Tag Archives: PBS

Piece of Titanic found by PBS’s History Detectives

Did you watch last night’s episode of History Detectives on PBS? If not, you missed an incredible story.

As a historian, I have watched History Detectives for years. This season, its 10th, History Detectives has undergone a refresh, but the central theme remains: investigating history. For those not familiar with the show, the public is encouraged to submit stories and objects related to history that they are unsure about. The show sends an expert to research the story/object. Sometimes the story is confirmed and sometimes it is not, but either way, the public is educated about historical events through the show’s research.

History Detectives has found some incredible objects in the past including an original signature from Abraham Lincoln and a piece of Amelia Earhart’s airplane (the Electra she crashed in Hawaii on her first attempt to circumnavigate the globe). Last night, History Detectives may have found one of the most interesting pieces history.

The story began with as simple picture frame and competing family stories. The frame is carved from wood from a shipwreck, but two cousins could not agree on which shipwreck. They both knew grandfather was an engineer aboard a transatlantic cable laying vessel, but they agreed on little more. One believed that their grandfather was aboard a vessel that came to rescue of the Lusitania and the other believed he was a part of the recovery effort following the sinking of the Titanic. It was up to History Detectives to see who, if either, was correct.

Elyse Luray was sent to investigate. She began by having the wood examined by and dendrochronologist. Dendrochronology is the use of tree rings to date wooden objects. The tree rings in the frame were measured and compared to samples of wood from Ireland (where Titanic was built) and Scotland (where Lusitania was built). The piece matched the patterns of Ireland, and it appeared the Titanic was more likely.

History Detectives was able to prove that the cousins’ grandfather was aboard the Minia from January to June 1912 and would have taken part in the recovery effort after the Titanic disaster. They were also able to locate a relative of another member of the Minia‘s crew who had a similarly carved frame (although not nearly as large and likely from a different type of wood). A visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Canada sealed the deal. They had another frame on display and could prove that it was carver aboard the Minia that likely carved both frames from wood off the Titanic.


Grand Staircases highlighted in Red – CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE

So what part of the ship was the wood from? The incredible suggestion came from Titanic historian and artist Ken Marcshall. Marschall noticed the slight arc of the wood and the groves on its underside. He suggested that this piece of wood was likely from a bannister of the Grand Staircase. But the Titanic had two Grand Staircases. History Detectives did not explain this fact well enough, but was likely a piece of the bannister from the Aft Grand Staircase because it was near the section of the ship that split in two.

I was exciting by this episode and found myself staring at this piece of the Titanic and imaging what it would have been like for Titanic‘s passengers that night. This is an important find because no pictures of Titanic‘s Grand Staircases exist. All the images of the Grand Staircase that are available are of the Olympic’s Grand Staircase. Because of this find, we now know how the bannister was carved, the type of wood used (Oak), and the color of the wood. This is truly an incredible find, and the episode reminded me of why I became a Historian.

Please take the time to watch the episode and witness this find for yourself (it is the first story on the episode). I am unable to embed the episode into this post, but you can watch the full episode HERE.


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The Red Green Show

For over a decade I have enjoyed watching the Canadian television program The Red Green Show. The series concluded in 2005 after running for 15 seasons and 300 episodes. The series also produced a number of PBS specials and a movie, Duct Tape Forever. More importantly, the show has a loyal following. So much so that the show’s star, Red Green (played by Steve Smith) continues to tour the United States and Canada.

The series focuses on a group of lodge members on Possum Lake in Canada. The lodge, Possum Lodge, is famous for its motto, “Quando omni flunks moritati,” which is latin for “When all else fails, play dead.” The real asset to the series is its cast of characters which includes Red Green, his nephew Harold (Patrick McKenna), sewage expert Winston Rothschild III (Jeff Lumby), thrift shop owner Dalton Humphry (Bob Bainborough), ex-con Mike Hammer (Wayne Robson), explosives enthusiast Edgar K. B. Montrose (Graham Greene), forest ranger and novice animator Ranger Gord (Peter Keleghan), local animal control officer Ed Frid (Jerry Schaefer), master story craftsman Hap Shaughnessy (Gordon Pinsent), and other characters that have come and gone throughout the series. As a running joke, there are a number of mythical characters including Old Man Sedgwick, Moose Thompson, Stinky Peterson, Junior Singleton, Buster Hatfield, and Red’s wife Bernice. Although these characters are never seen on screen, their actions are often central to an episode’s story.

