Mysteries at the Museum (2010) s11e08 Episode Script

Death of Michael Rockefeller; The 68 Salute; Andes Rugby Crash

1 An iconic protest for civil rights America had a disease, and it was called racism.
plane-crash victims saved by a grizzly meal The truth was it was the only way out.
and an audacious escape from bondage -- He was literally running for his life.
These are the mysteries at the museum.
Salt Lake City, Utah, features some of the finest ski resorts in the world.
But those seeking a break from the slopes can visit the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.
It's collection includes an intricately carved sideboard, a portrait of an 18th century Russian princess, and a statue of Louis XIV, the self-proclaimed "Sun King.
" But among these elegant works of art is a weapon of war.
It's about two feet wide and roughly five feet high.
It's made out of wood.
And carved at the top of it appears to be a human head.
WILDMAN: This wooden shield connects a famous American family with a blood-curdling mystery.
This is a fascinating story about one of the greatest names in American history lost at sea and the question of exactly what happened.
WILDMAN: It's November 1961.
A massive search-and-rescue effort is underway off the coast of New Guinea, just north of Australia.
Crews are looking for one of the wealthiest people in the world -- the 23-year-old heir to the Rockefeller fortune, Michael Rockefeller.
KAMIL: The Rockefellers were one of the most powerful families in America.
WILDMAN: An avid art collector, Michael had been on an expedition to collect wood carvings made by the native Asmat people.
But miles from shore, his boat capsized.
According to his fellow travelers, Rockefeller swam for help but never came back.
For more than a week, authorities combed the area looking for any sign of the wealthy art collector.
The government went into full gear with air, land, and sea search facilities.
WILDMAN: But after nine long days, there's no trace of the missing heir, and the hunt is called off.
KAMIL: It's announced in the press that the hope of finding Michael Rockefeller alive is very unlikely.
WILDMAN: Even though his body is not found, the heir is pronounced dead.
The official report is that Michael Rockefeller drowned.
WILDMAN: But years later, a new theory emerges that Michael Rockefeller might have survived the swim.
The rumors that begin to spread are that a white man had been seen with the Asmat people.
WILDMAN: Some people believe that Rockefeller was tired of the spotlight that came with his famous last name, so he absconded to live a simpler life among the native people of New Guinea.
So there's a inkling of hope that he could have survived and maybe even been taken in as a tribe member.
WILDMAN: The emergence of this new theory turns the wealthy scion's disappearance into one of the most debated mysteries of the 1960s.
Then, in 2012, over 50 years since Rockefeller vanished, a journalist named Carl Hoffman resolves to uncover the truth once and for all.
KAMIL: Carl Hoffman is completely intrigued by this incredible mystery.
WILDMAN: Hoffman travels to New Guinea with a small crew.
There, he seeks out the Asmat people for answers.
Hoffman and his entourage end up in a village.
And they meet with a number of village elders.
WILDMAN: Hoffman asks them if they know anything about the young white man who disappeared 50 years earlier.
Incredibly, they are familiar with the story.
The community elders, who were children in the 1960s, recall a man crawling out of the water.
WILDMAN: Hoffman asks the villagers if they remember what happened to the man.
But nothing can prepare the seasoned journalist for the answer.
According to the elders, Michael Rockefeller was the victim of an ancient Asmat custom -- headhunting.
Years before Rockefeller's disappearance, the Asmat people had been victims of a violent attack carried out by Westerners and had come to consider any white man as their enemy.
So according to the elders, the young white man who was seen crawling to shore met a grisly fate.
KAMIL: The natives approached him.
And someone stabbed him in the ribs with a spear.
He was ritually slaughtered, eaten, and then his bones given out to tribesmen, many of whom had suffered under the raid years earlier.
WILDMAN: Hoffman is convinced the man had to have been Michael Rockefeller.
It was incredibly unusual for a white man to be coming out of the water alone.
WILDMAN: Carl Hoffman is left in little doubt that Michael Rockefeller was a victim of headhunting.
