Mysteries at the Museum (2010) s11e07 Episode Script

Muhammad Ali Saves the Day; Beast of Gevaudan; Before Hillary

1 A legendary boxer faces the fight of his life.
The opponent was hopelessness, was fear, was death.
A terrifying creature that could be more man than beast.
This animal wasn't even of this earth.
It was something supernatural.
And a bizarre bug terrorizes the nation.
[ Insect buzzes ] These insects are just spiraling out of control.
These are the mysteries at the museum.
Louisville, Kentucky, is best known for the thoroughbred horse race the Kentucky Derby.
But this Southern city boasts another claim to fame.
It's the birthplace of the one-time heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali.
And honoring the iconic boxer's life and legacy is the Muhammad Ali Center.
The collection features mementos from the athlete's illustrious career such as a pair of autographed boxing gloves, a robe decorated with jewels and rhinestones, and the torch that Ali carried at the 1996 Olympic games.
But there's one object here that speaks to his heroic achievements outside the boxing ring.
This artifact is 2 1/4 inches in diameter.
It's attached to a blue ribbon.
And in the center, you have gold stars.
And it's one of the highest honors in the country.
WILDMAN: This medal recalls a little-known chapter in Muhammad Ali's story, one that tells of a pivotal role he played in a terrifying life-or-death situation.
This is a really a story of hope, of human decency, and fearlessness.
WILDMAN: January 19th, 1981.
it's an ordinary morning in downtown Los Angeles as citizens make their way to work.
But then a group of pedestrians notices something disturbing.
A young African-American man is perched precariously on the ninth-floor ledge of a high-rise office building.
JONES: Among the things that this man was shouting was that "I'm no good.
The Viet Cong are after me.
" WILDMAN: The troubled man appears to be on the brink of suicide.
Folk were terrified that he was gonna jump off this building.
And if the man went through with it, he was gonna die.
WILDMAN: Within minutes, police arrive on the scene and rush to the ninth floor in hopes of coaxing the man down.
But doing so will be no easy feat.
There's only one door that leads to the ledge.
And the man has locked it from the inside.
The authorities were in a tough, tough situation.
They are physically cut off from him.
WILDMAN: Over the next two hours, emergency responders desperately try to convince the vet to step back from the ledge.
Sir, I'm here to help you.
It's -- WILDMAN: Police even bring a psychologist and a minister to the scene.
But to no avail.
The man didn't budge.
None of it was getting through.
WILDMAN: The situation grows bleaker by the minute.
Police had tried everything.
We're seeing that all options have been exhausted.
But little does anyone know, an unexpected hero is about to enter the ring.
Suddenly, a man races towards the building.
He was reminiscent of Clark Kent emerging from a phone booth.
He came out of nowhere.
WILDMAN: The onlookers can't believe their eyes.
It was one of the greatest boxers in American history, Muhammad Ali.
WILDMAN: The boxing legend was in the neighborhood when he heard about the jumper.
And he thinks he can help.
That was the beauty of Muhammad Ali.
He was not just a man known for his prowess in the ring but also for his social and political commitment to people.
WILDMAN: Ali convinces the police to let him speak to the man on the ledge.
It's a risky move.
JONES: What if Ali talked to him, and then he did jump? Muhammad Ali was poised to save a man's life or be witness to a terrible tragedy.
WILDMAN: Ali sprints to the ninth floor.
He leans out of a window and calls to the veteran.
JONES: He said to him, "I'm your brother.
I care about you.
I want to help you.
" WILDMAN: The man can hardly believe that one of the most famous athletes in the world is talking to him.
JONES: Here's this person who thinks he's worthless.
And then he sees Muhammad Ali.
It was absolutely incredible.
WILDMAN: And as the crowd watches from the street below, Ali makes an impassioned plea.
This was really the fight of Ali's fight.
But this opponent was not a boxer.
The opponent was hopelessness, was fear, was death.
