Mysteries at the Museum (2010) Episode Scripts

N/A - Yellow Fever Fiend, Angel in Bordeaux and Invention of Jaywalking

1 A group of hikers lost, then found People think that this is some kind of alien involvement.
A disease-spreading scoundrel This is a story of lies, deceit, and biological warfare.
and one man defies the Nazis.
With each signature, a human life was at stake.
These are the mysteries at the museum.
Kentucky, the Bluegrass State, produces 95% of the world's supply of bourbon.
And in the capital city of Frankfort is an institution that toasts the area's rich heritage, the Kentucky Historical Society.
Its collection includes a rifle owned by the infamous Hatfield Clan, a plaster cast of Daniel Boone's skull, and one of President Lincoln's pocket watches.
But among these artifacts tied to legendary names is a painting of a forgotten figure who played a big part in American history.
JONES: The artifact is about 28 inches by 35 inches.
It's made of wood that's been covered by varnish and gold paint.
You can clearly tell that this is a man of some importance and some wealth.
WILDMAN: The man in this portrait was the mastermind of a little-known attempt to assassinate a U.
S.
President.
This is a story of lies, deceit, and biological warfare.
WILDMAN: It's 1863, the American Civil War.
[ Gunshots ] The Union Army has the upper hand on the Confederates.
But as the story goes, there's one Southerner who thinks he can turn the tide of war in favor of the Rebels, prominent physician and expert on infectious diseases Dr.
Luke Blackburn.
He was a very educated man.
Blackburn was concerned that the South was losing, and he was willing to consider just about any idea to win the Civil War.
WILDMAN: Blackburn has devised a nefarious plot centered around a deadly illness, yellow fever.
Yellow fever was this terrible disease with lots of aches and pains, where you turn yellow as your liver and kidney functions fail.
And in the 19th century, there was no cure.
WILDMAN: Blackburn collects blankets and clothing from former patients infected with yellow fever.
He thinks that if he can get these soiled linens into the Union camps, the soldiers will contract the deadly disease, crippling the army.
Blackburn wanted to spread biological warfare.
WILDMAN: But that's not the end of Blackburn's devilish scheme.
He also wants to assassinate the most powerful man in America.
JONES: He had one last target in mind.
and that was Abraham Lincoln, WILDMAN: The doctor enlists a henchman named Godfrey Hyams to help carry out his sinister plan.
Hyams was a shifty and shady character who was willing to do a lot of things to make a buck.
WILDMAN: Blackburn promises to pay Hyams $100,000 to distribute trunks full of the infected clothes.
And he gave him strict instructions to deliver these to select American cities that are full of Union soldiers.
WILDMAN: And for the assassination of the president, he has prepared a special package.
It was a small case full of finely made white shirts.
WILDMAN: He instructs Hyams to take it to the White House and tell the guards it's a gift from one of Lincoln's admirers.
Blackburn bids Hyams farewell and waits for his murderous plot to unfold.
And in May 1864, he receives some welcome news.
A city occupied by Union troops, New Bern, North Carolina, has been hit by one of the worst outbreaks of yellow fever in American history.
Up to 2,000 people died in this outbreak.
WILDMAN: It seems that Blackburn's deadly plot is working.
He expects that, any day now, President Lincoln will be next.
If he succeeded in his plot to kill the president, it would bring down the entire Union government.
WILDMAN: But his optimism is short-lived.
Two months later, he receives a visit from his henchman, Hyams, who drops a bombshell.
JONES: Hyams says he refused to carry the shirts to Abraham Lincoln.
He felt that was too dangerous for him because, if he got caught, he could certainly be shot.
WILDMAN: Blackburn is outraged.
He refuses to pay Hyams the $100,000 he promised.
It's a critical miscalculation.
Hyams was determined to get revenge.
WILDMAN: Sure enough, in May 1865, Blackburn gets a knock at the door.
It's the police.
His co-conspirator has betrayed him.
