This episode was narrated by Jay Thomas. The largest aircraft to be built almost entirely from wood. It is the “H‐4 Hercules”, better known as “The Spruce Goose” in McMinnville, Oregon at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. On display at Chicago's Field Museum the remains of "Sue", the largest T-Rex ever discovered, reveal answers to the question; what was life like for the king of the prehistoric food chain? In upstate New York, in Rochester's Strong National Museum of Play we discover how one of the world's most popular toys was a failed invention from World War Two.
This episode was narrated by Jay Thomas.
The largest aircraft to be built almost entirely from wood. It is the “H‐4 Hercules”, better known as “The Spruce Goose” in McMinnville, Oregon at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.
On display at Chicago's Field Museum the remains of "Sue", the largest T-Rex ever discovered, reveal answers to the question; what was life like for the king of the prehistoric food chain?
In upstate New York, in Rochester's Strong National Museum of Play we discover how one of the world's most popular toys was a failed invention from World War Two.
For even more Mysteries at the Museum, head to discovery+. Go to discoveryplus.com/mystery to start your 7-day free trial today. Terms apply.
Find episode transcripts here: https://mysteries-at-the-museum.simplecast.com/episodes/the-spruce-goose-t-rex-named-sue-the-slinky
SPEAKER 1: A colossal wooden airplane built by millionaire aviator Howard Hughes is the heart of an engineering mystery.
ERIN WILLERSON:The government didn't believe that it would actually fly.
SPEAKER 1: A brazen art heist baffles investigators and leaves a great museum with empty frames and unanswered questions.
SPEAKER 3: You'd be hard pressed to find a mystery that's bigger than this one.
SPEAKER 1: And a much loved plaything whose origins spring from the darkest days of war.
SPEAKER 4: This was one of those classic Eureka moments.
SPEAKER 1: 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. McMinnville, Oregon. Inside a giant
airplane hangar, the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum houses dozens of unique aircraft that tell the story of
our nation's history in flight.
And this museum centerpiece is a flying machine whose size and reputation dwarfs all others. Its tail is bigger
than a seven story building. Eight 3,000 horsepower engines were needed to propel it. But this astonishing
aircraft isn't made of metal. This is the largest aircraft to be built almost entirely from wood. It is the H-4
Hercules, better known as the Spruce Goose.
From wingtip to wingtip of the Spruce Goose, it's 319 feet. So if we put it on a 50-yard line in a football field, the
wings would hit both end zones.
SPEAKER 1: Erin Willerson is the education coordinator at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, and it's her job to
explain to visitors just how extraordinary this aircraft is.
Probably the best part of working here is seeing the amazement on the kids' faces when they come in and
they're just like, wow, that is so cool.
SPEAKER 1: Irreverently dubbed the Spruce Goose by its detractors, this massive machine is actually made of birch. It was
commissioned as a cargo plane by the US military in the 1940s and could hold up to two armored tanks or 750
soldiers. But this one of a kind aircraft never flew a single mission. In fact, many believed it couldn't fly at all. So
why was it built? The story starts over 60 years ago in one of the worst crises of the Second World War.
1941. World War II is raging and the US military has a problem. They are losing countless transatlantic supply
ships to German u-boat attacks, greatly affecting the Allies ability to fight the war in Europe. The military needs a
safer way to transport huge numbers of soldiers and goods across the Atlantic. They latch onto an idea to build
massive cargo aircraft of a size never before attempted that would bypass the threat on the sea by taking
military transports into the air. And renowned aviator and aircraft engineer Howard Hughes steps forward as the
man for the job.
Howard Hughes was a brilliant aircraft designer. He was eccentric, to say the least. He was always pushing the
envelope, trying to go faster, trying to go higher, trying to go further.
SPEAKER 1: But the project comes with one crucial condition.
One of their stipulations was that they could not use any metal at all because they needed the metal for the war
SPEAKER 1: So Hughes makes an unprecedented decision to build the 218 by 319 foot flying cargo ship from wood.
Most airplanes in between World War I and World War II were made out of wood, but they were a lot smaller.
People thought Howard Hughes was crazy building this airplane out of wood.
SPEAKER 1: But Hughes would not be deterred. He attacks the project with the full force of his obsessive genius, using
innovative techniques to bend and glue planks of birch plywood onto the frame of the 142-ton behemoth.
