Along the rugged central coast of Oregon, in archives of the Coos Bay Historical Society there's a strange metal ring that resembles an old piece of farm equipment. It's actually a weapon of mass destruction invented by the Japanese during World War Two to wreak havoc on the US mainland.
This episode was narrated by Jay Thomas.
In Appleton, Wisconsin, the birthplace of magician Harry Houdini, there's a life-like bust of the world's greatest illusionist. But this bust is said to be haunted by the spirit of a man that many believe could not die.
The first airplane, The Josephine Ford, to have supposedly been piloted to The North Pole by Bennett and Byrd.
Along the rugged central coast of Oregon, in archives of the Coos Bay Historical Society there's a strange metal ring that resembles an old piece of farm equipment. It's actually a weapon of mass destruction invented by the Japanese during World War Two to wreak havoc on the US mainland.
Find episode transcripts here:https://mysteries-at-the-museum.simplecast.com/episodes/houdini-the-first-flight-to-the-north-pole-balloon-bomb
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DON WILDMAN:A century-old flying machine is the only link to a secret hidden at the ends of the Earth.
BOB CASEY: This airplane flew over the North Pole or maybe not.
DON WILDMAN:A battle flag sparks a revolution, but leaves an enigma in its wake.
JOHN RUSSICK: Who made this flag? Who designed this message? Who carried this around and made it part of their protest?
DON WILDMAN:And a plaster bust said to be haunted by the spirit of a man who couldn't die.
CAROLYN LANE:A lot of the audiences actually believed he would somehow be able to evade death.
DON WILDMAN:Across the United States, in the nation's most revered institutions, our celebrated history is on display,
wonderous treasures from the past, bizarre relics. But behind every amazing artifact is another tale to be told
and a secret waiting to be revealed. These are the Mysteries at the Museum.
100 miles north of Milwaukee is Appleton, Wisconsin. And here, in the city center is an unexpected sight. This
imposing stone building, once a Masonic temple, is now called The History Museum at the Castle. Inside, over
50,000 artifacts showcase the area's rich history.
But one artifact stands head and shoulders above the rest. Secured behind plexiglass, this plaster bust, 21 inches
tall, is modeled after a man who has long passed on, but whose mysterious talents still baffle the mind.
CAROLYN LANE:He could escape anything. There was no jail cell lock and handcuff, anything that he couldn't get out of.
DON WILDMAN:The subject is America's greatest magician, Harry Houdini. To curator Carolyn Lane, the bust exerts a strange
and captivating aura.
CAROLYN LANE:There's something in his eyes. He's not smiling really, but you can see something. There's a hint of magic in his
DON WILDMAN:Houdini sat for this portrait in 1913 at the height of his illustrious career. And at the time, a total of three busts
were made. But in 1926, just days after the magician's death, the other two statues inexplicably fell from their
pedestals and smashed on the floor.
CAROLYN LANE:Because these busts have met with an untimely end, a lot of folks will claim that our bust is haunted.
DON WILDMAN:Could this bust really be possessed by the spirit of the famous magician? The answer may lie in the mysterious
circumstances that surround Harry Houdini's death. Today, most people think that Houdini drowned in one of his
escape acts. Others claim he was murdered. But few people know the real truth behind the magician's final days.
CAROLYN LANE:The story of Houdini's actual death is far more tragic than any of these stories and myths about it.
DON WILDMAN:So how did this master of magic really die? The bizarre story of Harry Houdini begins in New York City, 1891.
Here, a teenage Hungarian immigrant named Erik Weisz discovers what will become his lifelong passion, magic.
Captivated by the art of illusion, he begins at the bottom, honing his craft with simple card tricks in Coney Island.
Inspired by the famous French magician Robert-Houdin, Weisz soon adopts his stage name.
CAROLYN LANE:He took that name and added an eye to the end. And all of a sudden, you have Harry Houdini.
DON WILDMAN:Talented but unknown, Houdini desperately wants to set himself apart from other performers, but knows he must
come up with something different, something that will amaze audiences. So he tries his first escape act, breaking
free from handcuffs. With the handcuff act, Erik Weisz's transformation into Harry Houdini is complete. Fueled by
success, the handcuff king ups the ante.
CAROLYN LANE:One of his next really big things was the straitjacket escape.
