Mysteries at the Museum (2010) s12e05 Episode Script

Boston Marathon Cheat

A president caught with his pants down MAN: He's in the most awkward circumstances.
It's a remarkable incident.
A celebrity sharpshooter dragged through the mud WOMAN: This was a perfect story.
She was the first true superstar.
And a mysterious signal from outer space.
MAN: You're talking about potentially the biggest discovery in the history of the world.
These are the mysteries at the museum.
The Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York are an outdoor-enthusiast's paradise.
Visitors can enjoy a range of action-packed excursions, such as hiking, kayaking and fishing.
And in the city of Utica is an institution that tracks another popular athletic activity, the National Distance Running Hall of Fame.
Its collection includes trophies won by marathon runners, track shoes from the 1970s and vintage uniforms worn during the 1956 Olympic Games.
But among these celebrations of athletic achievement is an artifact that recalls a dark chapter in the history of sports.
MAN: It's about the size of a silver dollar.
It hangs on a 9-inch blue and yellow ribbon and only weighs a few ounces.
On the back, it is inscribed, "1980 winner.
" WILDMAN: This gold medal was at the center of an audacious hoax that went farther than any runner could have expected.
MAN: Even today, it is the most unbelievable story that this sport has ever seen.
WILDMAN: April 21, 1980, Boston, the city's famous marathon is underway.
Thousands of runners race through the streets.
LEWIS: The Boston Marathon is very special.
People from all over the world come to run in this very prestigious event.
WILDMAN: At 2:12 p.
, the men's winner crosses the finish line.
And the crowd waits to see who will come out on top in the women's race.
It's expected to be a tight contest between two of the sport's superstars, Jacqueline Gareau and Patti Lyons.
Eighteen minutes later, the leader of the pack comes into view.
But it's neither Gareau nor Lyons.
In fact, it's a complete unknown.
LEWIS: Who is this woman? No one could believe what they were seeing.
WILDMAN: The mysterious runner crosses the finish line, blowing away the rest of the competition.
The crowd is amazed.
It looks like they've just witnessed the biggest upset in the history of athletics.
LEWIS: Everyone was stunned.
It was totally unexpected.
WILDMAN: The surprise champion is revealed to be a 26-year-old amateur athlete named Rosie Ruiz.
Race officials award the unknown underdog a laurel wreath and a gold medal.
Ruiz's improbable victory catapults her to instant fame.
LEWIS: Rosie Ruiz had shocked the running community.
WILDMAN: But there's more to this remarkable run to stardom than meets the eye.
LEWIS: Rosie Ruiz had just won the Boston Marathon.
But her story was just getting started.
WILDMAN: Moments after Ruiz crossed the finish line, race officials began to notice there was something odd about the runner.
The Boston Marathon is brutal.
It beats you up.
When you finish, you're sweating.
You're tired.
You just wanna sit down.
WILDMAN: Ruiz did not appear to be in that condition.
LEWIS: Ruiz had a very clean jersey.
Her hair was parted.
And she didn't appear as if she extended herself.
WILDMAN: While the press hails Ruiz as a hero, concerned marathon officials launch an investigation.
They gather news footage from the race and go through it frame-by-frame.
And what they find, or rather what they don't find, is alarming.
Ruiz can't be seen anywhere for the first 25 miles of the 26-mile course.
Then comes the smoking gun.
Having seen Ruiz's picture in newspapers, two spectators come forward with an astounding claim.
They say they witnessed the so-called miracle runner jumping out of the bushes and onto the course less than a mile from the finish line.
LEWIS: Race officials of the Boston Marathon were totally stunned.
It seems that Ruiz snuck onto the course 25 miles into the race and only ran a short distance to the end.
LEWIS: Rosie Ruiz was a cheat.
WILDMAN: Ruiz is immediately stripped of her title and denounced as a fraud.
They say cheaters never prosper.
I can't imagine how humiliating it would be to be exposed as a cheat.
WILDMAN: And it seems that Boston wasn't the only place where Rosie Ruiz pulled a fast one.