The Spruce Goose is a marvel of engineering. This monstrous airplane is essentially wood just glued together.
SPEAKER 1: But this revolutionary design takes four years and an extraordinary $25 million to perfect.
What ended up happening, because Howard Hughes was a perfectionist, every little detail all the steps had to go
through him, it delayed the project immensely.
SPEAKER 1: By the time the plane is actually finished, World War II is over and the project is well over budget.
The government wanted to know why he had used their money and not finish the airplane during the wartime
SPEAKER 1: They call a series of Senate hearings to take Hughes to task for the overruns.
And I have stated several times that if it's a failure, I'll probably leave this country and never come back and I
SPEAKER 1: But Hughes' detractors weren't just critical of management of the project. Many doubted that this huge wooden
aircraft would ever take to the skies.
The government didn't believe that it would actually fly.
SPEAKER 1: The only way for Hughes to justify the delays and prove his critics wrong is to test the plane.
SPEAKER 5: A plane so surrounded by controversy that its tests are a headline drama, the $25 million flying boat. Many ask,
would the giant ever fly?
SPEAKER 1: November 2nd, 1947, Long Beach Harbor, California. Howard Hughes is at the helm of the Spruce Goose,
preparing for a series of taxi tests intended to demonstrate just the aircraft's engines and steering capacity. No
one suspects that Hughes is going to use these tests to see if the Spruce Goose will fly.
On the third taxi test, he asked for flaps down. And that was an indication he was going to try to fly the airplane.
SPEAKER 1: It's the moment of truth. Will the Spruce Goose lift off?
SPEAKER 6: 200 tons are airborne, 70 feet off the water. She stays for a mile. $23 million worth of airplane has answered a lot
of committee questions. It can fly.
It was a complete shock and surprise because no one believed that it would actually fly and Howard Hughes
proved them all wrong.
SPEAKER 1: But surprisingly, the amazing plane's first flight is also its last. Hughes buys the aircraft back from the
government and stores it out of sight at a cost of $1 million a year until his death 33 years later. So why did it
never fly again?
There was speculation on the day that it flew that Howard Hughes heard the tail crack a little bit, which would
possibly mean that the tail could fall off.
SPEAKER 1: Whether or not the plane could fly for a sustained period of time remains a mystery. What is certain is that the
war was over, the cargo capacity of the Spruce Goose was no longer needed, and Hughes had cleared his name.
While the Spruce Goose failed to fulfill its wartime mission, its successful flight did send a message that resonates
to this day.
The Spruce Goose is inspiring because it proves what someone can do when they have a dream and when they
don't give up because Howard Hughes never did give up.
SPEAKER 1: And today, Howard Hughes' massive marvel of aeronautical engineering continues to inspire visitors at the
Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. Over 2000 miles away at the Field Museum in
Chicago, Illinois, a different kind of giant has raised a 67 million year old question, what was life like for the
Tyrannosaurus Rex? Coming up on Mysteries at the Museum.
Chicago, Illinois, rising from the shores of Lake Michigan. This stunning metropolis is not only a hub of business
and industry, it's also a center of Science and culture. And the Field Museum of Natural History is its star
attraction. Every year, over one million visitors pour through its doors. By far, most people come to see this, the
remains of the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found.
When you walk up to the skeleton, you're sort of just impressed by the sheer size of the T-rex.
SPEAKER 1: The skeleton measures 40 and 1/2 feet from the end of its nose to the tip of its tail. And covered in flesh muscle
and fat, this T-rex would have weighed over 6 tons. Peter Mackovicky, the museum's curator of dinosaurs, is an
expert on these prehistoric predators.
Tyrannosaurus Rex means tyrant lizard king. T-rex was without a doubt the top meat-eating animal in its
ecosystem. There was nothing that even approached it in size.
SPEAKER 1: This particular specimen, nicknamed Sue, was discovered by a volunteer geologist named Sue Hendrickson in
South Dakota in 1990. On display at the Field Museum since 2000, this skeleton is exceptional not just for its
enormous size, but because when it was found, it was almost entirely complete.
Well, the discovery of Sue has really sort of been a landmark in the study of T-rex. We're missing very little of
that skeleton. And because of her completeness, she actually serves as this Rosetta Stone. We can actually study
her and the biology of T-rex in ways that we can't do for any other specimen.