According to the story, Hyams was so angry at not being paid that he ratted Blackburn out to the authorities.
Hyams agrees to testify in the United States about Blackburn in exchange for immunity and money.
WILDMAN: Blackburn is tried for murder.
However, because there is insufficient evidence, he is acquitted.
But in the eyes of the public, his guilt is clear.
JONES: When the story hits the papers, they call him the Yellow Fever Fiend.
They call him Dr.
Blackvomit.
WILDMAN: Blackburn dies in 1887.
At the time, it seemed he had indeed infected Union soldiers with yellow fever.
But 13 years later, a discovery reveals that the truth was very different.
In 1900, scientists discover that yellow fever cannot be spread by infected clothing.
And therefore, the outbreak at New Bern was purely coincidental.
What Dr.
Blackburn did not know is that yellow fever is a virus.
It is spread by a mosquito, and that is the only way that you get it.
WILDMAN: And today, this portrait of Dr.
Luke Blackburn, which remains on display at the Kentucky Historical Society, endures as a symbol of the controversial physician who was embroiled in the scandalous tale of deceit, disease, and death.
Los Angeles, California, is home to some of the most celebrated institutions in the country, including the Hollywood Heritage Museum, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and the Autry Museum of the American West.
But one establishment honors a darker chapter in world history, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.
It features a piano that belonged to famed European composer Alfred Sendrey, glasses and shoes from those who perished in concentration camps, and dolls made by a Holocaust survivor.
But among these deeply personal items is a small artifact that helped change the lives of thousands of people.
It's a heavy but worn paper with the patina of age.
On each page, there's a variety of fonts, very, very delicate print.
And last, there is a signature, faded with time but strong.
WILDMAN: This well-worn passport is linked to one of the most daring rescue attempts of all time.
HUTMAN: It was awe-inspiring.
It's a symbol of courage and salvation all at once.
WILDMAN: It's the 1930s, Southern France.
Diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes is working for the Portuguese Government.
His duties include issuing visas for people traveling from France to Portugal.
HUTMAN: Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a family man.
He was a religious man.
He was well-loved in his community.
WILDMAN: But on May 10, 1940, Mendes' world is turned upside down.
Hitler's troops invade and occupy Northern France.
Panic erupts across the country.
People are urgently trying to flee and get to a safe place outside of France altogether.
WILDMAN: Just days later, Mendes wakes to an astonishing sight.
He was witnessing throngs of people presenting themself to his office.
WILDMAN: The crowd is largely made up of Jews who are terrified that they will be sent to their deaths by the Nazis.
The refugees have come to Mendes in the hopes that he'll issue them a visa to travel to Portugal.
But Mendes has a problem.
The Portuguese government has issued an edict called Circular 14.
It blocks Jewish people and political dissidents from entering Portugal.
HUTMAN: It forbade the consulate offices from issuing visas or passports to those who were seeking to escape the brutalities of the Nazi regime.
WILDMAN: Mendes faces a grim dilemma.
If he does nothing, thousands of people could die.
But if he helps the refugees, he fears he'll lose his job or worse, be shot as a traitor by the invading Nazis.
It threw him into a moral conundrum.
Children, mothers, fathers, lives were hanging in the balance.
And the thing between their life and safety was him.
WILDMAN: So will Mendes put himself on the line to help the refugees escape? It's June 1940, France.
A Portuguese diplomat named Aristides de Sousa Mendes is working as the Consul General.
When the Nazis invade France, thousands of people attempt to seek passage through his home country, a move strictly forbidden by his government.
Now Sousa Mendes faces a desperate choice -- turn his back or grant the papers and risk his life.
Mendes weighs his options and makes a decision.
Ultimately, his conscience did not allow him to stand by.
He said that he would rather defy his government and land on the side of humanity.
WILDMAN: On June 17th, Mendes orders his staff to start issuing visas for the desperate refugees.
They work around the clock.
The diplomat even enlists his own family to help.