In the aftermath of the scandal, officials uncover that 6 months earlier, Ruiz faked her way to the finish line of the New York City Marathon after taking the subway most of the way there.
This bizarre track record earns her a unique and ignominious place in the history of running.
It's a moment in the sport that people are still talking about.
To this day, you mention the name, and people will talk about Rosie Ruiz the cheater.
WILDMAN: Today, this medal from the 1980 Boston Marathon is on display at the National Distance Running Hall of Fame.
It recalls the audacious cheat and her race to infamy.
Bristol, England, this charming coastal city is one of the world's oldest ports.
Over the last thousand years, merchants from across the globe have hawked their wares on these shores, including explorers from the Americas and even the famous pirate, Blackbeard.
And today, the city's status as an international hub is celebrated at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
On display are treasures from around the world, such as ancient Egyptian statues, precious minerals and rare fossils.
But one of the most exotic specimens is linked to a spine-tingling local legend.
MAN: This artifact is about 2 1/2 feet long.
It's 2 feet high.
It's got a sandy brown fur, long, sharp claws on its feet and very uninviting teeth.
WILDMAN: This fearsome predator is part of a macabre mystery that baffled Britain for decades.
MAN: This creature could really provide the key to unmasking a beast that's been on the hunt for many years.
WILDMAN: It's October, 1993 in Cornwall, England.
A frantic woman bursts into a local police station with a terrifying story to tell.
She says she was out for an evening stroll in a remote area called Bodmin Moor when something pounced on her and knocked her to the ground.
[ Animal snarling, woman screaming ] When she rolled over, she came face-to-face with a horrifying sight, an enormous beast with huge teeth, long white claws and two enormous glowing eyes.
She says the only reason she survived was because a barking dog chased the frightening creature away.
But while her experience sounds petrifying, officials don't take it all that seriously.
BATH: The police were rather skeptical of her story and believed that she had possibly let her imagination get the better of her.
WILDMAN: Yet, it soon becomes clear that what she saw could be all too real.
Over the next 6 months, nearly 70 people report seeing a hellish beast stalking the countryside.
And farmers all over Cornwall report finding their livestock slaughtered.
BATH: A farmer in South Bolton found his flock of sheep dead on the ground, their throats slit open.
WILDMAN: The blood curdling reports leaves the public terrified.
And the press dub the creature the Beast of Bodmin.
BATH: Very soon, this very dramatic story really was the talk of Cornwall.
WILDMAN: In the interest of public safety, the British Government launches a massive investigation.
Officials examine all the available evidence and even search Bodmin Moor with tracking equipment.
But after 6 months of exhaustive analysis, the research comes up blank.
BATH: The conclusion was that they could not prove the existence of a beast on Bodmin Moor.
The ministry thought that the local people were a little bit over imaginative in their recounting of the sightings of this beast.
WILDMAN: Local residents urged the government to keep looking.
But their pleas are rebuffed.
BATH: There was a very firm belief that there was indeed a beast roaming the moor, terrorizing local people.
WILDMAN: Indeed, over the next 16 years, the sightings continue.
People in Cornwall fear the mystery will never be solved.
But then in 2011, a chance discovery finally reveals the truth behind the Beast of Bodmin.
It's the 2000s in Southwestern England.
For years, the countryside has been plagued by sightings of a mysterious creature dubbed the Beast of Bodmin.
According to reports, it's killed livestock and even attacked people.
But so far, no one has been able to track it down.
So what's the truth behind this monster on the moors? For years, amateur investigators combed the Cornwall countryside searching for evidence of the enigmatic Beast of Bodmin.
But then in 2011, a researcher at the Bristol Museum cracks the case wide open.
He discovers something incredible in the institution's archives, a stuffed Canadian lynx with a curious display tag.
The tag notes that the animal was shot and killed in 1903 by a farmer not far from Bodmin Moor and then donated to the museum.
What's odd is that the Canadian lynx is native to North America, not England.