DON WILDMAN:In a dazzling display of showmanship, Houdini would hang upside down from the sides of tall buildings and
extract himself from a straitjacket in midair. Putting his life in dire peril becomes the hallmark of Houdini's act.
CAROLYN LANE:A lot of the audiences who watched Houdini perform actually believed he was magic and would somehow be able
to evade death.
DON WILDMAN:But as it turned out, the man who could not die would meet his end in the most unexpected way.
CAROLYN LANE:The most common myth about Houdini's death surrounds Houdini drowning. It's a great story. It's very romantic,
very dramatic, and not at all true.
DON WILDMAN:The real story of Houdini's death begins backstage in Montreal on October 22, 1926. A haggard Houdini has been
fighting a mysterious illness for several weeks. As he rests before a show, a local fan named Gordon Whitehead
CAROLYN LANE:Gordon Whitehead asked, during your performances, you claim you can withstand any punch, any blow someone
can deliver to you. Is it true?
DON WILDMAN:The 52-year-old illusionist accepts the challenge. But before Houdini can brace himself, Whitehead delivers
several hard, hammer-like punches to the magician's stomach. Houdini is stunned by the pain.
CAROLYN LANE:Houdini was a real macho, tough guy of the old show-must-go-on mentality. He just continued performing.
DON WILDMAN:Two days later, after his next show in Detroit, Houdini staggers from the stage. Could Whitehead strike have
felled the unstoppable Houdini? The prospect seems improbable. But at the hospital, doctors are shocked to learn
that this may in part be true. The punch seemed to have burst the magician's appendix. But what's also clear is
that the blow complicated an already serious condition.
CAROLYN LANE:Once he's in the hospital, the doctors figure out that he's suffering from appendicitis, and not just recent
appendicitis. It's severe. The infection was so bad that there wasn't anything they could do.
DON WILDMAN:Even the great Houdini can't escape death this time. He dies on October 31, 1926, Halloween. The official cause
of death-- bacterial infection.
CAROLYN LANE:People were just shocked to see someone who could withstand anything succumb to such a normal end.
DON WILDMAN:And after his death, the tales of how Houdini met his end became ever more fantastical until they matched the
man's legendary reputation. And it is this urge to perpetuate the myth of this great magician that led to the
rumor that Houdini's ghost might still dwell in this bust. Is it really haunted? No one knows. But despite all the
mystery and misinformation surrounding Houdini, today, one thing remains certain.
CAROLYN LANE:When you ask a second-grader who's the greatest magician who ever lived, they will all unanimously say it was
DON WILDMAN:1926, the same year the illustrious illusionist dies, a new American hero achieves everlasting fame in an epic
flight to the farthest reaches of the planet, coming up on Mysteries at the Museum.
Detroit, Michigan, birthplace of the American automobile. In nearby Dearborn, the renowned Henry Ford Museum
pulls a breathtaking collection of automobiles that documents a century of Americans on the move. Under the
museum's colossal roof are hundreds of vehicles ranging from antique roadsters to sleek hot rods.
But one exhibit, Heroes of the Sky, showcases artifacts that soared high above the roadways. For curator Bob
Casey, one plane in particular catches his eye.
BOB CASEY: The first time I saw theJosephine Ford, it was quite stunning to me because I read about this as a kid. If you get
up close, one of the first things you notice is it's actually sitting on large wooden skis, so you may get the idea
that this airplane is poised to do something special.
DON WILDMAN:In 1926, the intrepid pilot of this airplane set out on a death-defying flight to the end of the Earth with one goal in
mind, to be the first human to fly over the North Pole. But to this day, the journey remains shrouded in mystery.
BOB CASEY: This airplane flew over the North Pole or maybe not.
DON WILDMAN:What exactly happened on the Josephine Ford's most celebrated flight? It's spring of 1926, and the world is
seized with aviation fever.
BOB CASEY: In the early 1920s, aviation was one of the great new cutting-edge technologies. People were fascinated by it.
Pilots became heroes.
DON WILDMAN:Spurred on by an adoring public, daredevil pilots are desperate to reach new heights and set new records. One
aviator in particular was driven to go further than any other, ambitious 37-year-old Navy Commander Richard
BOB CASEY: Richard Byrd was well known in the Navy, but if he led the expedition that made the first flight over the North
Pole, he'd be a hero. He'd be a celebrity.
