Mysteries at the Museum (2010) Episode Scripts

N/A - Arrow Stork, Terror in the Sky and Feuding Astors

A race to stop the sky from falling.
TEITEL: This thing was on a collision course with the Earth, and NASA can't control it.
A determined doctor with a pesty problem.
HARRIS: This man spearheaded one of the most common inventions of all time.
And a ghost blimp drops off a radar.
GOODSPEED: The pilots vanished into thin air.
These are the mysteries at the museum.
Northern Germany is home to one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the world, the University of Rostock, founded in 1419.
And located on its esteemed campus is a facility dedicated to the study of natural sciences, the Rostock University Zoological Collection.
On display are tropical butterflies, sponges from the Baltic Sea and a collection of taxidermied bats native to Germany.
But one specimen here is notable for its distinctly man-made feature.
MIRSKY: The object is about 37 inches tall.
It has long, slender legs, broad wings.
And it has a bright orange beak.
The specimen is really unusual because there's a spear stuck in the neck.
WILDMAN: This bizarre bird was the key to solving one of the world's most baffling mysteries.
This one stork wound up changing the history of science.
WILDMAN: The 1820s, northern Europe.
It's an era of great scientific discovery.
Huge advancements have been made in the fields of chemistry, astronomy and geology.
But with little sense of the breadth and depth of the animal kingdom, biology lags far behind.
Darwin doesn't come along for another almost 40 years.
Scientists literally did not understand about the birds and the bees.
WILDMAN: In fact, scholars have no idea about what seems like one of the most basic facts of the natural world.
MIRSKY: Believe it or not, people didn't know where some species of birds went in the winter.
This is information that we take for granted today.
But all people in Europe knew was that birds they saw in the summer weren't there in the winter.
Where these birds went was a complete mystery.
WILDMAN: The riddle has befuddled some of the world's greatest minds for hundreds of years.
In the fourth century B.
C.
, Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher and scientist, hypothesized that birds transform from one species to another.
MIRSKY: In nature, you do see some incredible transformations.
You see tadpoles transform into frogs.
So why not think that a bird might transform into another species? WILDMAN: Others have long suspected that birds take after mammals and hibernate.
A few even subscribe to a more incredible theory: that birds spend their winters on the Moon.
MIRSKY: There were crazy ideas about where these birds went, but they were just doing the best they could with the information they had.
WILDMAN: But incredible new evidence is about to come to light that will settle the question once and for all.
Germany, May 21st, 1822.
An aristocrat is hunting when he spots a common white stork in the sky.
They were one of the most recognizable birds in Germany at the time.
WILDMAN: He steadies his rifle, fires.
And the bird drops to the ground.
But as the man approaches his trophy, he notices something peculiar.
He found that the bird had a 3-foot-long spear stuck in its neck.
WILDMAN: It seems that, prior to the fatal gunshot, the stork had been hit by the spear but had not been killed.
And that's not even the strangest part.
The weapon doesn't look like anything that might be found in Germany.
It really looked different from any kind of arrow or spear that Europeans were used to.
WILDMAN: The stork and the spear is eventually sent to Professor Heinrich Gustav Florke, one of the most respected scientists in Germany.
Florke was observant.
He was hardworking.
And he was ambitious.
And he is fascinated by the specimen.
Where did the spear in this bird come from? WILDMAN: Florke shares the discovery with his colleagues at the university.
MIRSKY: Florke started to show the specimen to colleagues, many of whom had expertise in far-reaching fields.
WILDMAN: And one of them makes a remarkable observation.
MIRSKY: One of Florke's colleagues recognized the spear as being used by people in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 2,000 miles away.
WILDMAN: Florke is amazed.
He concludes that the stork must have been hit by the spear in Africa before flying all the way to Germany.
Such a journey would have taken the bird nearly 2 months.
The scientist has solved the mystery.
The stork spent its winters in a warmer climate.
This must have been a real "Eureka" moment for Florke.
WILDMAN: The scientist theorizes that if the white stork migrates south, then other birds likely do the same.
MIRSKY: In the history of ornithology, this is one of the biggest discoveries of all time.