SPEAKER 1: This makes sue the key piece of evidence in unraveling a mystery that has puzzled scientists since the very first
T-rex fossil was discovered back in 1902, what was life like for the world's largest prehistoric predator? 67 million
years ago, T-rex is the undisputed king of the prehistoric food chain. But what was its life really like? Did it do
battle with other predators, did these animals live into old age, and how did they eventually die? The answer to
these age old questions lie locked inside the amazing skeleton on display at the Field Museum.
SPEAKER 7: Some of the traits we see in the skeleton of Sue sort of tell the story of her life. For example, on the other side of
her body on the right side, we have a series of three ribs that have been broken and rehealed from a bad injury.
SPEAKER 1: This indicates that even though she was at the top of the food chain, life for Sue was not easy.
As one of my colleagues likes to say, she's a bit of a train wreck. And one of the reasons probably is T-rex just
had a very rough and tumble lifestyle. They were the top predators, and as we know from living predators today,
it's not an easy lifestyle. There are a lot of injuries incurred.
SPEAKER 1: Sue's vertebrae are so delicate that they have been replaced by plaster castings in the museum display. But a
close examination of the original bones reveals another surprise. Her scars weren't just caused by the hard
knocks of life as a carnivore, it seems she also suffered from the afflictions of old age.
So these are two of Sue's tail vertebrae that have actually fused together. In between them, they're covered by
this huge mass of very gnarly-looking bone. We think this looks very much like arthritis due to both a
combination of injury and old age.
SPEAKER 1: This begs the question, exactly how old was this T-rex?
Turns out that's something we can figure out by looking at growth structures in their bones.
SPEAKER 1: Like tree stumps, dinosaur bones are marked by annual growth rings. By examining specially prepared cross
sections of one of Sue's rib bones, scientists can actually count these rings and calculate Sue's age.
Given these counts, we have her pegged at being 28 years old, give or take a year.
SPEAKER 1: At 28, Sue would have been almost at the end of the natural lifespan of a T-rex.
T-rex was simply not a very long-lived animal. 30 years was probably very close to the maximum lifespan it
would have had.
SPEAKER 1: All these findings paint a picture of a life punctuated by predatory violence, illness, and injury. But a mystery
remains. Sue appears to have survived her injuries and lived to a ripe old age of 28. So what ultimately killed this
gigantic and deadly predator, leaving her remains perfectly intact to be discovered 67 million years later? The
evidence points to an unlikely suspect.
She has a series of openings or holes towards the back of her jaw.
SPEAKER 1: And astonishingly, these small holes are very possibly the cause of Sue's death.
We think these were caused by some type of infection, perhaps a fungus or a parasite.
SPEAKER 1: And any prolonged painful affliction affecting Sue's jaws would have made it almost impossible for her to eat.
This means that this 6-ton 13-foot high, battle-scarred monster may have simply starved to death.
The real fantastic thing about having a complete skeleton that is as well preserved as Sue's is that we can sort of
get a glimpse of what the life of one particular T-rex might have been like.
SPEAKER 1: While scientists like Mackovicky continue to examine the evidence locked inside this skeleton to recreate the
prehistoric life of T-rex, visitors who want their own glimpse 67 million years into the past need only visit the Field
Museum in Chicago to take in the awesome spectacle of Sue. While Sue's skeleton paints a picture of a
prehistoric life, not far from Chicago in Canton, Ohio, a simple garment with a perplexing imperfection reveals a
mystery behind a tragic and untimely presidential death. The story unfolds next on Mysteries at the Museum.
Canton, Ohio. Over 100 years ago, President William McKinley called this Midwestern city home. Today, it houses
a museum dedicated to his life and work as the 25th president of the United States. It is the William McKinley
Presidential Library and Museum. McKinley is best known as a progressive president who served at the dawn of
the 20th century. But among the museum's mementos detailing this time, there rests a far more intimate
artifact, a nightshirt once worn by McKinley that bears a mysterious mark, a strange tear down its back.
SPEAKER 8: The tear is relatively neat and straight but doesn't appear to be cut. It appears to have possibly been torn.
SPEAKER 1: How did this tear come to be, and what is the significance of this simple garment? These answers lie within the
mystery of President McKinley's final moments, a tragic demise that changed the history of the presidency.
September 6th, 1901. President McKinley and his wife Ida tour the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York,
a world's fair with a groundbreaking display of the newest technologies of the day.