HUTMAN: He had one goal, which was to churn out as many visas as was humanly possible as quickly as possible.
With each signature, a human life was at stake.
WILDMAN: The operation runs for 2 weeks.
But then Mendes is stopped in his tracks.
He is summoned to Portugal to meet with government officials.
His actions have been exposed.
The government becomes aware that there's an extraordinary amount of refugees arriving in Portugal, all with one thing in common -- the signature of Aristides de Sousa Mendes.
WILDMAN: The reaction is severe.
Mendes loses his job, his title, and his reputation.
HUTMAN: He and his family were pariahs in the country and were seen as traitors, really.
They were stripped of not only what they had up to that point but of any possibility of achievement in that country in the future.
WILDMAN: Mendes eventually dies in 1954, impoverished and with his life in tatters.
But his actions were not fruitless.
His selflessness and courage is thought to have helped 30,000 people escape the Nazis.
In the wake of his death, his children campaigned tirelessly to restore his reputation and make his story known to the world.
Finally, in 1987, his valor is recognized.
HUTMAN: He was bestowed the Order of Liberty Medal by his government, the highest honor in his nation.
WILDMAN: Among the thousands of people he saved were the artist Salvador Dali and Margret and H.
A.
Rey, the husband and wife team behind Curious George.
His act goes down in history as perhaps the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust.
Today, this visa, signed with the name Aristides de Sousa Mendes, is a reminder of the courage of a single man who saved those who could not save themselves.
Munich, Germany.
Established in the 12th century, this bustling city is famous for its perfectly preserved medieval architecture.
But tucked away from the crowds is an establishment that celebrates modern-day achievements, the Deutsches Museum.
This sprawling institute maintains one of the largest collections of aircraft in Europe.
On display is a homemade flying machine built with motorcycle engines, a fuselage from one of the world's earliest airplanes, and a pedal-powered aircraft.
But amid these triumphs of aviation is an object with a dark tale to tell.
McCLOSKEY: It's a military green in color.
It has a wingspan of 60 feet.
It's got a huge propeller stuck on the front.
And it has quite a large glass cockpit.
It's a great, hulking object.
WILDMAN: This is an Antonov An-2 Colt, the largest single-engine biplane ever built.
This artifact recalls a fateful voyage that has baffled historians for decades.
McCLOSKEY: This is the story of one of the truly bizarre mysteries of the 20th century.
WILDMAN: February 20, 1959 -- Southwest Russia.
The Soviet military's search and rescue teams is undertaking a huge operation -- to find nine students who have gone missing while hiking in the Ural Mountains.
Nothing had been heard, and people were starting to get worried.
WILDMAN: The rescue team's leader, Colonel Georgy Ortyukov, has dispatched an Antonov An-2 biplane, just like the one on display at the Deutsches Museum.
The aircraft is assisted by a ground team that is combing through the difficult terrain.
After 6 days, the rescuers find something the hikers' tent.
And it's empty.
There was no sign of anybody there.
WILDMAN: But next to the abandoned shelter, they find their first clue -- clothes, hiking gear, and a camera.
Not only that, but the side of the tent has been mysteriously slashed open.
And there is a trail of footprints leading down the mountainside.
McCLOSKEY: It appeared that they had run away as fast as possible from the tent and left everything behind them.
WILDMAN: Ortyukov and his team follow the footprints for nearly a mile.
And then they make a chilling discovery the bodies of the hikers.
But that's not all.
They're almost naked, and their skin appears to be tinted orange.
It was a truly bizarre scene.
McCLOSKEY: At first sight, there was no external injuries.
Their bodies were stiff, looked as if they had all frozen to death.
It seemed strange that they should have run away, and nobody could understand why they hadn't taken enough clothing with them to at least keep warm.
WILDMAN: In search of answers, the rescuers take the hikers' bodies and belongings to the nearest town for analysis.
McCLOSKEY: The autopsies found that they'd died of massive internal injuries.