WILDMAN: In the late 1820s, Florke publishes his findings in a scientific journal, winning his university renown and acclaim.
Today, the very bird that helped develop the theory of migration is on display at the Rostock University Zoological Collection.
It is a reminder of the amazing discovery that solved one of nature's most baffling riddles.
Huntsville, Alabama, is a leading center of aerospace innovation, earning it the nickname The Rocket City.
And celebrating its soaring achievements is the U.
S.
Space & Rocket Center.
Here, visitors can admire a 1970s lunar rover, the Apollo 16 capsule that orbited the Moon and the towering Saturn V Rocket.
But among these marvels of engineering is a mangled mass of fibers that, at first glance, has no apparent ties to space travel.
TEITEL: The object is cylindrical in shape.
It's got a rough texture.
And it has a charred surface.
It really looks like it's been through a disaster.
WILDMAN: This curious item was at the center of an earth-shattering tale of ingenuity, paranoia and disaster.
This cork structure once fell from the sky and terrified the world.
WILDMAN: 1974, just 5 years after landing a man on the Moon, NASA, America's space agency, is facing a slew of budget cuts.
There was not a lot of interest in space exploration.
People were like, "Stop wasting my money.
" So NASA was not in the public's good graces at this moment.
WILDMAN: The agency is forced to withdraw the crew from one of its biggest projects -- Skylab, a space station that's been orbiting the Earth for less than a year.
Skylab is this 84-ton structure the size of a three-story house hurtling around the Earth at almost 17,500 miles per hour.
But they just didn't have the money to keep sending crews up.
WILDMAN: NASA leaves the massive space station in orbit and hopes that the funds may one day be secured to send another manned mission to Skylab.
But then, in 1977, there's a troubling development.
A sudden surge in solar radiation heats the Earth's atmosphere, causing it to expand around the space station.
The increased air resistance slowly begins pulling Skylab out of orbit.
The 84-ton structure is descending.
And there's nothing anyone can do to stop it.
TEITEL: Skylab was on a collision course with the Earth, and NASA can't control it.
WILDMAN: The news creates a worldwide hysteria.
Skylab is falling.
The public was living in fear.
Some people planned to sit out Skylab's re-entry in caves to protect themselves.
WILDMAN: NASA calculates that it will take nearly two years for Skylab to fully fall out of its orbit.
And with the clock ticking, they assign a flight director named Bill Peters the task of averting a disaster.
Peters fears that when the colossal structure re-enters the atmosphere, it will break into large, fiery pieces.
TEITEL: Skylab is a massive structure.
It wasn't gonna burn up harmlessly in the Earth's atmosphere.
Pieces of it were going to hit the ground hard and on fire.
WILDMAN: With no way to stop Skylab's descent, Peters' only hope is to alter the station's trajectory so that it crashes as far away from populated areas as possible.
The key to making this happen will be Skylab's two tiny thrusters.
TEITEL: If these thrusters are fired in the right way, NASA would be able to position the station to re-enter the atmosphere at the right spot.
WILDMAN: Peters and his team have the perfect target in mind: the Indian Ocean.
To get Skylab to land in the Indian Ocean, it had to enter the Earth's atmosphere at a very precise point.
This was NASA's last hope.
WILDMAN: The margin of error is razor-thin.
The slightest miscalculation could send Skylab drastically off course.
TEITEL: Skylab's whole re-entry was a bit of a guessing game because NASA had never done anything like this before.
WILDMAN: On July 11th, 1979, Peters' plan is put in motion.
NASA engineers activate Skylab's thrusters.
People all over the globe are glued to their TVs as the hulking space station begins its plunge toward the Earth.
TEITEL: Skylab was a ticking time bomb.
And people around the world were preparing for the worst.
WILDMAN: Then, as it passes through the Earth's atmosphere, something unexpected happens.
Skylab traveled further than it was anticipated to.
WILDMAN: Peters and his team watch helplessly as fiery chunks of the station blaze across the sky.
A trail of debris hurtles over the Indian Ocean and heads directly toward the Australian city of Perth.
NASA engineers must have been panicked when they realized that Skylab wasn't gonna fall harmlessly in the ocean.