DON WILDMAN:May 9, 1926, Spitsbergen, Norway, after two test flights, Byrd announces he's ready for takeoff. At 12:37 AM,
Byrd and his co-pilot Floyd Bennett climb into the Josephine Ford and prepare themselves for the 1,330-mile
round trip to the North Pole.
BOB CASEY: It's very hard to appreciate how dangerous this attempt to reach the North Pole really was.
DON WILDMAN:Despite the slim chance of success, Byrd and Bennett take off into the Arctic winds and disappear over the
horizon. All the ground crew can do is wait.
BOB CASEY: About 15 and 1/2 hours after the plane took off, they hear the drone of the engines and then see it coming over
the horizon. Well, when the plane lands, of course, the reception is huge. The whole crew is part of not just
aviation history but human history.
DON WILDMAN:But some of Byrd's colleagues harbor suspicions.
BOB CASEY: Almost immediately, some people begin to ask, could he have gotten to the pole and back in 15 and 1/2 hours?
DON WILDMAN:But without conclusive proof of a fraud, no one is willing to voice such damaging allegations. Upon arrival in the
States, wild enthusiasm greets the aviator. The National Geographic Society verifies the explorer's handwritten
navigational readings, and Byrd becomes an instant hero.
BOB CASEY: Then he got the ticker-tape parades in New York. He got the congressional Medal of Honor. He became a national
DON WILDMAN:With his newfound fame, Byrd secures funds for several more expeditions, including two epic trips to the South
Pole. After 30 years in the national spotlight, Byrd dies a decorated hero in 1957. But after his death, the validity
of Byrd's achievements come into question. Suspicions about Byrd's polar flight had percolated throughout his
And now his detractors start to come forward. To travel 1,330 miles in under 16 hours means Byrd must have
averaged 87 miles per hour. The Josephine Ford's top speed was closer to 75 miles an hour. Even flying at top
speed, Byrd wouldn't have made it.
BOB CASEY: Byrd says on the way back, we picked up a tailwind. That's a plausible explanation.
DON WILDMAN:But there's another possible explanation for Byrd's fast flight time. When Byrd landed, there were signs that oil
had leaked from the right engine during the flight. An oil leak could cause an engine to shut down. Why didn't
Byrd turn around when he saw the plane was spewing oil?
BOB CASEY: Byrd says they were relatively close to the Pole, and so they just said, let's keep going.
DON WILDMAN:But some speculate perhaps Byrd saw the leak early in the flight, and fearing the worst turned around well short
of the Pole. And then in 1996, Byrd's expedition diary surfaces and provides more fuel for the fire.
Several key navigational readings from the journey have been erased and rewritten. To many, the doctored diary
is a sure sign that Byrd fabricated the navigational readings that showed that he reached the Pole. But no one
can say for sure.
BOB CASEY: I don't think we will ever know the answer to whether or not Byrd and Bennett actually flew over the North Pole.
DON WILDMAN:Richard Byrd's polar flight, genuine or not, is a testament to the explorer's quest for greatness at any cost.
Some 20 years after Byrd historic flight on Oregon's Pacific coast, a very different kind of aircraft was aloft, an
enigmatic object sent to wreak havoc on the United States during World War II. And it alters the course of history
in a way no one could ever imagine, next on Mysteries at the Museum.
The sleepy town of North Bend, Oregon, a hidden gem along a breathtaking shoreline. But this stretch of coast
known as Coos Bay wasn't always so peaceful.
SPEAKER 1: Coos Bay is a very rough area of sea to cross. We've had over 150 shipwrecks in the last 100 years.
DON WILDMAN:At the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum, some 50,000 artifacts chronicle this area's turbulent history. But
deep within the museum's archives, there is a peculiar object that arrived not from the sea but from the air.
17 pounds and nearly 2 feet in diameter, this corroding metal ring might be mistaken for scrap from a nearby
farm. But the ring was part of a secret weapon designed to bring death and destruction on America's shores. And
when it was finally exposed, it led investigators to a startling new discovery that would change the world forever.
Why was this ring sent here? What incredible secrets does it hold? And how did it cause the only deaths resulting
from enemy action to occur on mainland America during World War II?