At this point in time, most historians do believe that Michael Rockefeller died at the hands of cannibals.
WILDMAN: Today, this Asmat wood carving is on display at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City.
It recalls a wealthy young man whose passion led to his tragic demise.
Musket balls from an 18th century slave ship, a hat that belonged to famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and an 1850 printing press are just some of the items on display at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
But among these striking artifacts is a fragile set of items that are easily overlooked.
The document is written in cursive handwriting.
It consists of three loose sheets of paper 12 inches high and 7 3/4 inches wide.
WILDMAN: These papers chronicle one of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of America's Underground Railroad.
This document meant the difference between life and death for many persons.
WILDMAN: It's 1853.
Although slavery is illegal across the north, it remains the law of the land in the south, where hundreds of thousands of slaves are desperate to escape a life of bondage.
But that's easier said than done.
A law called the Fugitive Slave Act means that runaway slaves can be arrested and sent back to the south, even if they are caught in the free northern states.
The only sure shot at freedom is to somehow make it all the way to Canada.
To get there, many turned to a clandestine network of abolitionists stretching from Ohio to Ontario called the Underground Railroad.
BATTLE: In terms of geography, Ohio is the beginning of the north.
WILDMAN: And in the city of Cincinnati, one of the network's biggest supporters is a man named Reverend William Troy.
BATTLE: Reverend Troy believed deeply that all persons should be free.
WILDMAN: For years, the reverend has been secretly helping runaway slaves reach freedom.
But now he faces his biggest challenge yet -- helping a fugitive who has already been caught.
An escaped slave named Lewis Williams has been arrested and is awaiting trial in the local courthouse.
The legal system required that a judge would validate that the person was indeed a fugitive slave and assist in returning that person to their masters.
WILDMAN: But this step is little more than a formality.
The court will almost certainly send Lewis back to a life of bondage.
BATTLE: Reverend Troy was very much aware of the fact that Lewis would have been returned to slavery at the end of that trial.
WILDMAN: The minister resolves to secure Lewis' freedom not by defending him in court but by helping him escape.
He was determined that no matter what happened in the trial, Lewis Williams would be free.
WILDMAN: But Williams is so well-guarded that busting him out is almost impossible.
So Reverend Troy comes up with an audacious plan.
He'll help Williams escape during the trial itself.
The reverend will pack the courtroom with members of his congregation, have a lawyer create a distraction, and, in the commotion, sneak Lewis out of the building.
If all goes according to plan, Lewis will hide in the reverend's house.
From there, he'll connect to the Underground Railroad and head to Canada.
But if he's discovered, the consequences will be severe.
BATTLE: If Lewis were caught, he would be sent back to slavery, and most likely Reverend Troy would have gone to jail.
WILDMAN: The trial gets underway.
As planned, a lawyer distracts the judge with a lengthy argument.
Then, Lewis is given the signal to escape.
Lewis quickly drops to the floor and hides in the crowd.
He crawls through the courtroom and heads straight out the door.
Then he races to Reverend Troy's house.
Lewis Williams was literally running for his life.
WILDMAN: But his bid for freedom is just beginning.
Back in the courtroom, the judge soon realizes the prisoner has slipped away.
[ Gavel bangs ] Where's the prisoner? All hell broke loose.
Immediately, people went out to try to find Lewis.
WILDMAN: As planned, Lewis hides in Troy's home until the reverend joins him.
Then, the two wait for a chance to slip out of the house and connect with the Underground Railroad.
But there's a frightening development.
BATTLE: The police were going door to door.
Reverend Troy and Lewis both knew that their lives were on the line.
WILDMAN: The pair needs a miracle.
And that's when Reverend Troy gets a crafty idea, something that he hopes the authorities will never see coming.
The question is will it work? It's 1853 in Cincinnati.
Reverend William Troy has just helped a fugitive slave named Lewis Williams escape from a courthouse.