Skylab was headed for disaster.
It's 1979 -- Houston.
NASA is in crisis.
The nation's first space station, Skylab, has fallen out of orbit and is now hurtling uncontrollably toward the Australian city of Perth.
So where will this plummeting piece of space junk crash-land? NASA's engineers watch helplessly as Skylab hurtles towards Perth.
But then, just as disaster seems imminent, the debris passes over the city, before finally slamming into a remote region of the Australian Outback.
Thankfully, no one has been injured by Skylab's perilous re-entry.
NASA has avoided a major disaster.
And the Australian government assists in the cleanup effort -- for a small price.
TEITEL: Because debris had scattered so far over Australia, the country actually fined NASA $400 for littering.
WILDMAN: A remnant of one of Skylab's charred oxygen tanks is eventually given to the U.
S.
Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Today, it recalls a dangerous fall to Earth that set off a worldwide panic.
New York City's famous Central Park is a 843-acre green space designed as a respite from the hustle and bustle of The Big Apple.
And just outside this urban oasis is the city's oldest museum, the New York Historical Society.
On display here is a 1906 Tiffany lamp, a drinking keg from the Erie Canal's opening celebration in 1825 and a death mask of former mayor Aaron Burr.
Among these prized mementos is an object linked to one of New York's most esteemed institutions.
BACH: The object is made of mixed metals.
It's about 7 inches, has a bit with some teeth.
And attached to the chain on one end is a tag that has some decoration on it.
WILDMAN: This key is related to a bitter feud that consumed two of the most notable figures in the five boroughs.
This is a tale of Gilded Age competition between one of New York's most iconic families.
WILDMAN: How did a vicious dispute give rise to a luxurious landmark? 1890, Manhattan.
William Waldorf Astor is a member of the most prominent family in New York, the Astors.
BACH: The Astors are very wealthy.
Their lives are covered extensively in the press.
They were at the highest end of American life.
WILDMAN: From his lavish Fifth Avenue mansion, William controls a real-estate empire worth an estimated $200 million.
The titan cares about two things: money and status.
He regularly throws lavish parties to maintain his place at the top of the city's elite.
William Waldorf Astor was very concerned with his social standing.
He really wanted to be known as the head of not just the Astor family, but social New York.
WILDMAN: But one person stands in his way -- his 60-year-old aunt, Caroline.
The prominent socialite lives with her son, Jack, in an opulent mansion right next door to William.
And, to William's frustration, she constantly upstages him with elaborate parties of her own.
Caroline Astor was an extravagant entertainer and holds lavish balls and other types of highly visible social events.
WILDMAN: As the months go by, the rivalry between Caroline and William intensifies, until the mogul can take it no more.
William has had enough.
WILDMAN: The spiteful aristocrat decides to strike back by making his aunt's life as miserable as possible.
He decides to demolish his mansion and build an opulent 13-story hotel in its place.
Not only will the noisy construction make it impossible for his aunt to throw galas next door, but when it's completed, he'll use the lavish building to host the biggest parties the city has ever seen, gatherings that he hopes will make him the talk of the town.
William sought to build the most extravagant and luxurious hotel in New York and show his supremacy over Caroline by literally towering over her.
WILDMAN: Construction begins in 1891.
The project brings throngs of low-class laborers, plus plenty of dust and noise to the area, just as William had planned.
It was an enormous thorn in his aunt's side.
And she was not happy about it.
WILDMAN: Two years later, William's prized property opens to great fanfare.
He calls it the Waldorf Hotel.
It really quickly became a place where people wanted to go to be seen as well as to stay there.
WILDMAN: It seems that William has outfoxed his aunt.
The Waldorf's success catapults him to the very top of New York high society.
But his scheming aunt refuses to be bested.
And she soon begins crafting a plan of her own that will leave an indelible mark on the city.
It's the 1890s, Manhattan.
A bitter conflict has erupted among the ranks of New York's prominent Astor family.
William Astor has constructed the towering Waldorf Hotel with the intent of ruining the social events of his Aunt Caroline, who lives next door.
Now the jealous aunt is scheming for a way to get back at her nemesis.