WILDMAN: For 20 agonizing minutes, Ali pleads with the desperate man.
Finally, he steps away from the ledge.
The fellow collapsed into Ali's arms, sobbing.
It was absolutely overwhelming even for a titan like Muhammad Ali.
WILDMAN: With the ordeal finally over, police escort the man to a local hospital for treatment.
And Ali is hailed as a hero.
JONES: Muhammad Ali literally saved a man's life.
This was one of Ali's greatest feats.
WILDMAN: Today, this medal of freedom sits on display in Louisville, Kentucky.
It was presented in 2005 by President George W.
Bush to Muhammad Ali for his incredible contributions to humanity.
It's a lasting reminder of the legendary boxer's character both inside and outside the ring.
The Haute-Loire region of France is famous for its ancient forests, craggy peaks, and dormant volcanoes.
But amid this epic landscape is an institution that preserves a frightening chapter in French history, The Museum of the Beast of Gevaudan.
The artifacts on display recall one of the most spine-tingling episodes the area has ever seen, and none more so than the chilling statue at the center of the museum.
STEEL: It's quite big.
It's 4 feet long, 3 feet high.
It is handmade of plaster and painted black.
And although it's clearly an animal, it's not recognizable to us.
WILDMAN: Legend has it that this monstrous beast was responsible for a terrifying killing spree that no one could explain.
People began to believe this animal wasn't even of this earth.
It was something supernatural.
WILDMAN: 1764 -- Southern France.
The residents of the agricultural region of Gevaudan lead a life of blissful rural simplicity.
But one day, their daily routine is interrupted by a terrible tragedy.
On June 30th, a farmer is walking through a pasture when he discovers a grisly sight the dead body of a young shepherdess.
Her corpse has been mauled, seemingly by some kind of vicious animal.
But there's something strange about this particular attack.
What was extremely odd was that the victim's clothes were laid beside the body.
How could an animal take the clothes off its victims and lay them beside it? WILDMAN: The young woman's death sends shock waves through the town.
Over the next few weeks, more bodies are discovered, all in the same, bizarre state of undress.
STEEL: This is extremely distressing for townsfolk of the area.
The nature of these killings was so severe, so fierce.
WILDMAN: Who or what is killing the townsfolk is a total mystery.
As panic sweeps the region, some believe that the attacks must be the work of a supernatural beast.
STEEL: Rumors started to spread that this was in fact a werewolf.
WILDMAN: The deadly creature becomes known as the beast of Gevaudan.
STEEL: People are worried for their families.
They were terrified that they'd all be pounced upon.
WILDMAN: In an attempt to halt the killing, hunters scour the countryside setting traps for the beast, but their efforts are in vain.
For three long years, the violent attacks continue unabated.
Then in June of 1767, one man steps forward and claims that he alone knows how to slay the beast.
His name is Jean Chastel.
STEEL: Jean Chastel was a local innkeeper and farmer.
And he decided that he would be the man who would find this monster and put an end to this madness.
WILDMAN: As the story goes, Chastel proclaims that such a vicious creature can only be killed by a sacred bullet.
He told the villagers it needed to be made of silver and had to be blessed by a holy man.
WILDMAN: With the townspeople anxiously watching, Chastel takes his special ammunition and heads into the forest.
So can Chastel kill the beast of Gevaudan? It's the 1760s.
A deadly creature is on the loose in a remote village in southern France.
Locals believe it's responsible for a string of bizarre deaths and have dubbed the animal the beast of Gevaudan and believe it to be a werewolf.
[ Animal howls ] Now a farmer named Jean Chastel has set out to slay the monster.
So what exactly is this thing, and can it be stopped? A few days later, Jean Chastel emerges from the forest, and he's not alone.
He returned dragging an almighty wolf.
WILDMAN: Residents dissect the massive animal and find human remains inside.
The villages conclude it is indeed the beast they feared.