The duo hides out in the minister's house and waits for the right moment to connect with the Underground Railroad.
But when the authorities start going door to door, it seems the brazen breakout might be cut short.
Reverend Troy knows it's only a matter of time before the cops discover the fugitive.
BATTLE: The police were coming down the street.
And it looked like Lewis were caught.
But Troy, who was a quick thinker, concocted a plan.
WILDMAN: The reverend opens the wardrobe and pulls out a selection of women's clothes -- a dress, petticoat, and bonnet -- and tells Williams to put them on.
Lewis dressed up like he were the daughter of Reverend Troy.
WILDMAN: Troy has a young man come to his house and escort Lewis past the authorities.
BATTLE: Lewis, acting as if he were the date, embraced the arm of this gentleman caller, and the two of them sauntered out of the house.
They walked right past the police.
WILDMAN: Soon after, Lewis connects with the Underground Railroad and finds refuge in Canada.
And authorities never learn of Reverend Troy's part in the plot.
Lewis lived out the rest of his life as a free person with absolute gratitude for the antics of Reverend Troy.
WILDMAN: Today, church records calling for a fugitive slave fund to aid escaped slaves are on display at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
They recall the clever abolitionist and his daring scheme to secure a man's freedom.
Australia is famous for its rugged outback, picturesque beaches, and diverse wildlife.
And situated in the nation's capital city of Canberra is an institution which celebrates all that and more, the National Museum of Australia.
Its collection includes an early 19th century ship anchor, a wagon which traversed the outback for more than 30 years, and the preserved heart of one of the country's most famous racehorses.
But amid these Australian treasures is an object that was thrust into the international spotlight.
CASHMORE: It measures 23 inches by 18 inches.
There are a few smudges.
It's showing its age.
There is a badge bearing the image of a kangaroo and a signature.
WILDMAN: This jersey recalls one of the most iconic moments in the history of the Olympic Games.
This was a moment when all eyes were on something other than sport.
WILDMAN: It's the late 1960s.
The American civil rights movement has reached a fever pitch.
In the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
, a wave of unrest has swept the nation.
CASHMORE: Black people were still being denied civil rights.
And in practically every American city, there had been some kind of very serious disturbance.
WILDMAN: The violent protests generate widespread media attention throughout the United States.
But outside the country, many people remain unaware of the plight of African-Americans.
CASHMORE: What the rest of the world didn't know is that America had a disease, and it was called racism.
WILDMAN: American civil rights activists know that if they want to give their movement a boost, they'll have to publicize it on the global stage.
And they're about to find a platform in the most unlikely of places.
October 1968 -- Mexico City.
Thousands of athletes are gathered in this capital as it hosts the 19th summer Olympic Games.
One of the most exciting events is the men's 200-meter final.
Two Americans are favorites, 24-year-old Tommie Smith and 23-year-old John Carlos.
But the two runners hope to achieve more than Olympic glory.
If they make it to the winners' podium, they have something else in mind beyond just accepting their medals.
Smith and Carlos were planning to mount a protest on the Olympic rostrum to show their discontent with what was happening in the United States.
WILDMAN: But to pull off their daring demonstration, they first need to make it to the podium.
On October 16th, Smith and Carlos take their positions on the track.
The starting gun fires.
[ Gunshot ] And the Americans sprint to the front of the pack.
CASHMORE: The race went pretty much as expected.
Smith went into an early lead.
And Carlos was nipping at his heels.
WILDMAN: But then, in the final 30 meters, there's a sudden turn of events.
Carlos begins to flag, and a little-known Australian runner named Peter Norman races up from behind.
Peter Norman had appeared as if out of a vacuum.
WILDMAN: In a flash, the underdog passes Carlos.
Carlos was fading, at first slightly and then rapidly.
WILDMAN: Will Carlos make it to the podium? It's 1968 -- Mexico City.
Two American runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, plan to make a bold civil rights statement in front of the world at the summer Olympic Games.
But it all hinges on them getting to the medal ceremony.