Its May 1945. The Second World War is still raging in the Pacific. While thousands of US troops have been killed in
action, not a single person has been killed on the US mainland, but that is about to change.
Here in the Oregon woods near the town of Bly, the Reverend Archie Mitchell and his wife Elsie are taking five
Sunday school students on a picnic. After lunch, Elsie takes the kids on a short walk in the woods. Not far from
the picnic site, they stumble on a strange-looking object.
SPEAKER 1: He heard his wife say to him, honey, come look what I found.
The next thing he knew, there was a large explosion. And he ran to where his wife and these five children had
DON WILDMAN:All six are dead. To the Reverend Mitchell, the cause of the deadly explosion is a mystery. But the US military
may have an answer.
For the previous few months, army geologist in Western United States have recovered dozens of giant weather
balloons, 33 feet across. And each is carrying a lethal payload, metal rings laden with fuses and explosives. Who
could be making these mysterious bombs? Then a simple lab test on one of the balloon sandbags offers a clue.
SPEAKER 1: They were able to discover that there were specific minerals in that sand that only comes from very specific
beaches in Japan.
DON WILDMAN:The military is dumbfounded. It was thought that a balloon could only travel 400 miles before making landfall.
Japan is 5,000 miles away, and there are no Japanese bases near the US mainland. How have they managed to
engineer a weapon that can travel 5,000 miles across the ocean?
Unknown to the US military, Japanese meteorologists have made an astonishing discovery.
SPEAKER 1: The Japanese discovered that at 30,000 feet, there is a band of air that actually travels at very high speeds.
DON WILDMAN:This powerful air current moving at speeds up to 200 miles per hour is what we now call the jet stream. But in the
1940s, it's an unknown phenomenon, unknown to all except the Japanese. Using this knowledge, the Japanese
set out to do the unthinkable. They use the jet stream to send balloon bombs across the Pacific to strike the
All in all, Japan launches over 9,000 balloons of which 1,000 are thought to have reached North America. And it
was one of these bombs that killed Elsie Mitchell and the five children in Oregon in 1945. These deaths remain
the only enemy-inflicted casualties from World War II to have occurred on the US mainland.
The balloon bomb, once uncovered, opens up a world of scientific knowledge. Today, jet streams propel the
commercial airline industry and provide more accurate weather forecasts. Safely tucked away at the Coos
Historical and Maritime Museum, this mysterious metal ring no longer poses a threat, and its secrets are now
2000 miles away in the archives of the Chicago History Museum is an artifact that is just as highly charged. How
did this piece of fabric adorned with a cryptic logo help spark a revolution that still reverberates today? Find out
when Mysteries at the Museum continues.
Chicago, Illinois, the Windy City is the birthplace of countless American cultural icons. The Chicago History
Museum celebrates the city and its many traditions with exhibits on jazz, railroads, and gangster folklore.
But off the main floor in a back room, curator John Russick examines a very different piece of Chicago's history,
an artifact that incited a rebellion against mainstream culture and authority. It's a plain scrap of fabric
emblazoned with a simple yet striking design.
JOHN RUSSICK: With this piece, we don't have a lot of information about who had it, but it appears to be a flag.
DON WILDMAN:While Russick knows little about the flag's origins, he does have one tantalizing clue as to the part it played in
shaping America's history. The museum's records indicate that this flag was one of thousands of banners
designed for the protests of the Democratic National Convention in 1968.
So who made this flag? How did it come to be in Chicago? How did it change the direction of the country?
February 1968, the Vietnam War is in its sixth year and at home, support is waning.
(CROWD CHANTING) End the war! End the war! End the war!
Anti-war protesters lead marches, rallies, and sit-ins across the country.
JOHN RUSSICK: The war is really a galvanizing event, and it's really impacting the youth.
(CROWD CHANTING) End the war! End the war!
DON WILDMAN:One of the most vocal protest groups is an organization known as the Yippies, led by two radical activists, Abbie
Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.
JOHN RUSSICK: Abbie Hoffman frequently said that what the Yippie movement represented was a new America, a new culture, a
new energy driven by young people.
DON WILDMAN:The Yippies intend to shake America to its very core.
JOHN RUSSICK: They want to change the Democratic processes. They want to change the party politics.