In the years that follow, the area never sees another attack, and Chastel is hailed as a hero.
Statues of him are erected throughout France.
And the story of his valiant triumph over the beast of Gevaudan is retold down the ages.
But in the 2000s, historians notice that some of the details don't quite add up.
After all, how could a mere wolf methodically remove its victims' clothes? In 2011, a researcher in North Carolina puts forth a new theory.
He contends that the whole event was a twisted plot orchestrated by Chastel himself.
STEEL: He believed that Jean Chastel was responsible for these killings.
The beast was in fact some huge wolf that Jean Chastel had trained and that he was, in effect, a serial killer.
And then he let himself step up to become the hero of the people.
WILDMAN: Despite the tantalizing theory, the truth of the beast may never be known.
STEEL: We really don't know what happened.
It is still an enduring mystery.
WILDMAN: Today, this terrifying statue is preserved at the Museum of the Beast of Gevaudan.
It recalls a legendary monster that may have been all too real.
A Civil War draft wheel, a musket from the American Revolution, and a camp bed from Valley Forge are just some of the artifacts on view at the New York Historical Society.
But set apart from these rugged wartime relics is a delicate item.
It is about 11 by 17 inches.
There are about 16 sheets of paper.
And in a banner across the top of the first page is the title "Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly.
" WILDMAN: This newspaper exposed a salacious scandal that rocked the nation.
This is a story of a hypocrite, a philanderer, and an adulterer.
WILDMAN: It's 1872 in New York City.
34-year-old political activist Victoria Woodhull has done something that puts her way ahead of her time.
She's standing as a candidate to be the president of the United States.
PALEY: Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president.
We're talking about over a century ago, when women don't even have the right to vote.
WILDMAN: Woodhull runs an aggressive campaign on a platform of equal rights, demanding fair divorce laws, education reform, and women's suffrage.
PALEY: Woodhull's ultimate goal is to give other women the opportunity to gain equal status and to put their story on the map.
WILDMAN: Woodhull promotes her agenda in the pages of her very own newspaper, the Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly, and routinely takes chauvinistic men to task.
PALEY: Woodhull was a radical woman with radical ideas and the wherewithal to publicize them.
WILDMAN: For the fiery Woodhull, no target is off-limits.
In fact, she has recently outed a high-society reverend for having an affair with a married congregant, a move that has provided Woodhull with a good deal of publicity for her campaign.
Woodhull certainly knew how to grab a headline.
This story creates such a sensation.
And the attention builds and builds.
WILDMAN: Woodhull's tactics stoke the ire of her fellow candidates, President Ulysses S.
Grant and Democratic challenger Horace Greeley.
But her push for the presidency captivates the nation, rallying scores of supporters behind her cause.
PALEY: At this point, her candidacy for president is doing quite well.
WILDMAN: But then, just days before the election, her campaign takes an unexpected turn.
On November 2nd, Woodhull receives a visit from a U.
Marshal who has a warrant for her arrest.
Imagine Woodhull's surprise.
The federal agents tell Woodhull that she's being charged, and they haul her off to jail.
WILDMAN: Why has Woodhull been arrested? And is this the end of her groundbreaking campaign? It's 1872 in New York City.
An outspoken feminist named Victoria Woodhull is making history as the first woman to run for president.
She garners support by taking men who disrespect women to task in her very own newspaper.
It seems there's no stopping Woodhull's meteoric rise.
But then, just days before the election, she's arrested and thrown in jail.
So who's behind Woodhull's spectacular downfall? It appears that Woodhull has messed with the wrong man, the preacher that she outed in her newspaper for having an extramarital affair, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher.
Beecher was furious at Woodhull for exposing his affair.
Although, as a preacher, he could not be publicly seen to seek his revenge, he did have some powerful allies who accused Woodhull of salacious reporting.
Woodhull is charged with indecency and distributing obscene material.
WILDMAN: The charges are enough to shatter Woodhull's political ambitions.