And in the finals, John Carlos begins to fade.
So, can the Americans make it to the podium and pull off this powerful protest? In a thrilling finish, Tommie Smith crosses the finish line first.
The Australian, Peter Norman, surprises everyone by coming in second with John Carlos right behind him.
After the race, the athletes celebrate and congratulate each other.
The three medalists are friendly, and there's an awful lot of camaraderie between them.
WILDMAN: But before they head to the medal ceremony, the Americans tell Norman about their plan.
CASHMORE: Smith and Carlos told Norman that despite the achievement of civil rights, black people in America were denied equal opportunities at practically ever turn.
WILDMAN: A sympathetic Norman unequivocally offers his support.
That evening, Smith and Carlos take their places on the podium with Norman standing alongside them.
When "The Star-Spangled Banner" starts playing, the two Americans don black gloves and raise their clenched fists in the air, a symbol of the Black Power movement.
Black Power was a movement of people who believed that black people were being held back in society and fought steadfastly at securing civil rights for black Americans.
WILDMAN: Peter Norman stands in solidarity beside his fellow athletes.
On his chest, he wears a symbol of his support, a button from the Olympic Project for Human Rights.
CASHMORE: The Olympic Project for Human Rights was a coalition of like-minded people, all of whom were discontented with the way in which black people were being treated in the United States.
WILDMAN: The dramatic Black Power salute is seen by millions of TV viewers around the globe.
CASHMORE: This is one of the most important moments in the whole civil rights movement.
It encapsulated not just one moment in 1968 but a whole narrative that stretches over hundreds of years.
WILDMAN: Today, Peter Norman's Olympic jersey is on display at the National Museum of Australia.
It represents one man's small contribution in a momentous race for social change.
Golden, Colorado, was settled by gold prospectors in the 1850s.
Today, it's a popular starting point for hikers and climbers heading into the Rockies.
So it's no surprise that Golden is home to an institution that celebrates such outdoor adventures, The Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum.
It contains over 5,000 artifacts, such as the clothes worn by the first American to climb Mount Everest and an ice axe used during an ascent of K2.
But amidst this technical gear is a simple, even crude, object.
This artifact is about 4 1/2 inches long, 1 1/2 inch wide.
It's made out of clear plastic.
It has sharp edges, and it looks handmade.
WILDMAN: This shard served a gruesome purpose during one of the most infamous disasters of all time.
PEÑA: This is a story about what people do in extreme circumstances to survive.
WILDMAN: Friday, October 13, 1972 -- central Chile.
The Chilean Aerial Rescue Service has launched a massive operation to find a passenger plane that has vanished somewhere in the Andes Mountains.
The aircraft was on a routine flight from Mendoza, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile.
On board were five crew members and 40 passengers, among them a team of Uruguayan rugby players.
Officials lost contact with the plane just before it was scheduled to land.
They can only assume it must have crashed in the mountains.
Rescuers are holding on to the slim hope that those aboard may have survived the impact.
But finding the wreckage is a daunting task.
PEÑA: The average height was about 13,000 feet.
But there are lots of peaks that are 20,000 feet.
It was like searching for a needle in a haystack.
WILDMAN: The Rescue Service scours the vast mountain range using planes, cars, and even horses.
But after one week, officials come to the grim conclusion that the chances of finding anyone alive are zero.
PEÑA: Even if they had survived the initial crash, they had no food and no clothing.
In the cold, they would have died pretty quickly.
WILDMAN: Eight days after it began, the search is called off.
News of the tragedy sends shockwaves across the continent.
The passengers of the plane were between 18 and 26.
These were promising young men.
WILDMAN: But then, over two months after the plane first went missing, something amazing happens.
A herdsman at a remote outpost in eastern Chile spots two half-starved young men descending from the mountains.
They say they have survived a terrible plane crash.
PEÑA: They told him they had been climbing and hiking over the Andes for 10 days, and that, "We need help.
There are 14 other survivors still up in the mountain.