DON WILDMAN:In 1968, Rubin and Hoffman identify the perfect platform to promote their anti-war counterculture message.
They'll protest at the Democratic National Convention. But they can't do it alone. The Yippies call for thousands to
convene in Chicago. Yippies from all over the country start planning a large-scale rally.
And since their goal is to reject the establishment and all of its symbols, one of their targets is the American flag.
Instead of flying the stars and stripes at the rally, the Yippies decide to create their own homemade flags.
JOHN RUSSICK: When you have something different you want to say, something new, you kind of have to create your own flag in
order to say that.
DON WILDMAN:But standing in the demonstrators' way is one of America's toughest and meanest politicians, Chicago Mayor
JOHN RUSSICK: Richard Daley loved Chicago. He ruled Chicago. And he wants to demonstrate that he's in charge.
DON WILDMAN:Daley fills the streets with over 20,000 soldiers and police officers to control the protesters.
JOHN RUSSICK: There's a sense that something is going to happen in Chicago. It's not going to pass by quietly.
DON WILDMAN:August 23, 1968, the first day of the convention, Yippie ringleaders Hoffman and Rubin hold court among the
thousands of protesters collecting in Chicago's parks. With no official Yippie flag, many carry banners
emblazoned with their own personal statements.
And the Chicago History Museum's records state that this flag was among them. At first, the demonstrators are
peaceful, but with each passing day, an inevitable battle draws nearer. On August 28, the protesters are driven
out of the parks by the police, and the displaced crowd surges onto Michigan Avenue.
JOHN RUSSICK: And at the Hilton Hotel, which is where many of the delegates are staying, there is sort of the classic moment of
the 1968 Democratic Convention police-protester conflict that you have protesters being beaten severely by
police and dragged into paddy wagons. It's a really horrific scene.
DON WILDMAN:Over 100 people are sent to the hospital.
News cameras captured it all, and the country watches in horror.
JOHN RUSSICK: And this was really the first time that I think people actually saw just how ugly it had gotten in Chicago.
DON WILDMAN:The convention ends the next day. And the delegates and protesters return home, but the images from Chicago
have been burned into the public consciousness.
JOHN RUSSICK: I think what that convention showed America was the sort of level of commitment and the numbers of people
who are taking up sides in this battle for the future of the country.
DON WILDMAN:The anti-war movement gains momentum until the US finally withdraws its last combat troops from Vietnam in
Five years after the Chicago riots, a hard-earned peace is at hand, thanks in part to the legions of Americans who
were willing to demonstrate under homemade battle flags like this one, which found its way to the Chicago
History Museum. Like many of the Revolutionary flags flown at the 1968 convention, the identity of this flag's
designer remains a mystery.
While this flag is a relic of a bloody battle, 1,200 miles away in Massachusetts, the Fall River Historical Society
has an artifact that was recovered from the scene of a bloody murder. And it could hold the key to one of the
most infamous homicides of the last 100 years, coming up on Mysteries at the Museum.
In Fall River, Massachusetts, an old granite mansion stares down at passersby. It's the Fall River Historical
Society. The museum is packed with bizarre ornaments from years gone by.
The Fall River Historical Society has a very large collection of items that came out of homes in Fall River, so
visiting the Historical Society is very much a step into the past.
DON WILDMAN:But in the museum's basement store, curator Michael Martins guards a far more sinister item. It's a 5-pound iron
hatchet head. Its rusty blade is still sharp.
Well, the hatchet in the Historical Society's collection is often referred to as the handle this hatchet. If one
examines the hatchet, it's obvious that the handle had been cut and then perhaps snapped.
DON WILDMAN:Such an item would have been commonplace in any 19th century Fall River home. But this hatchet is different. It
was found at an infamous crime scene and bore witness to a series of gruesome killings. It's the key to one of the
most notorious unsolved murders of all time.
The tale begins in the summer of 1892. A self-made businessman named Andrew Borden has made his home in
Fall River with his wife Abby.
Abby Durfee Gray Borden was Andrew Borden's second wife. She married into the family in 1865.
DON WILDMAN:Sharing the family home are Andrew Borden's daughters by a previous marriage, Emma and Lizzie Borden.
Lizzie Borden's life, by all accounts, was a fairly easy life, and she appears to have been well provided for.