So how could this wildcat have found its way to Cornwall? Intrigued, museum staff send the specimen for analysis.
BATH: Closer examination showed that its teeth were worn in a pattern that would indicate it had been fed as a pet, probably on cat food.
WILDMAN: Museum researchers determine that this Canadian lynx had been someone's exotic pet before it escaped into the wild.
And as they dig deeper, they discover that decades earlier, such an event would not have been uncommon.
In fact, from the turn of the century right up to the 1960s, many of Britain's wealthiest citizens were known to keep wildcats as pets.
BATH: The ultimate accessory for people walking up and down Carnaby Street in swinging London was to have a Cheetah on a lead next to them.
WILDMAN: But in 1976, these exotic pets were banned in England.
And rather than return these illegal animals to their natural habitats, it's rumored that some owners simply ditched them into the English countryside.
Many big cats can live up to 40 years.
Researchers add up this information and reach an amazing conclusion.
This led people to think that the Beast of Bodmin might also be one of these exotic pets.
WILDMAN: While the mysterious creature has never been captured, grainy photos and videos continued to emerge, keeping the legend of the Beast of Bodmin alive and well.
Today, this stuffed lynx on display at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery recalls the search for a terrifying creature that may still be lurking on the moor.
From the Stamp Act riots to Paul Revere's midnight ride, Boston, Massachusetts set the stage for independence.
So it's no surprise that this New England city is nicknamed the Cradle of Liberty.
And that spirit of democracy is celebrated at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
The institution contains an array of priceless artifacts including swords used by soldiers during the Battle of Bunker Hill, a French flintlocked pistol, and an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.
But among these proud relics of the American revolution is an artifact that accounts a little-known event that left a U.
president red in the face.
MAN: This object is round, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
It has very fine Roman numeral markings on it.
It's elegantly made with a gold case.
If you open the back, you find in it an elaborate coat of arms.
WILDMAN: This pocket watch was owned by a commander in chief who was literally caught with his pants down.
MAN: This artifact was a mute witness to an extraordinary meeting between a determined woman and a president in the nude.
WILDMAN: It's the 1820s, 40 years after the Revolutionary War.
The United States is finally on the rise.
For most citizens, America is a land of opportunity.
But some are in the midst of great hardship.
The families of fallen war veterans are often left poverty-stricken.
Thanks to an unjust law that stops pension plans after veterans die, widows are being denied access to their late husband's incomes.
The rule leaves countless women across the country penniless.
DRUMMEY: At that time, pensions were only for former soldiers themselves or the widows of people who had been married to soldiers during the American Revolution.
There's very great unfairness of the veterans' pension system.
WILDMAN: But in Washington, D.
, a tenacious woman is determined to make things right, 55-year-old journalist Anne Royall.
Royall knows firsthand just how hard life can be for a widow.
She too has suffered at the hand of this cruel law.
DRUMMEY: After the death of her husband, Anne Royall was left without any means of support.
WILDMAN: Royall vows to have the unfair practice overturned.
What began as a personal crusade for her own benefit became a much larger effort to right what she sees as a very great injustice.
WILDMAN: Royal wants change, and she wants it fast.
So she decides to take her campaign to the most powerful man in the nation, President John Quincy Adams.
DRUMMEY: John Quincy Adams, as president, would be in the position to promote changes in legislation to support her cause.
WILDMAN: But it's no easy feat.
Royall finds that, try as she might, she can't get the president's attention.
She writes him dozens of letters and repeatedly asks his aides for a meeting at the White House.
All her attempts fall flat.
She was continuously stymied and told the president's unavailable or won't see her.
WILDMAN: Royall is at her wit's end.
She realizes she needs a new tactic.
Since she's continually being denied an official meeting with the commander in chief, perhaps there's a way she can secure an unofficial one.
The determined widow investigates every aspect of Adams' life.
And she discovers a peculiar quirk of his daily routine.
DRUMMEY: Every morning, John Quincy Adams went down to the Potomac and swam in the nude.
WILDMAN: As the story goes, Royall concocts a brazen plan.
