Thursday, May 9
Travel Channel, 9pm ET
Don Wildman is at it again. The adventurous gadabout who has hosted Off Limits and Mysteries at the Museum is back on Travel Channel with Monumental Mysteries, which explores well-known American monuments and the conspiracy theories that have sprung up around them. For instance, where does the phrase “if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you” come from? Or is it possible that the origins of Bram Stoker’s vampire masterpiece Dracula stem from a New England murder case? You’ll find out this and more in this engrossing series.
Wildman took some time to chat about what to expect in the new show:
Channel Guide Magazine: Monumental Mysteries is all about uncovering unknown facts about familiar people, places, and things, and investigating conspiracy theories surrounding them. In your experience, how do you think stories/misconceptions like this develop?
Don Wildman: Everything in life, obscure or famous, eventually becomes a story with a hero and an obstacle. It’s the common thread of human society. We tell stories. So it’s no different with monumental structures. If it’s the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s all about the danger of spanning such a vital passageway and the heroic workers who struggled mightily to do it, including those who perished. We naturally project ourselves into this story because we’re all so worried about dying. Thus, great stories are born, told, and embellished into legend. It’s about telling a good story — and, for better or worse, that often involves speculation and conspiracy. On Monumental Mysteries, we investigate both the facts and the legends to understand how these icons of history came into existence and then retained such significance.
CGM: You’ve been all over the world for your shows, but this one is set in America. What makes the U.S. such a great place for a show like this?
DW: The United States is just a ridiculously good story–and it takes itself very seriously. A nation that envisions itself as righting the wrongs of history. Whether or not you buy into that vision is up to you but, at any given time–and many of those are memorialized in stone, metal, or concrete — this country has been battling to accomplish something. I mean, sometimes I just want it to calm down about itself, you know? Can we just have an regular day on Planet Earth? No! Life in America is this sweeping mission for humankind–and, as such, we’ve built a lot of monuments to ourselves.
CGM: Compare doing a show abroad and a show at home. Do you feel you can learn just as much in your own country as you can in a foreign land?
DW: I crave travel, domestic and foreign. It’s my one true qualification to be on television doing this. But, the older I get the less it matters where I go because there’s so much to learn everywhere. It’s endless! The shows I’ve done for Travel Channel have only underscored this realization. Fact is, by all rights, the U.S. should really be a whole bunch of North American nations just like it is over in Europe. We just came along at a time in history when it was possible to span an entire continent with one country. But, regardless, the vast, cultural differences between Americans are baldly obvious — and exploring them is a journey that could easily take a lifetime.
CGM: What are some of the standout memories you have of Monumental Mysteries? Any particular place you saw or fact you learned?
DW: Grand Central Terminal in New York is a place I regularly walk through for work to catch the subway out to Queens, where we shoot the host-pieces. Ever since they cleaned up the astrological mural on the ceiling back in the 90’s, I’ve always stopped and stared up. It’s just so pleasing and impressive. But now I’ve done this piece about the hidden messages encoded in the stars and the speculation about Vanderbilt’s association with a vast conspiracy — well, now it’s something else altogether! Plus, for Off Limits, I got underneath the place where they’re constructing the new station platforms 100 feet below. Up and down, it’s just plain astonishing. A mysterious monument, indeed.
CGM: If there are more episodes of Monumental Mysteries, what places/topics would you like to explore?
DW: For years, we’ve tried to get cleared to rappel me down the faces of Mt. Rushmore. The National Park Service politely says no. But North By Northwest is still one of my top five movies — why shouldn’t I be able to do what Cary Grant did? Never mind that he did it on a Hollywood soundstage. Still…