So, who will win this family feud? As the Waldorf Hotel bustles, Caroline Astor sets in motion a cunning scheme.
She will tear down her mansion and erect her own hotel right next door to her nephew's.
But without any experience in business or construction, she'll need help.
So she turns to her son, Jack, a shrewd entrepreneur.
Jack is given full control of the project and begins putting together an ambitious design for the new hotel.
He hires the same architect who built the Waldorf but instructs him to think bigger and better than ever before.
The plan was to have it be even more extravagant and more luxurious than the Waldorf Hotel.
WILDMAN: Two years later, construction is complete.
And the new grand hotel, named the Astoria, towers over its neighbor, just as Jack and Caroline had planned.
BACH: This hotel was 18 stories high, as opposed to the 13 of the Waldorf Hotel.
They literally dwarf William's hotel.
WILDMAN: But shortly before it opens, Jack reveals that he has even bigger plans.
Instead of being in competition with each other, he proposes to his mother and cousin that they should merge their hotels to maximize profits.
BACH: The thought was that if they joined forces, they could both have a successful enterprise.
WILDMAN: William and Caroline realize that the one thing they care about more than throwing parties is money.
So they decide to put their petty squabble aside.
The old adversaries unite the two hotels under a single name.
They decide to call their combined hotel The Waldorf-Astoria.
WILDMAN: When the new building opens in 1897, it is hailed as one of the largest and most prestigious hotels in the world.
It redefines hospitality by offering amenities like room service, electricity, telephones, and private bathrooms for the first time.
It becomes the gold standard of luxury.
WILDMAN: The Waldorf-Astoria thrives until 1929, when it is torn down to make way for the Empire State Building.
But a new Waldorf-Astoria soon opens on Park Avenue, where it remains to this day.
A key from the original hotel is on display at the New York Historical Society.
It recalls the story of a bitter family feud that created an empire.
Dodge City, Kansas.
In the 19th century, this frontier outpost was a boomtown filled with stockyards and cattle traders, earning it the nickname The Cowboy Capital of the World.
Today, its rough-and-tumble heritage is preserved at the Boot Hill Museum.
On display are weapons once owned by outlaws, Native American arrowheads from the 1860s and a reconstruction of Dodge City as it looked in 1876.
But one set of objects here looks like it has nothing to do with the Wild West.
HARRIS: They're about eight inches tall, about three inches in diameter, made out of glass and, over time, have dulled in appearance.
WILDMAN: Although these glass bottles seem ordinary, they are linked to a revolutionary idea that changed the world.
HARRIS: During the heyday of the old West, one doctor spearheaded one of the most common inventions of all time.
WILDMAN: Summer 1899.
A deadly disease is sweeping the United States -- tuberculosis.
At the time, tuberculosis was responsible for more than 150,000 deaths.
WILDMAN: The fatal affliction is spread through contact with the common housefly.
The insect consumes animal feces laden with the deadly bacteria.
And when it lands on humans or their food, the bacteria spreads.
One of the states to be affected is Kansas, which has become a breeding ground for the pesky, disease-carrying pests.
At the time, Kansas is suffering from an overabundance of flies.
The streets were filthy.
No sewer system.
And diseases were part of that waste.
WILDMAN: But there's one man determined to put an end to the contagion, a Dodge City physician named Samuel Crumbine.
Dr.
Crumbine is a man from back east.
He came to this part of the country as a doctor.
He made house calls, mixed medicines and served people well from the very start.
WILDMAN: Dr.
Crumbine believes the key to stopping the spread of disease is to keep the bothersome flies out of people's homes and away from their food.
So he puts out a series of pamphlets educating people how to do just that.
He calls it The Fly Bulletin.
Crumbine encourages Kansans to keep their windows closed and practice better hygiene by storing food in closed containers or in cabinets.
And in an attempt to make his messages stick, he infuses his instructions with a heavy dose of fun.
Dr.
Crumbine comes up with all sort of catchy phrases and little cartoons to try to get these people's attention.
WILDMAN: But despite distributing pamphlets to everyone he can, Crumbine's message fails to hit home.
