It was an image that created hope in the middle of one of the darkest moments in recent American history: Three New York City firefighters raised an American flag amid the rubble of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
That flag is missing.
It’s just one thing on a lengthy list of important historical items that have been lost or stolen. The search for missing items — such as the original patent by the Wright Brothers for their flying machine and Harry S. Truman’s sword collection — has resulted in the a series from Brad Meltzer, the author who previously hosted ‘Decoded” on the History Channel.
“Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” debuts at 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31, on H2.
Off all the items that have been lost or stolen, none resonates as deeply with Meltzer as the disappearance of the 9/11 American flag. Somewhere between the flag raising and it going on a global tour, the real flag was replaced by a different one.
“The flag is the Holy Grail of missing history,” Meltzer says. “The amount of loss American experienced at that time was so devastating. The flag represented something grand and bigger. It holds a national significance because it brought so much peace to Americans.”
Many of the books by Meltzer are based in historical fact. During his research for past works, the author discovered something shocking.
“I never realized how much of our history is missing. There is so much, the National Archives has a list of all the stuff that has been stolen from them,” Meltzer says.
Each episode presents both unsolved cases and success stories where Americans have helped find missing historic objects. Viewers will be encouraged to submit tips to an online site. A reward of up to $10,000 will be offered for information that leads to recovery of an item. Details are available at www.history.com.
“The stories of why these artifacts matter to the nation and how they disappeared need to be heard,” says Mike Stiller, vice president of development and programming for History and H2. “H2 feels obligated not just to provide historic programming for people who crave intelligent and educational entertainment, but also to preserve history for generations to come.”
The series will also look at how many items have been recovered. Meltzer learned most of the items recovered were the result of lengthy searches at antique and trade shows. Even if the items aren’t found at one of the shows, often someone remembers seeing the piece.
The series neither assigns blame for the losses nor seeks to prosecute those who have taken pieces of history. It’s often more important to make a deal to recover an item than to prosecute an offender.
Meltzer points out that if someone has an item such as Adolf Hitler’s personal photo album, they aren’t displaying it or bragging about having it. But, when they die, family members may realize the importance of the item and want to get it to the right place for it to be shared.
“All my work is about the power of ordinary people and this show is the pinnacle of that. We need you America. Your eyes. Who knows when that person is going to remember something,” Meltzer says. “The idea of this show is to see how much we can get back. To me, this is a mission to get history back. If we get back just one item, then the show will be a success.”