WILDMAN: But that's not all.
Some of the clothes are contaminated with high levels of radiation.
McCLOSKEY: There's no explanation for radioactivity.
[ Geiger counter clicking ] None of the clues were adding up.
WILDMAN: Investigators turned to the camera found at the scene.
And what they discover is a piece of evidence that's out of this world.
It's 1959 in the Ural Mountains of Russia.
A search party looking for a group of missing hikers makes a grisly discovery -- the hikers' dead bodies.
What's even more disturbing is that some of the corpses are found nearly naked and appear to be radioactive.
So what's the truth behind this mystery in the mountains? When investigators develop the film found in one of the hikers' cameras, they discover a piece of evidence that seems of another world.
McCLOSKEY: One of the final photographs is what appears to be a giant light orb falling from the sky.
Some people think that this is possibly some kind of alien involvement.
WILDMAN: When the case hits the press, it is proclaimed as one of the most compelling examples of a suspected alien encounter.
So were the hikers really abducted by extraterrestrials? In 2010, a group of Russian researchers reopen the case and outline a very different theory.
They believe the hikers were not killed by aliens but were victims of a Russian nuclear test.
One of the strongest lines of theory is that it was a Soviet military accident.
WILDMAN: According to the researchers, the Ural Mountain Range has been a testing site for the Soviet military since the early 1950s.
They argue that the strange orb captured on the camera's film was in fact a nuclear explosion and that, upon witnessing the blast, the hikers panicked and fled their tent in various states of undress.
The only reason you would've run away without clothes is if you thought you were going to die.
WILDMAN: Some suggest that the nuclear shock wave caused their severe internal injuries and that radiation turned their skin a strange shade of orange.
Despite this evidence, the Russian government has refused to review the case.
Today, this Antonov An-2 Colt biplane on display at the Deutsches Museum is a tragic reminder of an epic search that found more questions than answers.
Bridgeport, Connecticut, came to prominence during the Industrial Revolution, when thousands of ambitious Americans moved here for jobs in manufacturing.
Today, factories from the period still dot the landscape.
But there's one area attraction dedicated not to work but to entertainment -- The Barnum Museum.
Its collection celebrates the career of P.
T.
Barnum with painted circus wagons, a marble bust of a famous performer, and a bed owned by the smallest man on Earth, Tom Thumb.
But among these relics of the big top is a personal item that belonged to the legendary impresario himself.
MAHER: The object is 8 1/2 inches high.
It is a tan-beige color.
It has a silk lining.
But it also is slightly damaged from wear and time.
WILDMAN: This top hat recalls a unique and little-known chapter in the life of P.
T.
Barnum, one that tells of his unshakable quest to bring a notorious con man to justice.
This is a story of deception and the pursuit of truth.
WILDMAN: 1869 -- New York City.
A new religious movement is taking the country by storm.
It's called Spiritualism.
Advocates believe they can communicate with the souls of the dead, leading thousands of bereaved Americans to seek out mediums.
MAHER: More and more people were investing a large sum of money to have the message from their loved one.
WILDMAN: And one man is keen to cash in on the craze, 37-year-old photographer William Mumler.
Mumler offers a service the likes of which the world has never seen.
He claims that he can summon the dead to pose in a picture with their living relatives.
MAHER: It was a marvel.
Behind the sitter, you could see their loved one who departed this world.
WILDMAN: Mumler says that although the ghosts are invisible to the human eye, they show up in his photographs.
The public is enraptured by Mumler's chilling images.
And his grief-stricken customers pay exorbitant prices to see their dead relatives on film.
People fully and emotionally believed what they were seeing.
WILDMAN: But there's more to these ghostly photographs then meets the eye.
In fact, it's all a big trick.
It was a double exposure.
WILDMAN: Mumler's technique is to find a picture of someone who looks a bit like his client's dead relative and combines it with a photograph of his customer.
People believed what they wanted to see.