In the stifling Midwestern heat, no one is paying attention.
HARRIS: He was very frustrated.
He just couldn't seem to get the point across to the locals that the fly was a definite problem.
WILDMAN: Crumbine needs a new strategy.
And inspiration strikes from an unlikely source.
One hot summer's day, the doctor is attending a baseball game.
HARRIS: The crowd was going wild.
Off to his left, someone said, "Sacrifice fly.
" To his right, someone said, "Swat that ball.
" And it was like a "Eureka" moment for Dr.
Crumbine.
WILDMAN: What madcap idea has the doctor come up with? It's 1905.
Hundreds of people are dying of tuberculosis.
The disease is spreading thanks to an epidemic of houseflies.
But a physician named Samuel Crumbine is on a mission to get rid of flies for good.
So, what's Dr.
Crumbine's prescription for this problem pest? Dr.
Crumbine leaves the baseball game and rushes back to his office.
Instead of trying to keep flies out of people's homes, perhaps he'll have more luck if he tells them to kill the flies.
He publishes another bulletin.
And he gives it a memorable name -- Swat the Fly.
HARRIS: Dr.
Crumbine has found the perfect campaign slogan, something that will stick in people's head.
WILDMAN: The doctor's tactic works.
The public finds that killing flies is much more appealing than simply keeping them at bay.
As Crumbine's idea catches on, one of his readers, a Scoutmaster named Frank Rose, takes the doctor's recommendation a step further.
HARRIS: The Cub Scout leader had taken a small patch of screen and attached it to a yardstick.
WILDMAN: When Crumbine sees the device, he's immediately impressed.
He dubs it the flyswatter.
The doctor makes flyswatters the cornerstone of his campaign, advertising them in his bulletin and handing them out to locals.
HARRIS: When the general public learns of the flyswatter, everybody says, "Gotta have one.
" WILDMAN: Before long, flyswatters can be found in homes across the country.
Between 1900 and 1916, deaths from tuberculosis steadily declined, thanks in part to the doctor's tenacity.
HARRIS: Dr.
Crumbine is responsible for saving countless lives.
Through his efforts to eliminate the fly, he left this place much, much better than he found it.
WILDMAN: Today, Samuel Crumbine's work is commemorated here at the Boot Hill Museum, where his medicine bottles are proudly displayed.
They're a tribute to the pioneer's tireless determination to shoo away a pesky problem.
A drug chest containing opium, a 19th-century amputation kit and a stretcher used by Confederate soldiers are just some of the artifacts on display at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland.
But amid these medical relics are a pair of objects that seem more at home in a closet than in a doctor's office.
Each one is about a foot long by three inches wide.
They're covered with deep red and brown stains.
They're made of thin fabric and also have a little red decoration around the top.
WILDMAN: These socks were once worn during some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.
But what few realize is that they are also part of a heroic quest that saved thousands of lives.
GRABOWSKI: The story they tell is really incredible.
It shows that ordinary individuals and ordinary objects can make an extraordinary difference.
WILDMAN: September 17th, 1862.
[ Gunshots ] The Civil War is in its second year.
And in the rolling cornfields of Maryland, the Battle of Antietam is raging.
The conflict is one of the bloodiest the North has experienced so far.
Over 7,000 Union troops are injured during the morning's fighting alone.
And charged with patching up the wounded men and getting them back on the battlefield is a surgeon named James Dunn.
GRABOWSKI: Dr.
Dunn is an Army doctor.
And this isn't his first battle.
He's seen tremendous suffering.
WILDMAN: Dunn and his staff have set up a makeshift hospital in a farmhouse near the battlefield.
It's stocked with critical supplies, such as bandages, anesthetic and tourniquets.
GRABOWSKI: These doctors had to be able to operate in any condition, in any place, regardless on the fact that they could be killed mid-operation.
WILDMAN: But as the battle rages on, the doctor faces a terrible problem: The injured troops are piling up faster than he and his staff can treat them.
GRABOWSKI: The number of soldiers getting wounded by the minute is astronomical.
WILDMAN: Neither the federal government nor the Army ever anticipated such high numbers of casualties.