She will surprise Adams during one of his morning swims and make her case.
DRUMMEY: Anne Royall thought this would be the opportunity to get her a meeting with the president where he wouldn't be able to escape from her.
WILDMAN: According to the story, one day, Royall wakes up at the crack of dawn and heads to the Potomac.
There, she spots her target, the president of the United States, wearing nothing but his birthday suit.
DRUMMEY: It's an extraordinary scene on the banks of the Potomac River, the naked president out in the water, his determined petitioner on the bank.
WILDMAN: Royall calls out to the president.
DRUMMEY: John Quincy Adams must have, for once in his life, been really taken by surprise.
WILDMAN: But Adam's reaction is not quite what Royall had hoped.
He refuses to get out of the water and ignores her pleas point blank.
It looks like Royall's ploy has failed.
But just as she's about to turn away, she spies the president's clothes by the side of the river.
And that's when she gets a cheeky idea.
She was not gonna take no as the final answer.
It's the 1820s in Washington, D.
A widow named Anne Royall wants to convince President John Quincy Adams to support the families of fallen veterans.
So she confronts the commander in chief in a most compromising position, during his morning swim in the nude.
He refuses to hear her out.
But the cunning crusader has one more scandalous trick up her sleeve.
Royall spies a unique opportunity to force Adams to listen to her plea.
DRUMMEY: Royal has to take drastic action and take it quickly.
She looks around.
And there before her on the bank are the president's clothes.
WILDMAN: The determined woman sits on Adams' clothes and refuses to hand them over.
DRUMMEY: He can't get out of the river to return to the White House.
So, John Quincy Adams is trapped.
He has no choice but to listen to her.
WILDMAN: Royall deftly presents her case on behalf of the nation's struggling widows.
And in exchange for his clothes, the president reluctantly agrees to support her.
DRUMMEY: After all this long struggle, Royall's determination and self reliance worked.
WILDMAN: Thanks to her cheeky ploy and Adams' backing, the law is eventually changed, providing much-needed relief to America's war widows.
And Royall's stunt goes down as one of the most fearless and original campaigns for justice in U.
Today, President John Quincy Adams' pocket watch remains in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.
It stands as a timely reminder of the crusading woman who caught the president with his pants down.
Located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania boasts 446 river crossings.
So it's no surprise that it's nicknamed the City of Bridges.
And just a short distance from the waterfront is an institution that teaches kids about these feats of engineering and a whole lot more, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.
Its exhibits include a bird sculpture made from recycled plastic signs, a tennis ball roller coaster and a 37-foot skate park for model cars.
But among these whimsical exhibits is an artifact that looks more like it belongs in a wardrobe rather than a museum.
WOMAN: The artifact is made of light blue wool.
It has two cable knits.
And it's adorned with a golden zipper.
WILDMAN: This sweater was once worn by a beloved children's entertainer.
But few realize this iconic figure once fought for America's kids in an epic showdown against the most powerful man in the nation.
This is a story of a David who slew a Goliath with the most unlikely set of weapons.
WILDMAN: It's the late 1960s.
Every morning, kids across America tune in to their favorite TV programs.
And perhaps the most cherished show of all is the smash sensation, "Mr.
Rogers' Neighborhood.
" Hosted by the amiable Fred Rogers, the program features songs and puppets that teach children about real-life, everyday topics.
Rogers' Neighborhood" was one of the biggest hits for children everywhere across the United States.
He was able to communicate, in a very meaningful authentic way, the kinds of things that are important to children and families.
WILDMAN: The series airs on the nation's sole public broadcaster, NET, later known as PBS.
The network made high-quality television programming for children.
WILDMAN: But one day, executives learn that the future of kids' programming and even the TV network itself is under attack.
In 1969, President Richard Nixon, believing public broadcasting to be a waste of federal funds, submits a proposal to Congress to slash the network's budget by $10 million, effectively cutting it in half.
SHARAPAN: If the budget for public broadcasting was cut, it would be a disaster.
Children would suffer tremendously because of this.
