Published: July 8, 2003
– What do you get when you cross Law & Order with Antiques Roadshow? Something not unlike History Detectives, a new PBS television series that aims to bring history to life by placing experts on the scene to solve the abundant riddles posed by antiques and other historic artifacts.
The ten-part series is set to debut on Monday, July 14, at 8 pm eastern time/pacific time. To the strains of Elvis Costello’s pop hit, “Watching the Detectives,” each installment opens with the four hosts striding confidently towards the camera, a la Law & Order’s ensemble cast. Decidedly more scholarly than Sam Waterston or Angie Harmon, the learned presenters of History Detectives include two auctioneers, Wesley Cowan and Elyse Luray, and two professors, Gwendolyn Wright and Tukufu Zuberi.
Antiques and The Arts Weeklyreaders may remember Cowan as the owner of the Cincinnati-based firm, Cowan’s Historic Americana Auctions, specialists in historic artifacts and memorabilia, folk art and Native American art. Co-host Luray is a former Christie’s auctioneer who presided over the sale of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers for $690,000. Both Cowan and Luray are guests appraisers on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow.
The show’s other two hosts hail from academe. Gwendolyn Wright is a professor of architecture, planning and preservation at Columbia University. Tokufu Zuberi is a professor of sociology and the director of the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
A decided plus, each History Detectives mystery (there are three per hour-long show) is shot in multiple locations, the camera following the investigators as they trace artifacts to their places of origin and seek out archives containing clues.
In episode three, a rough cut of which was provided to Antiques and The Arts Weekly, the cast visits Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, where the detectives begin their search for evidence that the whaling ship Charles W. Morganwas a seagoing extension of the underground railroad, transporting Southern slaves to freedom in the North. The detectives continue to the whaling city of New Bedford, Mass., where firm proof is uncovered. After Mystic, it is on to Salem, Mass. There, a house that was long reputed to have belonged to Martha Carrier, hanged as a witch in 1692, is, through wood testing conducted by Oxford Lab in England, proven to postdate Carrier’s death. The final mystery takes viewers to Worcester, Mass., and the American Antiquarian Society to explain the unusual imagery on a 1890s jigsaw puzzle.
History Detectives is a co-produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting and Lion Television and distributed by Alexandria, Va.-based PBS, a nonprofit enterprise owned and operated by the nation’s 350 public television stations.
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