She spends the remainder of the election in prison.
She must have been so frustrated and helpless that here she was, powerless to do anything to continue her bid for the presidency.
WILDMAN: When the public goes to the polls on November 5th, Woodhull receives zero electoral votes.
Ulysses Grant wins, and there is nothing that she can do about it.
WILDMAN: After the election, Woodhull goes to trial.
To her relief, a judge dismisses her case.
But the damage is already done.
PALEY: Everything implodes for Victoria Woodhull.
Her public image is in ruins.
WILDMAN: In the wake of her downfall, Woodhull closes her newspaper and flees the United States for Great Britain.
But despite the public scandal, she leaves behind an enduring legacy.
Woodhull made people think differently about women and women's potential.
She did pave the way for women of the 20th century.
WILDMAN: Today, this copy of Woodhull's exposé of Beecher's affair remains on display at the New York Historical Society where it recalls a pioneering woman who was way ahead of her time.
Annapolis, Maryland, has been home to the U.
Naval Academy since 1845.
And this rich maritime history is honored at the Academy's very own museum.
Its collection includes a hat that once belonged to Commodore Matthew Perry who in 1853 famously opened Japan to Western trade, and an assortment of containers used by polar explorer Robert E.
But one artifact here seems to have no direct link to the high seas at all.
It's over 200 years old.
It's about 29 inches long with these very intricate etchings on it.
It's extremely sharp.
And it was part of one of the most forgotten and yet fascinating conflicts in U.
WILDMAN: This ancient sword recalls an epic tale of adventure, danger, and perseverance at the dawn of a new nation.
CARROLL: This is the story of a small group of heroes who went up against insurmountable odds.
[ Men shouting ] WILDMAN: It's the early 1800s.
Thomas Jefferson has just been elected president of the United States of America.
But the future of his fledgling nation is anything but certain.
Jefferson is desperate to grow the American economy and establish the U.
as a major player on the world stage, and that means building up trade with Europe.
For a fledgling nation, it was very important that we have trade with other countries.
This is how we were gonna make money.
It's a very precarious point in our history.
WILDMAN: But it's no easy task.
The shipping routes to Europe are controlled by the ruler of the North African state of Tripoli.
This cruel despot is known as the Pasha.
He was a very ruthless individual.
He ruled from Tripoli which is now present-day Libya.
And his kingdom was the most powerful on the Northern African coast.
WILDMAN: In return for access to the shipping routes, Jefferson must pay the Pasha a modest fee.
Throughout the 1780s, our government was essentially paying what we were calling tributes in order to do business in these parts of the world.
WILDMAN: For months, the Pasha allows American merchant ships to pass through the Mediterranean unharmed.
But then, in 1801, the Pasha gets greedy.
He demands an exorbitant tribute of over $200,000.
It's more than Jefferson can afford.
CARROLL: Jefferson absolutely refuses.
There was no way he was gonna back down.
WILDMAN: The consequences are disastrous.
The Pasha orders a vicious attack on an American ship and takes 300 crewmen captive.
President Jefferson now faces an unimaginable choice.
The sailors' lives hang in the balance.
And without the ability to transport goods overseas, America's economy could face ruin.
The president reasons that the only way to defeat a bully like the Pasha is with a show of force.
And so he decides to go to war.
It's an incredible gamble.
The U.
Navy is in its infancy and doesn't have enough ships to mount an effective assault.
And the Army is hardly equipped for such an undertaking.
For help, Jefferson turns to a trusted ex-Army officer named William Eaton.
CARROLL: Eaton had tremendous knowledge of the region, of the people.
He served as the consulate at Tunis, which was the closest city to Tripoli.
WILDMAN: Eaton suggests a bold strategy.
Rather than attack Tripoli itself, which would require an assault by sea, he recommends capturing the city of Derne, one of the Pasha's most important strongholds, by land.