Nobody else was doing the good work that they were doing for children.
WILDMAN: The president's proposal needs to be approved by a special committee led by Senator John Pastore of Rhode Island.
And the only way for public broadcasters to save their fledgling network is to convince the committee that they provide a critical resource the country can't do without.
SHARAPAN: This was going to be an uphill battle to convince Congress not to cut the budget for public broadcasting.
WILDMAN: On May 1, 1969, network executives travel to Capitol Hill to plead their case.
They read a series of prepared statements about potential job losses, ratings and programming cuts.
But their arguments have no impact on the committee.
Its chair is particularly unimpressed.
SHARAPAN: Senator Pastore had heard a lot of people reading their testimonies.
At first, Pastore seemed a bit skeptical.
WILDMAN: To save their network, executives need a new strategy.
And that's when they produce a made-for-TV moment.
SHARAPAN: Public television management had an ace up their sleeve.
And pretty soon, they showed it.
It's 1969.
Children across America adore "Mr.
Rogers' Neighborhood" on public television.
But the fledgling network's future is in jeopardy.
President Richard Nixon has submitted a proposal to slash $10 million out of the budget, effectively cutting it in half.
The only thing that stands between the network and its demise is a Congressional hearing.
So can anything or anyone save public television? The network executives are floundering at the Congressional hearing.
They need a new strategy.
And who better to convince the Senate that children's shows are invaluable than their most beloved kids' TV host, Fred Rogers.
SHARAPAN: What made him such a gifted communicator is that he was incredibly passionate about his work, about his program and about the children and families he was serving.
And he would do anything for them to help keep quality television on the air.
Rogers appears before the committee.
But unlike the executives, he says nothing about jobs or ratings.
Instead, he pulls at the senators' heart strings.
He explains that children's programming can shape young people in a positive way.
And to prove it, he goes on to recite the words of a song he has written for his show.
It's light and catchy but carries a deeper message.
What do you do with the mad that you feel? It's great to be able to stop when you've planned a thing that's wrong and be able to do something else instead.
Rogers wraps up, all eyes are on Senator Pastore.
This is the first time I've had goose bumps for the last 2 days.
This song had an undeniable effect on Senator Pastore.
Looks like you just earned the $20 million.
WILDMAN: In 1971, thanks in large part to Mr.
Rogers' testimony, Congress actually increases the network's yearly budget to $22 million.
And "Mr.
Rogers' Neighborhood" remains a fixture of the airwaves for more than 30 years.
Rogers' Neighborhood" touched the lives of nearly every American child in the 20th century.
WILDMAN: Today, Mr.
Rogers' iconic sweater, the same one he wore on countless episodes of his beloved program, remains on display at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum.
It's a symbol of the entertainer and educator who stood up to the government on behalf of America's kids.
The picturesque town of Greenville, Ohio is known for its pristine Victorian architecture.
In fact, it boasts more than 80 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
And set inside one of these extraordinary edifices is an institution that preserves the region's storied past, the Garst Museum.
Here, visitors can find a 19th century silver dinnerware set, a rifle used during the War of 1812 and 10,000-year-old mastodon bones discovered in the area.
But among these tokens of local pride is a handcrafted item that belonged to a former resident who achieved national acclaim.
WOMAN: It's made of wool and colored brown and white.
It has a collar.
It has long sleeves and buttons down the front.
WILDMAN: This outfit was worn by one of history's most famous sharpshooter.
But few know of the salacious scandal that nearly derailed her gunslinging legacy.
This is a story of yellow journalism, revenge and redemption.
WILDMAN: It's 1903 in Chicago.
Journalist Ernest Stout is looking for his next big story.
And lucky for him, the scoop of a lifetime is about to fall into his lap.
In August, Stout gets the hottest tip of his career.
A trusted source tells him that Chicago police have one of the most famous women in America in custody, renowned sharpshooter Annie Oakley.
LASKOW: Annie Oakley was this fascinating figure.
She was the first true superstar.