SPEAKER 8: Some of the highlights included electricity. There were 200,000 8-watt light bulbs on display. And of course, to
most people, electricity was brand new.
SPEAKER 1: But among the most eagerly anticipated exhibits is one of Thomas Edison's latest machines, a device that can
peer through the human body. It is the X-ray machine. As McKinley tours the exhibits, he is unaware that lurking
in the crowd is his murderer, a staunch anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. At precisely 4:07 PM, McKinley is
greeting a line of well-wishers when he extends his hand to Czolgosz whose right hand is bandaged with a
SPEAKER 8: The security around McKinley was lax by today's standards. Today, it would be virtually impossible to get that
close to the president.
SPEAKER 1: Concealed inside the handkerchief is a deadly weapon, a 32-caliber Iver revolver.
SPEAKER 8: The gun went off twice. The first bullet struck the president between the second and third rib, the second bullet
went into the abdomen and pierced the stomach twice.
SPEAKER 1: While the shooter is taken into police custody, the president is rushed into the expo's emergency hospital. Almost
immediately, the medical team is beset by challenges. The first bullet comes out easily, but the second bullet has
pierced the president's stomach and is lodged somewhere in the muscles of his lower back. The depth of the
wound combined with the president's sizable girth make it almost impossible to locate.
McKinley's doctors face a difficult decision, continue searching for the second bullet and risk injuring the
president further, or leave the bullet and hope that it does not cause a lethal infection. They opt to stitch his
wounds and leave the bullet inside the president. Ironically, all the while, Thomas Edison's X-ray machine, a new
technology with the potential to find the bullet, is readily available.
SPEAKER 8: Edison contacted the medical team and offered the use of his X-ray machine which was on display at the Pan-
SPEAKER 1: But McKinley's doctors do not want to take any unnecessary risks.
SPEAKER 8: It hadn't been extensively tested, and certainly, they would not be interested in experimenting on the president
of the United States.
SPEAKER 1: For the next few days President McKinley lies recovering in bed, dressed in his monogrammed nightshirt and
appears to be making a full recovery. But seven days after the shooting, his condition suddenly deteriorates. Is
this when McKinley's night shirt is cut?
SPEAKER 8: We do believe that it had something to do with emergency procedures that might have occurred from surgery.
SPEAKER 1: What is certain is that at 2:15 AM on September 14, 1901, the 25th president of the United States dies from
complications related to an assassin's bullet. The nation grieves deeply. But from this terrible tragedy, some good
does come. The newly formed Secret Service is mandated to provide around the clock security for all sitting
presidents. And over the next decade, use of the X-ray machine becomes commonplace in the nation's hospitals.
And the last reminder of what happened during McKinley's final hours is this monogrammed nightshirt with a
tear along the back stored here at the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Canton, Ohio. It is a
testament to a life that might have been saved by the technology of a modern era that this president helped
usher in. Almost 90 years later in Boston, another shocking crime would take place. This one would leave no
victims, only four empty picture frames and a mystery. Who was behind the biggest art heist in American
history? Next on Mysteries at the Museum.
In Boston's upscale Back Bay neighborhood, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a perennial favorite for art
lovers. This mansion was once the opulent dwelling of a groundbreaking collector, the eponymous Isabella
Stewart Gardner. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Gardner amassed one of the most valuable private art
collections ever seen in this country. These works of art now make up the contents of the Gardner Museum.
SPEAKER 3: You can see a work by Michelangelo, you can see Rembrandt, Botticelli, Matisse. There's virtually no great
master that you can't see here.
SPEAKER 1: But hanging amid these fantastic works of art is a surprising display, four empty picture frames. Once the gilded
guardians of treasured works of art, these frames now hang as symbolic reminders of a shocking crime and a 20-
year-old hunt to find out who was behind the biggest art heist in US history. March 17, 1990, 8:00 PM. The
Gardner Art Museum closes its doors for the night and the museum's two security guards begin their rounds. Five
hours later, the guard stationed at the front entrance is alerted by a buzzing intercom at one of the museum
SPEAKER 3: Exactly at 1:24 AM, two police officers rang the buzzer and said that they were responding to a disturbance. The
guard almost reflexively I guess hit the buzzer.
SPEAKER 1: When the two officers enter the building, they begin acting strangely.