The show has been called a sitcom and sketch variety. It is divided into segments including “Adventures with Bill,” “Ask the Experts,” “If it Ain’t Broke, You’re not Trying,” “The Possum Lodge Word Game,” and many others. The most popular segment, one that is in every episode, is “Handyman Corner.” In this segment, Red explains how the average man can have all of life’s luxuries by building it yourself. All you need is a pile of junk (or an old car), an idea, and – the handy man’s secret weapon – Duct Tape. Red then builds his version of a snow plow or a home car wash. At the end of each segment, Red proclaims, “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy!” Usually as his latest project proves to be less then successful.

The show has been criticized for its lack of women and many of character’s attitudes toward their wives. Clearly, this is a show geared for a male audience. Red’s friendly talks at his desk are generally geared toward middle-aged or older men, but there have been a few segments directed at women. Possum Lodge is a place for the men of the show to escape their work, children, and most importantly, their wives. At the end of each episode, however, Red concludes by addressing his wife directory and ensuring her that he will be home after the lodge meeting.

The show has gained a cult-like following over the last two decades. It has fans around the world. Although it was on PBS in the United States, it was a nationally syndicated show in Canada. Today, The Red Green Show continues. Steve Smith tours the United States and Canada as Red Green, fans can buy series merchandise and DVDs, and the show continues to run on many PBS stations. Early this year, however, it was announced that fan would have yet another option with the entire series being available on YouTube. All 300 episodes of The Red Green Show have been uploaded and can be watched online…for FREE! It is a great way to discover, or rediscover, the classic TV show.

As a treat to my readers, you do not have to go to YouTube to discover the show. I have included a great episode from the show’s 10th season entitled “DNA All the Way.”

Follow Red Green and his tour at his website, on Facebook, or on Twitter. And enjoy all 300 episodes of The Red Green Show on YouTube.

And remember, keep your stick on the ice.

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Public History Series: Documentary Film

While museums are a very common way for the public to experience history in the field, they experience history in their living rooms by watching historical documentaries.  These are often produced in cooperation with historians and public historians to ensure their accuracy.  There is, however, a very special technique required to take history from a book and put it on PBS or the History Channel.

Historical documentaries can come in two forms.  The first is the traditional “Based on Historical Events” film.  These films are a nightmare for historians because while historical sources are used in the production of the film, there is a creative twist to it that detracts from its accuracy.  In a film about George Washington, for example, he may be depicted talking with the members of his Cabinet.  We have an idea what was discussed, but we do not know the full dialogue, so that is filled in.  Other issues, architecture, costuming, etc. all add up.  If done correctly, everything would be period, but that is not always the case.  This is a popular form of documentary and they are effective at engaging the public.  They encourage a small portion of the audience to do further research, but the majority take the documentary film as fact.

The other type of documentary is the kind you are used to seeing on the History Channel or PBS.  That is the story of an event being told using actual images or videos from the event with historians commentating.  Perhaps one of the most famous filmmakers of this type is Ken Burns.  His series on the Civil War changed the way people thought about documentaries.  He used the right mix of reenactment, interpretation, and historical images to bring the Civil War to life.  That is not to say that every historian loves Burns’s work, in fact, a lot of historians hate him.  However, he does make entertaining films, and does it without sacrificing integrity.

So the next time you are watching a documentary on PBS or the History Channel, pay close attention to how well it is at telling a story and whether or not they are allowing the history to tell itself.  Also, watch the credits and notice how many historians worked on the project.  The History Channel and PBS have historians on staff to review the films before they are aired, but each project will have its own historians involved.  Be aware, all documentaries have some form of bias and that is usually easy to detect.  Once the viewer looks past the bias, there is an important story being told and it is up to historians and public historians to ensure the stories are told accurately.

NOTE:  This is the seventh in a ten part series on Public History.  The posts from the series will be presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays from now until April 6.  A wide variety of aspects will be covered and I will try to present an unbiased account of the positive and negative aspects of each subcategory of Public History.

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