" WILDMAN: The two men eventually direct rescue teams to the crash site where, miraculously, 14 other survivors are found.
The passengers are brought to Santiago, Chile.
There, they hold a press conference and tell their harrowing story.
And it's more amazing than anyone could have imagined.
How did 16 people survive in the freezing Andes with no food? It's 1972 -- Santiago, Chile.
A plane disappears in the Andes Mountains.
After an exhaustive search, everyone on board is presumed dead.
But then, 72 days later, 16 young men are miraculously discovered alive.
So how did they make it so long with subzero temperatures and no food? In front of a throng of international reporters, the young men relate their horrifying tale.
They say that, back on the day of the crash, their pilot got disoriented in a cloud bank, and the plane clipped a mountain peak.
Then it crashed into a glacier which was completely surrounded by high peaks on all sides.
[ Crashing ] This hidden location explains why rescue teams couldn't find the wreckage.
29 passengers survived the impact, but in the coming days their numbers began to dwindle until only 16 were left.
PEÑA: The plane had no food other than whatever the passengers might have brought.
There were some bottles of wine.
All they ate was just a few little pieces of chocolate or a little bit of jam or eat toothpaste -- You know, whatever they could.
WILDMAN: When those meager rations ran out, they were forced to make a grim decision.
PEÑA: They realized, "In order for us to get ourselves out of here, we need to eat.
And the only food available is the bodies of the dead.
" WILDMAN: Using a crude knife crafted from a shard of plastic from the plane, the survivors did what they needed to do.
PEÑA: This was especially difficult for them because this wasn't a group of strangers.
Everyone knew each other.
It wasn't an easy decision to eat the remains of your friend.
WILDMAN: This desperate act was just enough for the group to survive.
Eventually, they sent the two strongest passengers down the mountain to find help.
When the press found out that they had survived by eating the bodies of the dead, there was a lot of debate.
You know, is that moral? Is that not moral? The truth was it was the only way out.
WILDMAN: What becomes known as the Miracle in the Andes inspires books, documentaries, and feature films and remains one of the most famous survival stories of all time.
Today, this crude plastic knife is on display at the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, Colorado.
It serves as a simple testament to the human will to survive.
New York City is home to an astonishing 237 skyscrapers, including One World Trade Center.
At 1,776 feet, it's the tallest building in the western hemisphere.
And honoring the ingenuity and skill of the region's workers, many of whom helped raise these towering monoliths, is The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesman.
On display at this 230-year-old institution is an assortment of antique keys, a colonial coin from the 1780s, and a piece of cable from the first transatlantic telegraph.
But among these treasured relics is one item that speaks to the darker side of innovation.
The artifact is about 12 inches by 12 inches.
It has a golden brass color with a little bit of silver.
It's perfectly machined, incredibly accurate, and remarkably precise.
WILDMAN: This antique lock calls to mind one of the most ingenious crime sprees in New York City history.
TOWNE: This artifact was thought to be impenetrable.
But one thief figured out a way to crack it.
WILDMAN: June 1869 -- Manhattan.
Employees of the Ocean National Bank arrive at work one morning and make an astonishing discovery.
Over $800,000 worth of cash and jewelry have been stolen from the vault.
$800,000 in 1869 was an astronomical amount of money.
But in particular, it was far and away the most that had ever been stolen in the city.
WILDMAN: The crime leaves bank employees scratching their heads.
Normally, thieves would use explosives to blow open a vault or crowbars to pry open a lock.
But the vault's door is still closed, and the lock is undisturbed.
In fact, there's no damage nor any evidence of tampering whatsoever.
It's as if the contents of the vault simply disappeared.
The fact that they left no trace was completely unique.
WILDMAN: The police begin looking for the culprits.
But with no evidence at the crime scene, they're stumped.
And it appears the robbers are just getting started.
A bank in Boston soon reports the loss of nearly $500,000.
Then, a Baltimore bank is robbed of $250,000.