WILDMAN: The public knows Annie as a respectable young lady who happens to be an ace shot with a rifle, earning her the nickname the Princess of the West.
But according to the tip, it's all a lie.
The celebrated entertainer has just been arrested for stealing a man's pants to pay for cocaine.
The story could destroy the adored markswoman's pristine reputation.
But if Stout can break the news, his career will skyrocket.
LASKOW: At the time, cocaine stories were all the rage.
The name Annie Oakley would sell papers.
And so this was a perfect story.
WILDMAN: Before Stout prints the sensational report, the journalist does his due diligence.
He calls up the Chicago police to check the facts.
Sure enough, the officer on duty confirms that Annie Oakley is in police custody.
And so Stout sits down to write what could be the story of his career.
LASKOW: This was going to be totally wild.
WILDMAN: On August 11, 1903, Stout's report is printed under the sensational headline, "Famous Woman Crack Shot Steals to Secure Cocaine.
" The article is reprinted in newspapers across the country.
Annie Oakley's legions of fans are shocked.
LASKOW: People were totally fascinated by this.
WILDMAN: Readers clamor for more information about the gunslinger's arrest.
It looks like the story has given Stout's career a major boost.
But his moment in the spotlight is short-lived.
On August 12, Annie Oakley releases a statement to the press flatly denying Stout's report.
LASKOW: Annie said that she was shattered by this story and that she had tried her entire career to be known as a very modest woman.
WILDMAN: According to her statement, the sharpshooter isn't languishing in a Chicago jail cell.
She's enjoying her retirement in New Jersey.
LASKOW: Annie said that she never smoked, she never drank.
She definitely never did cocaine.
WILDMAN: So what's the truth? Is Annie Oakley a cocaine addict rotting in a Chicago jail cell? Or is she living the good life in New Jersey? It's 1903 in Chicago.
Struggling reporter Ernest Stout publishes the scoop of a lifetime.
Chicago police say they've arrested celebrity sharpshooter Annie Oakley for stealing a man's pants to pay for cocaine.
Annie flatly denies these claims and says that she's been in New Jersey all this time, enjoying her retirement.
So is Annie Oakley a conservative retiree or a trouser-swiping cocaine addict? Stout is floored by Annie's denial.
His contacts in Chicago were adamant that they had the sharpshooter locked up in jail.
But if Annie is to be believed, his breaking story, along with his budding journalism career, could be yesterday's news.
But when Stout double-checks with the Chicago police, he finds out it's all been a terrible misunderstanding.
The police do have a woman named Oakley in custody for the alleged crime.
But she's not the famed sharpshooter.
She's an imposter.
The woman is actually a burlesque performer named Maude Fontanella, who once performed in a Wild West show under the stage name, Any Oakley, Any, is in A-N-Y.
In light of these new facts, Stout's story is completely discredited.
And the real Annie Oakley is hell-bent on revenge.
LASKOW: Annie was shattered by this whole thing.
And she vowed that someone would pay for this dreadful mix-up.
WILDMAN: Annie goes after every newspaper that published the story and instigates the largest libel lawsuit of its day.
In total, she sues 55 different newspapers, including the paper that employed Ernest Stout.
She wins over a quarter of a million dollars.
It's the first major celebrity libel case against the media.
Today, Annie Oakley's costume is on display at the Garst Museum in Greenville, Ohio.
It recalls the ambitious reporter who let a good story get in the way of the truth and the famous sharpshooter caught in the cross hairs.
A machine that measures the brightness of stars, a 150-year-old globe and a 17-foot-long telescope are just some of the astronomy-related artifacts on display at the Perkins Observatory in Delaware, Ohio.
Many of these items have helped unlock the secrets of the universe.
But there's one object here that some say hold the answer to the greatest mystery of all time.
MAN: The artifact is 8 inches wide by 8 inches tall.
It's lined with metal rods.
It's over 50 years old and was once used in a one-of-a-kind experiment.
WILDMAN: Some believe this strange assemblage of wires once picked up proof that we are not alone.