If they succeed, it would show the Pasha that the United States cannot be blackmailed.
CARROLL: This was such a bold and daring plan.
It's so incredible to think that it would even be possible.
WILDMAN: Jefferson approves Eaton's proposal.
In late 1804, Eaton travels to Egypt with a small band of Marines.
There, he recruits a ragtag army made up of several hundred tribal warriors.
CARROLL: He helps organize this enormous group of mercenaries, people from different tribes who are these notoriously ferocious and tough warriors, and they're gonna set out on this incredible 600-mile trek to the city of Derne.
WILDMAN: After a 50-day march, Eaton's men approach Derne.
But when they arrive, they quickly learn they're outnumbered by at least 10 to 1.
Nevertheless, Eaton orders the Marines to lead the charge with their muskets, and the mercenaries take up the rear.
[ Men shouting ] So can this ragtag regiment snatch an unlikely victory? It's 1805 off the coast of North Africa when the Pasha of Tripoli attacks American merchant ships in the Mediterranean.
President Thomas Jefferson must go to war.
So he sends his most trusted commander, William Eaton, to raise a mercenary army and attack Derne, one of the Pasha's most vital strongholds.
But when Eaton reaches the city gates, he realizes he's massively outnumbered.
So can this ragtag army somehow snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Eaton orders his group to press forward.
At dawn, Eaton, eight Marines, and those mercenaries launch their attack.
Charge! WILDMAN: The men are quickly overwhelmed and pinned down by withering musket fire from the Pasha's skillful marksmen.
But Eaton unleashes the full fury of the tribal warriors in a nearly suicidal charge.
The tactic works.
The Pasha's forces have never seen such a ferocious attack and flee in terror.
[ Men cheering ] In spite of how almost absurd and improbable the whole mission seemed from the beginning, Eaton proved to be successful.
WILDMAN: Eaton's victory convinces the Pasha of Tripoli that while America may be young, it is a formidable foe.
The Pasha releases the 300 sailors and withdraws his other demands.
CARROLL: The Pasha will not attack merchant ships, so Jefferson got what he wanted.
WILDMAN: Soon, nations the world over recognize the rising power of the United States.
Although this is one of the least-known conflicts in our history, it's actually one of the most historically significant.
It enhanced our reputation.
It enhanced Jefferson's reputation, and it changed how America was seen throughout the world.
WILDMAN: Today, the victory at Derne is still celebrated in the lyrics of the official hymn of the U.
Marine Corps.
"From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.
" That's this battle.
WILDMAN: And this sword, recovered from the assault on Derne, remains on display at the U.
Naval Academy Museum.
It's a testament to the astonishing military campaign that cemented a young nation's place on the global stage.
San Francisco, California.
This city's Golden Gate Park spans over 1,000 acres and boasts elegant fountains, breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and even its own small herd of bison.
And located at the park's eastern end is the California Academy of Sciences.
Dedicated to natural history, it houses a four-story indoor rainforest, a wall of sea lion skulls, and a live colony of African Penguins.
But amid these large displays is one tiny yet frightening creature.
LEONG: The specimen has big, beady eyes and a long beak that it folds underneath its body.
This beak is really sharp.
It's almost like a hypodermic needle.
It's a very unusual-looking specimen.
WILDMAN: This bizarre bug sparked a wave of hysteria the likes of which the nation had never known.
This small insect caused the Summer of Hysteria.
Summer, 1899 -- Washington, D.
Leland Howard is one of the most brilliant scientists in the country.
He has dedicated his life to the study of insects.
Howard was the chief entomologist of the United States Department of Agriculture.
He was curious, open-minded, and committed to serving the public.
WILDMAN: One of Howard's responsibilities is to develop ways to prevent swarms of insects from destroying the nation's crops.
But the dedicated doctor is about to face a problem far bigger than protecting plants.
One day, he opens the newspaper to find a series of frightening reports.