WILDMAN: Week after week, Mumler dupes hundreds of unsuspecting customers into parting with their hard-earned cash.
People wanted his spiritual photographs.
WILDMAN: It seems that nothing will stop the conman from getting filthy rich from his despicable scheme.
But little does the cunning photographer know he's about to meet his match in the form of the greatest showman on Earth.
It's 1869 -- New York.
Photographer William Mumler has made a fortune selling ghostly images to grieving customers.
He tells the bereaved that he can summon their dead relatives to pose in his photos.
But it's all just a cheap darkroom trick.
So will anyone expose this photographic fraud? New of Mumler's success reaches the greatest showman on Earth.
And who is that person? It's P.
T.
Barnum.
WILDMAN: P.
T.
Barnum is the most accomplished entertainer of his day.
He's made a name for himself delighting audiences with rare animals and curiosities from around the world.
Barnum runs his wild shows by a strict code of ethics.
Even though he exhibits these bizarre wonders, he never lies to his customers.
He let's them decide for themselves what's real and what's not.
MAHER: Barnum really crafted his life with the objective of being honest.
WILDMAN: When Barnum hears of Mumler's business, he immediately spots it as a cheap trick.
But what he finds most abhorrent is that Mumler is preying on innocent peoples' grief.
MAHER: Spiritual photography, Barnum truly believed, was taking advantage of the bereaved.
WILDMAN: So he vows to bring the photographer down.
He was going to reveal the truth and what was happening to the public.
WILDMAN: Barnum learns that Mumler is due to appear in court to answer a complaint made against him by a dissatisfied customer.
And to his delight, the prosecution asks him to speak in court.
For Barnum, it's the perfect opportunity to expose Mumler in the public eye.
The impresario gets to work preparing a very special presentation.
In April, Barnum presents the court with an incredible piece of photographic evidence.
MAHER: What was produced was a wonderful portrait of P.
T.
Barnum with Abraham Lincoln emerging right behind.
WILDMAN: Mumler and the jury are floored.
Surprise and shock reverberated in the court.
WILDMAN: Barnum reveals how easy it was to create the uncanny double exposure.
MAHER: The image of Abraham Lincoln was evidence that Mumler manipulated his photographs.
WILDMAN: Barnum's image and testimony exposes Mumler as a fraud.
And the photographer is soon laughed out of town.
MAHER: Mumler's reputation was tainted.
His practice closed up, and he moved from New York.
WILDMAN: Barnum's star, however, only rises.
In the wake of the trial, the impresario establishes his legendary circus and is hailed as a guardian of honest entertainment.
Barnum was deemed as a defender of the truth.
WILDMAN: And today, the crowning glory to the showman's outfit, his top hat, sits on display at the Barnum Museum, where it recalls the larger-than-life entertainer who exposed a despicable fraud.
New Orleans, Louisiana, the city's grand mansions, stately gardens, and historic French Quarter all date back to the 18th century.
But those seeking to experience a different slice of history can head to the National WWII Museum.
Its collection includes an amphibious landing boat, a 33-ton armored tank, and a four-engine bomber plane.
But in the midst of these enormous machines of war is a much smaller object.
DAVIS: The artifact is a metal cylinder.
It's about 4 feet tall by about 3 feet in diameter.
There's some black paint, but also there is the red color of corrosion.
WILDMAN: This steel keg once contained an ingredient that had the explosive power to change the course of history forever.
DAVIS: This is a story of patriotism, courage, sabotage, and the race to build the atomic bomb.
WILDMAN: February 27th, 1943 -- Nazi-occupied Europe.
A team of crack Allied commandos are headed to Norway on a top-secret mission -- to sabotage the Nazi's nuclear weapons program.
The Allies have intelligence that the German's have built a plant that will make a key ingredient for an atomic bomb.
It's called heavy water.
DAVIS: Heavy water was a vital component in a nuclear reaction.
It could significantly influence the course of the war.
