Ever hear a story that seems so implausible but is true? Imagine these stories reveal items from some of our culture and history that have gone missing. Perhaps you could help find them. If every picture is worth a thousand words, then according to Brad Meltzer’s Lost History, which makes its debut tonight on the H2 channel, every item contains a story of a million words.
If you’re not familiar with Meltzer, he is a bestselling novelist, comic book writer (JLA, Green Arrow, Identity Crisis) and author of kids books. He also hosted a series on the History Channel called Decoded, which spent two seasons verifying or debunking real American mysteries and conspiracies. Now he is launching a new series through History’s sister channel, H2 called Lost History, which looks at solved and unsolved cases of a variety of missing items tied to our history. Think of it like Unsolved Mysteries of the lost and found, but with artifacts instead of people.
Each episode runs an hour long and is divided into three segments, two featuring an item that is currently missing, and another that was lost and eventually found. In other words, Lost History isn’t just a series where all of these lost pieces of history are rattled off, because the recovery of such items have stories of their own. The segments featuring missing items have a call to action at the end, with a hotline for viewers to call if they have the item or information leading to the recovery of these items with a $10,000 reward.
“If you’re going to try to convince people that they can find it, you have to prove to them that’s true,” Meltzer said about telling stories of found objects. “Inevitably, it’s always found by regular people. Of course, the FBI gets called in but it’s someone keeping their eye open. For someone watching the show, they get to see their power.”
The first episode explores the missing case of the American flag that was flown at Ground Zero, raised by New York City’s finest firemen. The scene was photographed and made into the iconic image we’ve all come to use to help many heal from the 9/11 attacks. Other items featured stolen swords from one of our dead presidents and a tommy gun stolen and used by the notorious bank robber and gangster, John Dillinger. The show tells the significance of the said items, then tries to track down reliable sources closest to the disappearance.
Should someone actually call in with a real vital piece to the recovery of a missing item, Meltzer said that they will do all that they can to bring the news in a future segment of the show, but he is extremely realistic about that process. The first season of Lost History has almost finished filming and Meltzer wants to make sure that information coming in is properly verified and it will take a lengthy time.
“We’ll want to do it right and do it properly, and authenticate it (to make sure we’re) not fooled by anything, it’s going to take time, and it should take proper time. The goal here is not to find any old thing. It’s to find real pieces of history that are missing. Inevitably in all these cases, people who find it, they don’t share it with anyone and eventually they die, and their families find it.”
“My personal opinion is from experience when we did Decoded, it’s just an onslaught of information at the beginning. Every person who has an old document in their attic suddenly calls in.”
The tone of the show came from Meltzer’s own outrage. When he started pitching this to History, two to three years ago, the network decided it wasn’t just going to be a TV show, it would be a mission to try and retrieve these items. Meltzer explains that at first people are surprised these items are missing, but as the stories unfold as to how they became lost and the quantity rises, shock turns to outrage.
“I was nervous that they would tell me how to tone it down,” Meltzer shared. “But to H2’s credit, they said, ‘We think this is how we can get it back. There needs to be a call to action. Otherwise no one’s going to do anything. We’re not just here to entertain, we’re here to get these items returned.’
Meltzer remarked how his book signings draws fans from all the corners of his projects, people drawn separately to either Decoded, his novels, his kids books or his comics, at some point all of those areas are discussed. “Whether they like it or not they’re going to get my take on history.”
That plays well into Lost History because it’s not just old artifacts. There are pieces of popular culture that would interest the history buff, the movie buff and the comic collectors alike. Current pieces like the Ground Zero Flag, James Bond’s Aston Martin, James Dean’s wrecked car, Jack Kirby’s lost art, Adolf Hitler’s albums, one of Marlon Brando’s Academy Awards and one thing Meltzer is hoping for that he wants to keep wraps on is a Superman-related item.
“James Dean’s car is hanging on someone’s wall apparently,” Meltzer told us. “First of all, if you have Dean’s wrecked car on your wall, you need a new decorator. Beyond that, it’s just disgusting. History doesn’t belong to just rich people who can afford to take it for themselves. History belongs to all of us.”
Some of the items are borderline bizarre. In one of the early episodes, Meltzer shared that one item that is missing turns the show into what seems like a 1950’s science fiction movie.
“We go searching for JFK’s brain.”
You read that right. “Let me say that again, slowly. JFK’s brain is missing.” Meltzer stressed.
“At one point in time after the assassination of JFK, there was someone walking around Washington DC with a metal can that had the President’s actual brain in it. You would think that with autopsies and forensic study and all the things you would want to know about someone who was hit in the head with a bullet, that we would’ve done studies on the brain itself and the government never did.”
“I was thinking that no way this was true. When you see what gets pulled out, you’re not going to believe it. You’re going to think that there’s no way this can be true. Not that we’re looking for someone to turn in a brain, right? That’s not what we want at the lost and found, but man, the call to action there is, someone at some point (and we think we’ve pinpointed the time it was taken) knows who did take it. When you see who the suspect is, it’s pretty fascinating.”
Meltzer has always dug into history in creative ways, using our nation’s history as the foundation to many of his thrillers. His “I am…” children books where he tells fresh stories of icons like Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln with whimsical illustrations. Each is a little twist on presenting history in a way that’s palatable and more effective than the dry, incomplete textbooks of yesteryear.
“I think what we do as a culture, history is a bunch of dates and facts you memorize,” says Meltzer. “History is actually nothing like that. History is a selection process and it chooses every single one of us every single day, and the only question is, do you hear the call?”
“To me, whatever it is I’m working on, that’s a call. It’s my chance to share with people the greatest stories of all. That’s why we keep telling them over and over, and it’s not because they’re famous people. It shows what we’re all capable of in our very best days. My novels, kids books, TV shows, and the comic books all have that same theme, it’s that power of that ordinary person to really affect us.”
One could criticize that the show is not revealing anything new if you dig hard enough, but what’s the fun in that? Plus to many out there, this show will enlighten to many out there who don’t know these items are missing at all.
“In comic books,” Meltzer added, “We all know that Jack Kirby has missing artwork. Anyone outside the comic book world is asking, ‘Who is Jack Kirby and what does it mean?’ Another example is the violin from the Titanic, which wasn’t something that James Cameron made up. They found the body of the guy who played it but never found his violin. If you’re a Titanic obsessive fan in the very best way, you know that was one of the important items (from the wreckage).”
It’s all about the fascinating stories that comes out of each segment and with more eyes becoming aware, the hope that in time, some of this lost history is found. The first episode of Brad Meltzer’s Lost HIstory premieres Friday, October 31 at 10PM EST/11PM PST on H2.