This story is about the biggest discovery in the history of humanity.
WILDMAN: It's 1977 in Delaware, Ohio.
37-year-old Jerry Ehman is an astronomer working at the Perkins Observatory.
His job is to monitor radio waves coming from outer space.
Everything in the universe, from the tiniest atom to massive stars, creates radio waves.
Analyzing these signals allows scientists to study black holes, the movement of planets, the formation of new stars and more.
Ehman keeps a watchful eye on these radio waves using a giant radio telescope nicknamed the Big Ear.
PATEL: Its job was simply to listen in on outer space, collect as much radio wave data as possible.
WILDMAN: Every day, the Big Ear prints out hundreds of pages of data.
And Ehman carefully goes through it line by line.
PATEL: This data was translated into a system of numbers and letters illustrating the intensity of the radio signals.
So low power signals would be designated with a zero through nine label.
Higher powers, A-Z.
WILDMAN: Most of the time, all the Big Ear picks up is weak signals from planets, stars or asteroids.
PATEL: Ehman was poring over this data at all hours of the day.
WILDMAN: But something is about to happen that will change Ehman's life forever.
On August 15, 1977, the astronomer is combing through the data.
At first, all he sees are the same old patterns of low numbers.
But then, he spots something very different.
It was a radio signal 30 times the intensity of what is normally produced through outer space.
WILDMAN: It's the strongest signal Ehman has ever seen.
The powerful radio waves appear to originate from a single fixed point and are at a frequency unlike any naturally occurring event or object in the cosmos.
PATEL: He was speechless.
This was beyond anything he could have ever imagined.
He picked up a red pen and wrote in the margins, "Wow" with an exclamation mark.
WILDMAN: So, what has Ehman discovered? You're talking about potentially the biggest discovery in the history of the world.
No one had ever found anything like this ever.
It's 1977 in Ohio.
Astronomer Jerry Ehman discovers a strange signal from outer space that's been picked up by a radio telescope called the Big Ear.
Nothing like this has ever been detected before.
And Ehman's findings could potentially solve the biggest mystery in the universe.
So what's the truth behind this astronomical anomaly? Ehman takes the data to his colleagues.
And thanks to the scrawlings he's made on the page, they dub it the Wow! signal.
They point the Big Ear telescope back to the exact same spot and search for a similar signal but are unable to detect anything.
Whatever was generating the mysterious signal is gone.
Speculation about what caused the anomaly runs wild.
PATEL: The entire community of astronomers came together and started poring over what might explain this new signal.
WILDMAN: Some believe the Big Ear simply picked up an airplane's radar transmission.
But the idea is dismissed.
If the signal was from an airplane, it would have moved across the night sky.
The Wow! signal came from one fixed point.
Others speculate it's from a top-secret military satellite.
But that theory is also ruled out.
A satellite's signal would be detected over and over again as it orbits the Earth.
All of those original theories just kept getting knocked down one by one by one.
WILDMAN: With all practical explanations ruled out, many come to an Earth-shattering conclusion.
PATEL: The only explanation was the Wow! signal was produced by extraterrestrials.
WILDMAN: Proponents of this theory point out that the Wow! signal follows a pattern that perfectly matches how astronomers predicted aliens would communicate.
PATEL: Astronomers had earlier predicted if aliens had wanted to say hello to us, this is exactly the kind of signal they would have sent out to communicate with us.
WILDMAN: But if this was a message from an alien civilization, it seems the conversation was brief.
To this day, a similar signal has yet to be detected.
Whether the Wow! signal was an extraterrestrial transmission or just an unexplained anomaly remains one of astronomy's most hotly debated topics.
PATEL: There was no way to know what the signal was.
But this was certainly the closest any of us would ever get to proving that aliens exist.
WILDMAN: And at the Perkins Observatory, this wire grid from the Big Ear telescope serves as a reminder that the truth may still be out there.
From a famous sharpshooter to a marathon cheater, a terrifying beast to a beloved TV star, I'm Don Wildman, and these are "The Mysteries at the Museum.