WILDMAN: The Allies need to destroy the heavy water plant at all costs.
Leading the mission is 23-year-old Joachim Ronneberg.
DAVIS: Joachim Ronneberg is an explosives expert.
He was very skilled in techniques of marksmanship, camouflage skills, so he was the ideal special warfare operative.
WILDMAN: Ronneberg has a tricky task ahead of him.
DAVIS: The plant was well-defended by guards, floodlights, and a minefield.
It was extremely difficult to enter into the plant.
WILDMAN: The key to success will be a Norwegian mole who's working for the Allies.
On the night of the mission, the mole will unlock the doors to the basement so that Ronneberg and his team can slip inside the facility, plant the bombs, and get out unseen.
The fate of the free world could rest in their hands.
DAVIS: They prepared meticulously, but on the night itself, anything could happen.
WILDMAN: Just after midnight, Ronneberg and his men touched down in occupied Norway.
The air is bitterly cold.
But the frigid temperatures work to the team's advantage.
DAVIS: Most of the guards inside the plant remained under shelter and were not paying close attention to their duties.
WILDMAN: Ronneberg's group stealthily approaches the building.
But when they reach the basement doors, their plan is stopped in its tracks.
The doors were locked.
They were firmly shut.
WILDMAN: For reasons unknown, the mole hasn't unlocked the doors.
Ronneberg is at a loss.
DAVIS: Failure to get into the plant would alter the course of the war.
WILDMAN: So will Ronneberg and his men complete their dangerous mission, or will their plan blow up in their faces? It's 1943 in Nazi-occupied Norway.
Norwegian resistance fighter Joachim Ronneberg and a gang of brave saboteurs are on a mission to destroy a Nazi facility that contains heavy water, a key ingredient in making an atomic bomb.
According to their intel, an entrance to the Nazi plant will be left unlocked.
But when the group reaches the building, they find the doors are bolted shut.
So will Ronneberg and his men succeed, or is this mission impossible? Ronneberg and his men have to act fast.
They desperately search the grounds for another way in.
Then Ronneberg spies a small vent leading into the facility.
The team tentatively crawls through the chute.
They had no idea what might be waiting for them once they got into the production facility itself.
WILDMAN: By chance, they end up in an abandoned basement.
From there, they make their way to the chamber where the heavy water is stored.
There, they overpower a guard at gunpoint.
Ronneberg places the explosives around the heavy water barrels, like this one at the National WWII Museum, and sets the timer.
The men run out of the building and into the woods.
Moments later, there is a deafening explosion.
[ Explosion ] DAVIS: The operation was completely successful.
They knew they'd done something significant.
WILDMAN: Ronneberg and his men flee Norway and make their way to safety.
After the war, Ronneberg and his team are hailed as heroes for helping to cripple Germany's nuclear weapons program.
It was the perfect sabotage.
It's a tremendous example of what humans can achieve in the face of a very evil enemy.
WILDMAN: Today, this heavy water barrel at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans recalls a heroic band of saboteurs and the explosive plot to change the course of history.
San Francisco's iconic cable cars have shuttled passengers around town since 1873.
And helping to preserve this transportation heritage is the San Francisco Railway Museum.
On display is a fully restored vintage streetcar, a set of early road signs, and a farebox that dates back to the beginning of the last century.
But taking pride of place in the collection is one of the most iconic and ubiquitous transportation-related objects in America.
It's over 7 feet tall, weighs over 300 pounds, It has a green base, and it has a cylindrical head.
It has two glass lenses.
It's yellow and has signs that say, "Stop" and "Go.
" WILDMAN: This item recalls an epic battle between man and machine that transformed American street life.
AMSTER: This artifact is a reminder of a tumultuous time, a time a great change.
WILDMAN: What links this traffic light to a revolution on the roads? 1923 -- Los Angeles.
Like most American cities, L.
A.
is adapting to a new mode of transportation that's taking over the streets -- the automobile.