SPEAKER 3: One of the police officers tells the guard who's sitting at the desk, you look familiar to me. Let me see your
identification. He shows them the ID and he says, there's a warrant out for your arrest. Come up from behind
SPEAKER 1: The bewildered guard complies and the police immediately handcuff him. But when the second guard returns
from his rounds, the police arrest him too.
SPEAKER 3: The other guard protests and says, why am I being arrested? There's no warrant out for me.
SPEAKER 1: When the police take both men to the museum basement, bind and gag them, it becomes devastatingly clear to
the guards what's actually happening.
SPEAKER 3: Once the guards are subdued, the thieves inform the guards, gentlemen, this is a robbery.
SPEAKER 1: With the guards out of the way, the two thieves have nothing standing between them and one of the most
valuable art collections in the country. As the museum's director of security, Anthony Amore has studied every
move the thieves made on that fateful night.
Right now we're entering the Dutch room and the second floor. Unfortunately, the first thing that you notice are
empty frames that held the most valuable missing paintings in the world.
SPEAKER 1: The Dutch room houses some of the most expensive works in the Gardner's collection. It is believed to be the
first stop in the heist.
It appears that they went for the Storm on the Sea of Galilee first. The frame was taken from the wall, dropped to
the floor, and they used a very sharp knife to cut the canvas from the frame.
SPEAKER 1: Targeting this famous painting by the 17th century Dutch master Rembrandt seems to suggest that the robbers
were professional art thieves who knew exactly what they were after.
Rembrandts have been stolen an incredible number of times. And oftentimes because people think Rembrandt
equals money and not be able to ransom these back to insurance or sell them on the black market, Rembrandt is
a very attractive target for thieves.
SPEAKER 1: The thieves take a total of six artworks including three Rembrandts from the Dutch room before moving on. But
surprisingly, the works of art they target next seem to totally contradict the theory that they were seasoned pros.
SPEAKER 8: We're now standing in the short gallery, and the items that are taken from this room are really off the beaten
path. We're talking about five drawings by Degas.
SPEAKER 1: Drawings that happen to be some of the least valuable pieces in the entire museum. This would be a highly
unusual move for professional art thieves, especially ones who aren't in a rush.
From the time the thieves entered the museum until the time they left, 81 minutes elapsed, which is
unprecedented in museum theft history by a long shot.
SPEAKER 1: So with almost an hour and a half to take anything they want from this priceless collection of over 2,500 objects,
why did these thieves seek out five of the least valuable artworks in the museum?
I can't imagine why a person who has 80 minutes in a museum would walk by a Botticelli, two Raphaels to take
SPEAKER 1: One possibility is that the thieves were in fact small-time crooks out of their league in the world of high end art.
Or could this strange behavior actually be a clue in this perplexing whodunit?
The items taken from this room are so unusual that a lot of people think, well, this must be the key, this must be
why they really came.
SPEAKER 1: Could these robbers actually be working to order?
It's possible that some rich billionaire somewhere had this hankering for a specific painting and sent out a couple
of cat burglars to go do this master crime.
SPEAKER 1: But to this day, no one knows for sure. All that is certain is that by the time the thieves finish their spree through
the museum and the security guards are discovered at 8:15 in the morning after the robbery, the unthinkable
has happened, a grand total of 13 works of art, altogether worth a staggering $300 million, have been lifted in
the biggest art heist in US history. And the two impostors who perpetrated the crime have disappeared without a
trace. 20 years later, the case is still unsolved.
You'd be hard pressed to find a mystery that's bigger than this one because nobody can say with certainty that
they know who did it or where they are today.
SPEAKER 1: Even a long standing reward of $5 million has failed to turn up the robbers or the missing art. And for the staff
and patrons of the Gardner Art Museum, this is the real tragedy behind this shocking crime.
$5 million is the largest private reward ever offered for anything, and we are very eager to pay it, believe it or
not, because we know that we have an obligation to make Mrs. Gardner's collection whole again.
SPEAKER 1: Until that day, these four gilded picture frames will hang empty in the Gardner Museum of Art in Boston,
Massachusetts as a reminder of the treasured works of art that were taken in the biggest and most brazen art
heist in American history. 500 miles South in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a reminder of a very different sort lies
locked away. It is a memento, not of an audacious crime, but of a devastating tragedy, one that stunned the
nation over 120 years ago. Still to come on Mysteries at the Museum.
Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Set in a river basin deep in the lush Allegheny Mountains, this small city of 20,000 is a
living monument to the boom and bustle of America's industrial heyday. Established in the early 19th century,
Johnstown exploded into a thriving coal and steel town within decades, becoming home to immigrants from all
over the world who flocked to the city to man its mines and mills. Today, Johnstown has several museums
dedicated to preserving its rich cultural and industrial heritage.
One such museum, a century-old library, is host to a unique artifact from Johnstown's early days. It is a 19th
century brass pocket watch, a symbol of Johnstown's growing prosperity. Park Ranger Doug Richardson has
studied this artifact closely.
Many people in Johnstown in 1889 had pocket watches like these.
SPEAKER 1: Made by Elgin Watches of Chicago, this hand-wound timepiece would have been a common accessory for men of
the time. So why is it here? What role did this simple watch play in Johnstown's early history? The answer lies in
the time frozen on the watch's face, 4:11, moments after an unprecedented tragedy would scar Johnstown
forever. May 31, 1889, 7:00 AM. A heavy rain that moved into Johnstown overnight is rapidly building into a
For many living in this area, they had never witnessed such a rainstorm.
SPEAKER 1: By afternoon, the low lying parts of town near the convergence of the Conemaugh and Stony Creek rivers are
starting to flood.
It had been a terrible winter and a terrible spring, so by the end of May, the ground just literally could not hold
another drop of water.
SPEAKER 1: But a bigger problem is brewing 14 miles away on a mountain ridge 450 feet above the city. The earthen dam
holding back Lake Conemaugh is in serious distress.
Water started to rise at least an inch every 10 minutes on the face of the dam. There were some places where
leaks were starting to form.
SPEAKER 1: Rebuilt in the site of an old reservoir to create a pleasure lake and country club for rich industrialists from
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the South Fork dam had long been a source of anxiety for area residents.
When the South Fork Fish and Hunting Club bought the property, the dam had a big hole in it.
SPEAKER 1: It is commonly believed that the club had done a haphazard job of repairing this hole. And now with record
rainstorms overloading the lake, the poorly repaired dam can no longer bear the weight of the rising water.
And water started to break away. Chunks of the structure would start tumbling down the front, and then the hole
just started getting bigger and bigger.
SPEAKER 1: At 3:10 on May 31, 1889, the unthinkable happens, the dam collapses completely. Down the valley in Johnstown,
residents, busy fighting back the swollen rivers, have no idea that 20 million tons of water traveling at 40 miles
an hour are barreling towards them.
And there's an elevation drop of over 400 feet. So almost every step along the way, the head of the flood became
larger and more intense.
SPEAKER 1: And with each passing mile, the thundering wall of water picks up dirt, debris, rocks, and even metal. Now only
moments from striking Johnstown, the residents only warning of what is heading their way is a bone-chilling
Many recalled feeling as if what was coming upon them was the day of judgment that they had heard about in
SPEAKER 1: When the flood finally reaches the center of town at 4:11 PM, it is a 36-foot high wall of wreckage and debris.
And when it came into town, this one large wave split into three and started to cover the entire town. And as the
debris came in contact with houses and buildings and barns, it just completely devastated and destroyed them.
SPEAKER 1: The only protection afforded the town is the stone rail bridge which remains standing. But its unmoving presence
creates a bottleneck, and as the water washes past, bodies pile up against the stone barrier along with the debris
from the town. When the waters recede and the casualties are counted, the death toll is astounding. Over 2,200
people are killed, including 90 whole families and 400 children under the age of 10. When word gets out about
the devastation, the nation is stunned.
Many people in the United States identified with the people of Johnstown, the steelworkers, the railroaders, the
coal miners, and they sent over $3 and 1/2 million in cash and goods to Johnstown.
SPEAKER 1: But despite this monumental outpouring of support from across the country, it takes over five months to restore
basic services to the town and even longer to clean up the wreckage and recover the dead. One month into this
gruesome process, rescuers enter the mangled remains of the general store. In the basement they find the
prostrate body of a local businessman, Mr. Andrew Young.
Near his body, a shiny golden item catches their eye. It's his watch. It's hand stopped at 4:11, the exact moment
when Mr Young and his watch were swept beneath the waters of the devastating flood along with over 2,000
others. Over 120 years later, among the vast collections detailing the Johnstown Flood, these hands of time
remain frozen, a haunting reminder of the tragedy that devastated a town but brought the nation together in a
show of support for those who lost everything in one of the worst flooding disasters in American history.