In fact, efforts have been so focused on arming the troops that supplies for treating the injured have been largely overlooked.
And that's left Dunn's makeshift hospital dangerously low on supplies.
With thousands of soldiers still waiting for treatment, Dunn resorts to desperate measures.
GRABOWSKI: He's thinking on his feet.
There's plenty of corn leaves around.
So he gets his men to stock up on corn leaves and uses them as bandages.
WILDMAN: But the corn leaves are no substitute for the real thing.
And to make matters worse, he soon starts to run out of not just bandages, but anesthetic as well.
This is a huge problem.
WILDMAN: Without these critical materials, his team will have no way to treat the wounded, and the battle will surely be lost.
GRABOWSKI: He's out of supplies, And he's got to be running out of hope.
Dr.
Dunn needs a miracle at this point.
WILDMAN: But little does the doctor know, help is on its way -- from a most unlikely source.
It's 1862, Maryland.
A field surgeon named James Dunn tends to troops wounded during the Battle of Antietam.
But the extreme number of casualties quickly exhausts his stock of bandages and anesthetic.
So to save these soldiers, this doctor needs a miracle.
What Dunn doesn't realize is that, months earlier, an unlikely heroine embarked on an epic quest to help him.
April 1861, Washington D.
C.
Clara Barton is an enterprising and energetic charity worker.
She's a strong, tough woman.
She's a spitfire.
WILDMAN: When the Civil War breaks out, Barton is horrified by scenes of wounded troops limping back into the capital.
She starts visiting the men and soon realizes that the Army lacks the most basic supplies, such as bandages, alcohol and even socks to protect their feet from gangrene and other diseases.
Barton lobbies the government to provide these essential items for the front lines.
But politicians are so focused on arming the troops that her pleas fall on deaf ears.
GRABOWSKI: The government's in chaos.
They don't really want to spend money and time and resources on bandages.
They've got a lot of other things they need to buy for the war.
WILDMAN: Clara fears that if nothing is done, the situation will spiral rapidly out of control.
So she changes tactics.
Instead of appealing to the government, she puts her many connections to good use.
GRABOWSKI: She's a very savvy woman.
She knows exactly who to be friends with to get what she wants.
She's really a force to be reckoned with.
WILDMAN: She writes to her vast network of contacts, persuading them to donate much-needed supplies.
She even writes to newspapers and begs the public to heed her calls for help.
She knows how to make things happen and how to find a way to do what she wants.
WILDMAN: The response gradually builds from a trickle to a flood.
Within months, she amasses a huge supply of bandages, medical equipment, food and clothing.
And at noon on September 17th, 1862, just as Dr.
Dunn's situation is at its most dire, she personally delivers everything directly to the front lines at Antietam.
GRABOWSKI: Barton tells Dr.
Dunn her wagons are full of supplies, supplies that he badly needed -- bandages, socks, wine, drugs, lanterns.
The list goes on and on.
WILDMAN: Dr.
Dunn believes Clara Barton is the answer to his prayers.
He tells Clara that this is his miracle, this is a sign from God that the Union is gonna win the war.
WILDMAN: Barton and Dunn use the new supplies to tend to the wounded soldiers and save countless lives.
Her sudden appearance at Antietam as if out of nowhere earns Barton the respect and admiration of Union soldiers as well as a fitting moniker.
She gets the nickname The Angel of the Battlefield.
WILDMAN: Clara Barton, along with a team of helpers, continue this humanitarian mission for the remainder of the war.
In 1881, she names her organization the American Red Cross.
GRABOWSKI: Clara Barton's legacy is one of humanitarianism and one of service.
Everything she does in her life is to help someone else and to make the world a little bit of a better place.
WILDMAN: Today, the American Red Cross continues to offer aid to people in need all over the world, raising money and distributing over 1 million relief-related items each year.
And these bloody socks that were repaired by Barton herself during the Civil War are on display at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland.
They're a reminder of a selfless and heroic woman whose legacy continues to save lives throughout the world.
Pensacola, Florida, is lined with miles of pristine beaches that are said to have some of the whitest sand in the world.