Scores of people across the country are allegedly being attacked by a mysterious insect.
According to the accounts, the victims have all been bitten on the face and then experienced swelling, itching, and pain.
The creature responsible for the bites is dubbed the kissing bug.
LEONG: One of the reporters came up with the name "kissing bug" because of its tendency to bite on its victim's lips.
And the name stuck.
Howard resolves to get to the bottom of the crisis.
He sifts through as many newspaper reports as he can get his hands on, and he is stunned by just how many bites there seems to have been.
Over the previous month, dozens of cases have been reported.
Almost every day, there was some new article about someone else getting bitten.
WILDMAN: The epidemic seems to be spiraling out of control.
As Howard pores over each report, he realizes something that terrifies him.
He is aware of only one insect that causes the symptoms experienced by victims of the kissing bug, a species known as Triatoma sanguisuga.
LEONG: These symptoms of intense itching and swelling for a number of days were very similar to some of the earlier accounts in the newspaper.
He thought, "Hmm.
This might be the same thing.
" WILDMAN: But itching and swelling are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Triatoma sanguisuga insect transmits a horrifying parasitic illness called Chagas disease, and the consequences can be devastating.
After the initial symptoms of the bite subside, Chagas disease can lie dormant in the human body for months or even years until one day, the victims suddenly drop dead from heart failure.
If Dr.
Howard is right, he is in a race against time.
So can he stop the deadly kissing bug before people start dropping like flies? It's 1899.
The nation is gripped by fear.
Scores of people report being bitten by a mysterious and potentially deadly insect known as the kissing bug.
Now entomologist Dr.
Leland Howard is desperate to identify a strange creature and stop it in its tracks.
So can the doctor give this bug the kiss of death? According to reports, some kissing bug victims have captured the insect that they believe attacked them.
The specimens are sent for analysis, but the results are not what anyone expected.
None of them seem to have come from the same insect.
These were identified as parts of butterflies or beetles, random specimens that he knows are clearly not capable of causing these bites.
WILDMAN: The deadly Triatoma sanguisuga insect is not responsible for the epidemic.
So what's been behind the Summer of Terror? Dr.
Howard is drawn to the newspaper reports that first piqued his interest.
And he discovers who he thinks is Patient Zero, a woman from Atlantic City named Helen Veasy.
In early July, she claimed she was bitten on the lip by a large insect.
LEONG: A half hour after the incident, her lips got really swollen.
WILDMAN: Shortly after Veasy's story made the papers, another victim came forward with similar symptoms.
And from that point on, the newspapers started to fill with more and more reports of the kissing bug.
Not only that, but with each successive account, the symptoms described became increasingly outlandish.
One woman had something that looked like a vampire bite.
Beggars were trying to get money by wrapping themselves in bandages and saying they were a victim of the kissing bug.
It ballooned to the point that people's symptoms had very little in common with what he knows are typical bite symptoms.
WILDMAN: And that's when Dr.
Howard figures it out.
It's all been a case of mass hysteria.
Howard realizes that it was only after the very first newspaper article about Helen Veasy in Atlantic City that other reports started to come in.
And the press, desperate to fill column inches and sell papers, eagerly hyped up each story.
Anytime anyone got bitten by so much as a mosquito, they thought they had been attacked by the so-called kissing bug.
LEONG: Overall, this was a case caused by a slow newspaper week just spiraling out of control.
WILDMAN: By summer's end, reports of insects bites die down along with stories about the kissing bug.
Today, this preserved Triatoma sanguisuga bug is at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
It recalls the sensational press that fueled an outbreak of public hysteria.
A mysterious set of keys, a pair of unbreakable handcuffs, and a well-worn straitjacket invoke one the greatest escape artists to ever live, Harry Houdini.
And they're all on display in Scranton, Pennsylvania, at the Houdini Museum.
But one special item recalls a lesser-known chapter in the famed illusionist's life.