DON WILDMAN:From the outside, the Borden family seems to enjoy a peaceful, prosperous life together. But it will soon transpire
that the outward trappings of gentility are just an illusion. On August 4, 1892, some believe a long-standing
family feud finally came to a chilling climax.
Abby Borden told the maid Bridget that she wanted her to wash the first floor windows inside and out. And
sometime around 9 o'clock in the morning, she went upstairs to make the bed in the guest bedroom. It was Mr.
Borden's custom to come home at around noon. He hadn't been feeling well. He came home unexpectedly
around 11 o'clock.
DON WILDMAN:Sometime before noon, Lizzie Borden summoned the maid Bridget Sullivan with these four-chilling words,
"someone has killed father." When the police arrive, they find Andrew Borden on his living room couch
bludgeoned to death. His wife Abby Borden lies dead in the upstairs bedroom. Her skull smashed. Who was
behind this hideous crime? And what motive did they have? No one knows.
At the time of the murders, we know that Lizzie Borden was about the house as was the maid Bridget Sullivan.
Those are the only two people that we definitely know were on the premises.
DON WILDMAN:Having no motive, the maid is quickly dismissed as a suspect. But police soon realize Lizzie Borden had two
powerful incentives to kill, money and property.
It does appear that the family got along quite well until a few years before the murders because of the real estate
transaction. It appears to have caused some animosity with the Borden sisters.
DON WILDMAN:The previous year, Andrew Borden had purchased another home for his second wife Abby, but Andrew Borden's
daughters, who were from a previous marriage, felt they were owed something as well.
From the point of the real estate transaction, it appears that there were some difficulties in that household.
DON WILDMAN:During interrogation, suspicion mounted.
Lizzie apparently gave very vague answers to questions as to her whereabouts.
DON WILDMAN:Police searched the property. They find a clue that they believe will help them finger the killer, a broken axe
It appeared to have been freshly cleaned. They did find it fit into the different angles of the wounds on the skull.
And since the prosecution needed a hatchet, this one fit the bill.
DON WILDMAN:Did Lizzie Borden used this hatchet to kill her parents? After several days of questioning, Lizzie Borden is
arrested. And on June 5, 1893, she is put on trial for murder. The prosecution's case relies heavily on what it
claims as the murder weapon. A forensic expert shows how the wounds to the victim's skulls and the hatchets
blade fit together. But the evidence is not enough to convince the jury.
All of the evidence in this case was circumstantial. They had absolutely no proof of Lizzie Borden's guilt. It was an
11-day trial, and she was acquitted on the 12th day.
DON WILDMAN:It's possible that the very brutality of the bloody slayings are what spared Lizzie Borden.
It was very difficult for people to come to terms with the idea that a woman could have murdered in such a
DON WILDMAN:So did Lizzie Borden get away with murder.
I don't think anyone will ever definitively know who murdered the Bordens. I think it's highly unlikely.
DON WILDMAN:Today, the only remaining witness is this broken hatchet. Rightly or wrongly, Lizzie Borden's name will forever be
linked with a gruesome double murder.
But not everyone who plays a part in this nation's great history is remembered so vividly. An object in the
Smithsonian's National Museum of American History tells the tale of a forgotten hero who helped save the world
from total destruction.
I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over.
DON WILDMAN:Coming up on Mysteries at the Museum.
Washington, DC, America's proud capital is home to the biggest museum complex in the world, the renowned
Smithsonian Institution. One of the most popular branches of the Smithsonian is the National Museum of
American History. With over 3 million artifacts, this museum has the definitive take on the history of the United
And hidden within its vast collection is what seems at first a puzzling acquisition, a worn and weathered 80-year-
old briefcase. But this attache once belonged to a lifelong politician and diplomat and held countless top secret
and sensitive government documents.
SPEAKER 2: The briefcase we have in our collection once belonged to Adlai Stevenson.
DON WILDMAN:For some 40 years, Stevenson carried this simple briefcase as a governor, a presidential candidate, and the
American ambassador to the United Nations.
SPEAKER 2: I would say the briefcase is witness to many moments in time.
DON WILDMAN:But curators at the Smithsonian believe this briefcase was party to a watershed event that changed the history of
the planet, 13 critical days when the fate of the free world was at stake.