But while cars offer the promise of speed and convenience for drivers, for everyone else, it's a very different story.
Motorists barrel down streets crowded with vendors, horse-drawn carriages, trolleys, bicycles and people on foot.
The result is chaos.
AMSTER: Before automobiles became commonplace, the streets were for everyone.
Once cars came into the picture, pedestrians started losing their lives.
[ Crash ] WILDMAN: In 1923 alone, hundreds of pedestrians are killed in collisions with cars on L.
A.
streets.
AMSTER: People saw cars as a menace.
Something had to be done.
WILDMAN: In an attempt to stop the carnage, city officials install traffic signals, like this one on display at the San Francisco Railway Museum.
But it's no use.
Pedestrians are so used to crossing streets anywhere and anytime they like that little changes.
AMSTER: People didn't listen.
They were going whenever they wanted to.
And they were still getting killed.
WILDMAN: So what will it take to bring order to L.
A.
's streets? It's the 1920s in Los Angeles.
The City of Angels has a crisis on its hands.
Motorcars are now taking over the roads.
And hundreds of pedestrians are dying in traffic collisions as a result.
But someone is about to come to the rescue and revolutionize street safety forever.
With people dying by the day, one organization realizes it has a problem on its hands, the Southern California Automobile Club.
People wanted to ban automobiles from city streets because they were thought to be unsafe.
They were a killer.
WILDMAN: And it's up to the group's director, E.
B.
Lefferts, to come up with a way to keep the roads clear for cars.
This was a major undertaking for Lefferts because, if people weren't buying cars, there'd be no need for the Automobile Association.
He was staking his career on this.
WILDMAN: To solve the problem, Lefferts first needs to understand it.
So he familiarizes himself with the interactions of motorists and pedestrians on L.
A.
streets.
Lefferts needs some inspiration so he can figure out how to make things change and find a way to tackle this problem.
WILDMAN: Lefferts spends hours trying to comprehend why pedestrians disregard traffic lights and walk blindly into the paths of oncoming cars, leaving him at a loss as to what to do.
But one day, he gets an idea.
AMSTER: Lefferts thought, "What would happen if a policeman blows his whistle at the pedestrian crossing the street?" The whistle draws attention to that person.
And it's a public shaming.
And he realizes this can be very effective.
WILDMAN: Lefferts suddenly has his eureka moment.
AMSTER: People don't want to be embarrassed in public.
They don't wanna be called out.
WILDMAN: Lefferts realizes that, by publicly shaming pedestrians, he might be able to change their behavior in a way no traffic signal ever could.
Lefferts launches a widespread public-relations campaign employing a plethora of strategies.
He has posters made making fun of people who don't obey traffic signals.
In some cities, actors are even hired to play clowns [ Horn honks ] and stumble in the way of cars.
And Boy Scouts hand out cards with printed warnings reprimanding people who try to cross the street without paying attention.
So this then causes them to start following the rules of the road instead of suffering humiliation.
WILDMAN: But Lefferts' most effective idea by far is the phrase he popularizes to describe pedestrians who cross the street without looking -- jaywalkers.
AMSTER: In the 1920s, being called a jay implied that they were a bumpkin, that they didn't know anything, that they were a hayseed, a hick.
People didn't like that.
WILDMAN: Newspaper articles and posters warning against jaywalking start to appear all over California.
And it doesn't take long before pedestrians are banished to the curb forever.
By the late 1920s, the message had caught on.
And jaywalking was no longer fashionable.
WILDMAN: Thanks to Lefferts, jaywalking enters the public lexicon.
And while few recall its origins, the term is still used today to describe the act of crossing the street illegally.
Meanwhile, this 1920s-era traffic light graces the entryway of the San Francisco Railway Museum.
It's a reminder of one simple word that changed America's streets forever.
From a yellow fever fiend to the greatest showman on Earth, a radioactive secret to the invention of jaywalking, I'm Don Wildman, and these are the mysteries at the museum.