BROOKZ: The artifact is about 10 inches by 12 inches.
It's made out of slick paper with a smooth, shiny texture.
And it's aged over time.
It's almost 100 years old.
WILDMAN: These faded pages are a reminder of a time when the master magician himself was the victim of a dirty trick.
This is the story of a strange woman who casts a spell on Houdini.
WILDMAN: It's the early 1900s in New York City.
Eleanor Fletcher Bishop is an elderly immigrant who has fallen on hard times.
Her husband's death has left her penniless.
And her grown son, a well-known magician and mind reader, has died of mysterious causes.
She sees only failing health, homelessness, and poverty in her future.
Eleanor needs a way to make money and fast, so she decides to take desperate measures and become a con artist.
She was going to do whatever she had to do to survive.
WILDMAN: Amazingly, the frail, old woman takes to her new pursuit with aplomb.
Her strategy is to assume false identities, such as a Civil War nurse or a European countess, and then write to wealthy potential marks claiming hardship and begging for money.
She scams rich, gullible people out of thousands.
Once, she even dupes the founder of the Red Cross, Clara Barton, into sending her money.
BROOKZ: She was charismatic.
She was cunning.
And she could have convinced people of just about anything she wanted to.
WILDMAN: But by 1915, she sets her sights on retirement.
Yet to do that, she needs one last big score.
And she has a very wealthy target in mind, none other than master illusionist Harry Houdini.
[ Cheers and applause ] BROOKZ: He was one of the highest-earning entertainers in the entire world.
Houdini invented the escape act, and it brought people to their feet.
It was a stunning presentation.
WILDMAN: Eleanor knows that duping Houdini won't be easy.
He's famous for sniffing out hucksters, con artists, and so-called psychic mediums.
Houdini took great umbrage at people who deceived in illicit ways.
And throughout his career, he had a crusade against these kind of people.
WILDMAN: But Eleanor thinks she can one-up the magician.
She writes Houdini a letter, assuming the identity of Alexandrea Nicholas, an exiled Russian princess who's fallen on troubled times.
And so she asked to borrow money from Houdini to get out of this awful situation that she said she's in.
WILDMAN: Eleanor mails the note, confident that her deceitful plan will work.
So will the famous magician fall for Eleanor's dirty trick? It's 1915, New York City.
Destitute immigrant turned con artist Eleanor Fletcher Bishop is attempting to pull off her biggest scam yet -- hustling Harry Houdini.
Under the guise of exiled Russian princess Alexandrea Nicholas, she's written a letter to the master magician begging for money.
So will the greatest illusionist of all time actually fall for it? For weeks, Eleanor waits for a reply.
Finally, she receives word from the magician.
Houdini has consented to her request for a loan.
Not only that, he's agreed to move her to a spacious new house in Rochester, New York.
It seems the master of illusion has fallen for a devious con.
She became very comfortable and secure in her final days.
WILDMAN: But there's more to Houdini's generosity than originally appeared.
When Eleanor passes away in 1918, The Society of American Magicians Monthly publishes an obituary penned by Harry Houdini himself.
Within the pages, now stored at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, the magician clearly equates Eleanor with the so-called princess, proving he knew the true identity of the letter-writer all along.
The obituary shows that Houdini recognized Eleanor as the mother of a deceased magician, a famous mind-reader named Washington Irving Bishop, and decided to give her money out of respect for her son.
BROOKZ: Houdini was known throughout his career to help out and even support his fellow magicians and entertainers.
WILDMAN: It seems that Houdini kept up the ruse for Eleanor's sake until her death.
BROOKZ: Houdini felt good that he had been able to give Eleanor Bishop her better life.
WILDMAN: Today, these yellowing pages are a touching reminder of an aging con artist and the compassionate magician who kept up her desperate illusion.
From a heavyweight champion to a pioneering politician, a ferocious beast, to a baffling bug.
I'm Don Wildman, and these are the mysteries at the museum.