But amid this natural beauty is an institution that showcases man-made wonders: the National Naval Aviation Museum.
Its displays celebrate America's many aeronautic triumphs, such as a Lockheed TV-2 fighter jet and a 1973 NASA command module.
But among these high-tech crafts is a relatively primitive machine.
It's rectangular, sort of box-like.
It's got instruments.
It's got a control wheel.
It's 22 feet long, about 8 1/2 feet high.
And at one point, it was attached to something that was 149 feet long.
WILDMAN: This unique flying apparatus is at the center of one of the greatest mysteries in naval aviation.
This gondola represents an event that has puzzled investigators for decades.
WILDMAN: August 1942, California.
In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the Navy is on high alert for another attack on American soil.
It monitors the Pacific Ocean using every aircraft at its disposal, from amphibious planes to lightweight bombers.
And officials at Sunnyvale Naval Air Station in San Francisco are making use of a flying machine not normally associated with the military: a former Goodyear blimp.
Retrofitted with surveillance equipment, the airship is rechristened the L-8.
The Navy took off the colorful markings that they had for their civilian service and added patrolling equipment to make sure it was very practical for wartime missions.
WILDMAN: On the morning of August 16th, the air station's commander orders two pilots, Lieutenant Ernest Cody and Ensign Charles Adams, to fly the blimp 30 miles into the Pacific and then return.
For two hours, the naval base receives updates from the two-man crew that the patrol is proceeding without incident.
But then, the pilots report that they've seen something in the water that looks like an oil slick.
It could be nothing.
But it may be a sign of the ultimate threat -- a lurking enemy submarine.
The commander instructs the man to inspect the area.
The crew report that they're gonna investigate this oil slick and report back to headquarters with their findings.
WILDMAN: A few minutes later, the commander radios the L-8 for an update.
But there's no response.
GOODSPEED: They receive nothing.
They're greeted only with silence.
WILDMAN: Naval officers assume it's nothing more than a minor technical malfunction and expect the L-8 to return within the hour.
But the blimp isn't seen for 3 hours.
And when it's finally spotted, it's nowhere near the base.
It's heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
And the craft appears to be in trouble.
GOODSPEED: The airship started to deflate as it was starting to descend towards the ground in California.
WILDMAN: At approximately 11 a.
m.
, the L-8 crashes into the side of a house in Daly City.
Navy officials descend on the scene to inspect the deflated blimp and the gondola, the same one now on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum.
Surprisingly, the ship is remarkably intact.
But as officials look inside, they get the surprise of their lives.
The gondola is empty.
The pilots vanished into thin air.
WILDMAN: So what happened to the crew of the L-8? It's 1942.
A U.
S.
naval surveillance blimp, the L-8, has crashed in northern California.
But when authorities reach the downed airship, the two pilots are missing.
So, what strange fate befell the crew of the so-called Ghost Blimp? The Navy scours the Pacific Ocean but finds no trace of the missing pilots.
And as investigators examine the L-8, they can't explain why it went down.
The engine, gas valves and radio are all functioning properly.
And none of the emergency equipment has been deployed.
The parachutes were still inside, where they should be.
And they didn't really have many answers.
WILDMAN: Naval commanders can do nothing but conclude their investigation and declare the case unsolved.
But then, a rumor begins to swirl around the naval base.
Some suspect that a possible love triangle turned these crewmates into mortal enemies.
There's one theory that there was a marital infidelity in which one of them was having an affair with the other one's wife.
WILDMAN: According to the rumor, one pilot may have started a fight with the other, and the ensuing scuffle caused both men to fall out of the blimp.
GOODSPEED: Well, at the end of this, they're human beings.
And as we all know, we don't always do the most rational thing.
And so anything's a possibility.
WILDMAN: To this day, no one has managed to confirm the theory.
And the true fate of the crew of the L-8 remains a mystery.
Their doomed aircraft is now known simply as the Ghost Blimp.
Its gondola remains on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum.
It's a chilling reminder of a mystery that is still clouded by the fog of war.
From a feuding family to an angel of the battlefield, a terror in the sky to a famous flyswatter.
I'm Don Wildman.
And these are the mysteries at the museum.