SPEAKER 2: How would you pull back from the brink? And that's what the Cuban Missile Crisis was. It's one of those moments
where everybody went right to the brink.
DON WILDMAN:The story of the Cuban Missile Crisis is well known. Its main players all too familiar. But at the heart of the crisis is
a little-known diplomat whose steadfast actions might just have saved the world from nuclear war. And at hand
at the crucial moment was this simple briefcase. What did it contain? And how did Stevenson help defuse the
most dangerous confrontation of the Cold War?
October 1962, the world's two superpowers, the USA and the USSR, are locked in a dangerous nuclear arms race.
SPEAKER 2: Both of these superpowers are building these large arsenals of weapons that can destroy the world.
DON WILDMAN:In the US, concerns are growing over Soviet ties to a communist nation just off the American coast, Cuba. And
the CIA is about to make a shocking discovery that will confirm the nation's worst fears.
Early morning, October 14, an American U-2 spy plane completes a recon flight over the island, taking 928 aerial
photographs. The photograph shows several nuclear missile bases under construction. From their size and
design, it's clear that they are Russian-made. By the time the aerial photos hit President Kennedy's desk, the
terrifying implications are clear.
SPEAKER 2: These bases could launch a short range of mid-range missiles that could attack virtually every city in the United
DON WILDMAN:Cuba is just 90 miles from the US. Millions of Americans could be just hours away from a nuclear attack. After five
tense days of around-the-clock deliberations, Kennedy calls for a Naval blockade of the island to prevent Russian
ships from arriving with more nuclear supplies. When Kennedy announces the blockade on national television,
shockwaves reverberate around the world.
SPEAKER 2: Once that information comes out, there's this panic.
DON WILDMAN:The Soviets deny the existence of the weapons and regard the blockade as an act of war.
SPEAKER 2: The Soviets had no idea that the Americans actually had tangible evidence of the missiles.
DON WILDMAN:American destroyers move into position, but the Soviets supply ships steam ahead.
SPEAKER 2: We were really at the brink of war between the two superpowers.
DON WILDMAN:In a last-ditch effort, the United Nations steps in and demands an emergency session. And a new player enters
the fray, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson. October 25, Stevenson arrives at the UN in
New York. He carries with him his briefcase, a trusted companion which has held countless documents
throughout his long career.
Now, it carries the notes and papers Stevenson will use in the most critical presentation of his life. Stevenson
prepares to show the world irrefutable evidence that the Soviets are building missile silos on the island of Cuba.
This will be the definitive diplomatic showdown of the crisis. Finally, Stevenson confronts his counterpart, the
Soviet ambassador, Valerian Zorin.
SPEAKER 2: Stevenson at that moment turns to him and says, I have a simple question to ask you. Does the Soviet Union
have missiles in Cuba? That's yes or no. He's clearly commanding the room and he's giving a great performance.
You will have your answer in due course.
I'm prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over if that's your decision.
SPEAKER 2: When he's demanding an answer, it's something that he knows, and everyone knows the whole world is
DON WILDMAN:With the attention of the world focused on him, Stevenson unveils the aerial photographs that prove the missiles
exist. The world awaits the Russian response with bated breath.
SPEAKER 2: And it's those aerial photographs that become the evidence that changes the dynamic of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
And they realize that now is the time to sort of step back from this crisis and find a negotiated way out.
DON WILDMAN:The next day, on October 26, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev relays a message to Kennedy. The Soviet Union
will remove the missiles from Cuba provided the US agrees not to invade the island nation. And at the heart of
the crisis was Adlai Stevenson, a man who stood up to fight for peace in front of the entire world.
SPEAKER 2: That moment where he becomes the voice of the nation for that brief moment is something that he'll always be
DON WILDMAN:This briefcase at the National Museum of American History represents the pinnacle of one man's career and a
diplomatic victory won under the most perilous circumstances.
Axes and attaches, protest flags and polar planes, mysterious bombs, and haunted busts, each with its own
secret history waiting to be discovered, these are the Mysteries at the Museum.
With every new handcuff escape, audiences become more fascinated by Houdini. So what was his secret? The
answer lies in the History Museum at the Castle vast collection of Houdini's lock picks and keys.
CAROLYN LANE:Audiences around the world wondered how Houdini was able to escape any cuff that could ever be found. These
lock picks are part of that secret.