And over the next three years, dozens of banks up and down the east coast report losses of millions of dollars.
Each case is the same -- There are no eyewitnesses, and the thieves leave no clues.
TOWNE: Every scene followed the same pattern.
All of the locks would still operate perfectly, but all of the currency and jewelry would be gone.
The police are incredibly frustrated, and they were getting nowhere.
WILDMAN: So who is behind this sensational string of robberies? It's Manhattan -- the 1870s.
For years, a legendary gang of thieves has been robbing banks and getting away with millions.
Each case is the same -- The vault remains locked shut, but everything inside is gone.
There are no clues nor eyewitnesses.
So who's responsible for this unfathomable crime spree? In 1878, the police finally get a lucky break.
A bank employee steps forward and says that he's an inside man.
He admits that he was recruited by the gang that's been pulling off this incredible string of robberies.
But he says that when he didn't get his fair cut of the money after a recent job, he vowed revenge.
And he's willing to tell all.
According to the snitch, the robbers hired insiders at every bank they targeted.
And the gang was organized by an unlikely leader, a celebrated architect and esteemed member of New York's elite named George Leslie.
TOWNE: This shocks the police.
George Leslie was so well-respected.
He's part of the upper crust.
WILDMAN: As a valued customer at many of the city's biggest banks, Leslie was uniquely positioned to scope out potential targets without arousing suspicion.
TOWNE: This would allow him to see how their security worked and allows him to plan out these crimes to a tee.
Nobody blinked an eye to see him wandering around the halls of these financial institutions.
WILDMAN: Leslie's access to the banks allowed him to employ a secret weapon of his own design, a device called the little joker.
TOWNE: The little joker was a thin, tin disk small enough to fit in your pocket.
It would be secured behind the dial of the safe.
WILDMAN: As bank personnel locked and unlocked a vault during the course of a business day, the mechanism made small cuts into the tin disk.
TOWNE: Every time the combination was dialed in, the little joker would be carving grooves into itself.
When you retrieved the little joker later, wherever those grooves are are the numbers for the combination.
WILDMAN: Leslie and his gang would then sneak into a bank, retrieve the little joker, and read the combination.
Then, they opened the vault and took everything.
TOWNE: This little tool is the reason the police never found anything at the crime scenes.
WILDMAN: Following this confession, police round up the remainder of the gang.
But when they move to arrest its mastermind, they make one last shocking discovery.
George Leslie was dead.
WILDMAN: Police learned that Leslie was killed when a heated argument with one of his gang members turned deadly.
[ Gunshot ] And when their leader was murdered, the gang began to unravel.
George Leslie goes down as one of the most prolific bank robbers in American history.
His little joker beat some of the most sophisticated locks of the day, like this 1867 Yale combination lock on display at The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesman.
It's a reminder of an unlikely criminal and the ingenious scheme to unlock a fortune.
New Bedford, Massachusetts.
In the 19th century, this busy port was the capital of the whaling industry, making its residents some of the richest in the world.
Today, its maritime heritage is preserved here at The New Bedford Whaling Museum.
On display are vintage navigational tools, Inuit harpoons, and a 48-foot sperm whale skeleton.
But mounted in a corner is an artifact linked to a legendary encounter not with a whale, but something far more terrifying.
BERSON: It's about seven feet long by one feet wide.
It's brown.
It looks like it's been restored.
And across the front, you'll read, in gilt lettering "Monongahela.
" WILDMAN: This sign once adorned a ship that has been missing for more than a century and a half.
This is a maritime mystery of epic proportions.
WILDMAN: What monstrous fate befell the crew of the Monongahela? It's 1852 in New York.
An editor at the daily newspaper The New-York Tribune has just received an astonishing letter.
It's from Captain Jason Seabury of the Monongahela, a whaling ship out of Massachusetts.
Captain Seabury writes that while sailing near New Guinea in the southwest Pacific he and his crew spied an enormous creature moving in the water.
They knew it wasn't a whale.