58 years later, America would be all consumed with another crisis, the Second World War. But out of this dark
and devastating episode, an invention would be born, an object that would bring joy to millions for decades to
come. The true tale up next on Mysteries at the Museum. Rochester, New York. Not far from the shores of Lake
Ontario sits a museum dedicated solely to the study of play. Christopher Bensch is the vice president of
collections at the Strong National Museum of Play. The museum has a hall of fame, a tribute to toys that have
become classics. But the artifacts aren't all fun and games. One item here, a childhood favorite, was actually
conceived of during some of the darkest days of our history.
From World War came a toy that we still play with today.
SPEAKER 9: Everyone wants a Slinky.
SPEAKER 1: So how was the Slinky an accidental byproduct of America's involvement in a global war? The story starts over 60
years ago. 1943. World War II is raging. At home, Americans are doing their part to develop and build products to
help in the war effort. It's a massive effort that reaches from coast to coast. In a Philadelphia shipyard, an
engineer is hard at work. He's been hired by the US Navy to invent a stabilizing device for sensitive navigational
instruments aboard its ships.
A mechanical engineer in Philadelphia was looking for a solution to how to cushion maritime instruments from the
kinds of vibration and action that the ocean brings.
SPEAKER 1: This engineer was a man named Richard James, who was convinced that a torsion spring was the answer to this
wartime problem. But his research wasn't going well.
None of his Springs did the trick. None of them worked correctly. He failed dismally to find a solution to the
problem. But he kept his springs on hand.
SPEAKER 1: James may not have solved the Navy's conundrum, but out of his apparent failure was born invention.
And one day in a classic moment of ingenuity and chance, he knocked one of the springs off the shelf above his
desk. And lo and behold, it walked down on its own.
SPEAKER 1: Richard is captivated.
This was one of those classic Eureka moments. If it had been a cartoon, a light bulb would have gone on over his
SPEAKER 1: After pushing the coil off a stack of books a few more times and getting the same result, Richard knows it isn't a
fluke. Fascinated by this walking spring, he takes it home to show his wife Betty. She immediately suspects it
could be an excellent toy.
She was especially persuaded when they showed it to some of the neighborhood kids who loved it.
SPEAKER 1: The couple decides to make and market the springs as a children's toy. Their only problem, what to call this
unusual slinking spring.
Betty believed in it. She got out the dictionary. She leafed especially through those S pages of the dictionary, and
the word that she seized on was none other than Slinky.
SPEAKER 1: The revolutionary toy had a winning design, a name, and was ready to take post-war America by storm.
Richard and Betty James decided to manufacture slinkies all on their own. And during the day, Richard would
manufacture them. He'd bring them home to his wife Betty to package them.
SPEAKER 1: Just before Christmas 1945, they debut the new toy at Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia.
They gave him the opportunity to demonstrate the slinky in their toy department.
SPEAKER 1: And within 90 minutes of starting his display, the entire inventory of 400 units is sold out. The slinky is a hit. But
its success is truly ensured in the 1960s when catchy TV ads begin beaming into American homes.
TV advertising directly to children was key for slinky's success in the 1960s, especially the classic jingle that still
rings in my ears from all those early slinky commercials, what walks downstairs alone or in pairs and makes a
SPEAKER 10: A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing. Everyone knows it's slinky.
SPEAKER 1: Today, the slinky remains one of the most popular toys on the market with over a quarter of a billion slinkies sold
around the world since its invention in 1943.
It's an icon, it's got longevity, it encourages creative play. It's something that's really powerful and kind of
sending adults back to their own childhood when they see or feel or hear a slinky.
SPEAKER 1: For those who want to wonder at its curious history and enjoy the fantastic fun of the slinky, curators at the
Strong National Museum of play in Rochester, New York will gladly oblige. Flying ships to slinking springs, long
lost giants and unsolved crimes, these are the Mysteries at the Museum. First, thin strips of birch veneer were
laminated then glued together to create light, flexible, super strong composite panels. These panels were then
nailed into place on the airplane's raw birch frame, then heat was applied to mold the panels into shape.
They actually put nails in to hold everything together until the glue dried and the heat was able to cure the glue
and the shape was able to take effect.
SPEAKER 1: But this process required an enormous number of nails.