It was far too long.
WILDMAN: According to the letter, the crew watched in horror as what appeared to be a giant sea serpent emerged from the deep.
It appeared to be about as long as the ship.
It had humps and very sharp teeth.
And it was undulating up and down and tipped the boat and knocked several of the crew right into the water.
WILDMAN: Captain Seabury claims the crew battled the creature for hours until the captain lanced it in the lungs with a harpoon [ Creature growls, groans ] and killed it.
And that's not all -- Seabury says that in order to prove their wild story, they've cut the beast into pieces and stored them on board.
BERSON: The letter said that they decapitated it and put the head on the deck.
And they preserved its heart in a container of liquor.
WILDMAN: The captain writes that upon his ship's return to America, he will show the unique specimen to the world.
The Tribune editor is amazed.
He immediately publishes the captain's incredible letter and dubs the creature the Monongahela sea serpent.
The story is picked up by newspapers around the globe.
And readers everywhere eagerly anticipate the Monongahela's return.
BERSON: People around the world were excited to see the remains of this creature when it was finally brought home.
WILDMAN: But the public soon finds themselves bitterly disappointed.
The ship never arrives.
When the Coast Guard investigates, its findings reveal that natives in Alaska had witnessed a ship fitting the Monongahela's description being crushed by pack ice and sinking like a stone.
Then, nearly three years after Captain Seabury's amazing letter was published, pieces of the ship wash ashore in the Arctic Circle, including the name plate now on display at The New Bedford Whaling Museum.
BERSON: The recovery of the quarter board was proof to the people of New Bedford that the Monongahela was indeed lost in a tragic accident.
WILDMAN: And without any physical evidence of the creature that Captain Seabury had described, a shadow of doubt is cast over the veracity of the encounter.
BERSON: Some people were skeptical because it was such a fantastic story.
WILDMAN: The Monongahela's supposed confrontation with a sea serpent goes down as just another fish story cooked up by a bored crew on a long and arduous journey.
But 100 years later, scientists discover revealing evidence that sheds new light on Seabury's seemingly fantastical tale.
BERSON: Some people believe that this is evidence, that this was a true story.
WILDMAN: So, did the men of the Monongahela really encounter a monstrous creature from the deep? For more than 150 years, the story of the whaling ship the Monongahela and its battle with a giant sea monster has gripped all who've heard it.
So what's the truth behind this whale of a tale? In 1938, marine biologists make a groundbreaking discovery that sheds new light on the Monongahela's alleged encounter with a giant sea serpent.
They find a small fish that was believed to be extinct for more than 65 million years.
It's called a coelacanth.
Scientists later learned that the coelacanth is just one of many forgotten creatures called Lazarus species.
Named for the biblical character who was raised from the dead by Jesus, Lazarus species are animals that were thought to have been extinct only to make a sudden and seemingly miraculous return to existence.
There's many examples of creatures that were thought to be extinct that were then found to be alive.
WILDMAN: In 2007, a whaling historian named Tom Lytle is reviewing the story of the Monongahela when he uncovers a possible connection to such long-forgotten creatures.
The size, shape, and movement of the sea serpent Seabury wrote about closely matches a dinosaur believed to have gone extinct 35 million years ago, the basilosaurus.
The similarities between a basilosaurus and what Seabury described in his letters is incredible.
WILDMAN: So did Captain Seabury encounter a dinosaur that most had thought was extinct? The truth remains elusive.
I don't think we'll ever really know if Jason Seabury saw a basilosaurus.
But the big thing to take away from this story is that the sea covers 71% of the Earth's surface.
We've only explored about 10% of the ocean.
WILDMAN: Today, in The New Bedford Whaling Museum, this sign from the Monongahela serves as a reminder of the untold mysteries that still lurk deep in the ocean's murky depths.
From a missing millionaire to an Olympic protest, a frightening encounter at sea to a miracle in the mountains -- I'm Don Wildman, And these are the mysteries at the museum.