Happy Scribe
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This episode is sponsored by Viking Viking, offers a new ocean fleet designed with Alver and a state rooms for just nine hundred thirty Like-Minded guests by river and by sea. More at Viking Cruises Dotcom. Hello again, Masterpiece Studio fans Jace Lacob here today I'm excited to share a special preview episode of a new podcast called Detours from GBH and Pyrex Detours is a podcast about what happens to all that stuff in America's favorite antique show. After the cameras leave town, join host Adam Monohan, a long time producer for his Antiques Roadshow, on a journey of discovery with stories of sales, fakes and, yes, even federal crimes.

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This first episode feels like it could even be one of our own mystery series about JFK and the 1009. And stay tuned for new masterpiece studio episodes October 4th. If you've ever watched Antiques Roadshow on PBS, the show with all the old junk that turns out to be worth a lot of money, at least fifteen thousand dollars.

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Oh, the one with the excited guests like this, I'm going to faint.

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Did you hear that, Betty?

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You'll see a whole bunch of stuff and learn some things to make you dangerous on any given trivia night.

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What you probably don't know is that each of the facts uttered about each of those objects is checked by someone on staff oftentimes Meet the Press. I'm Adam Honohan, a producer on the show for many years now. And this is the story of the hardest fact I ever checked. We'd even fold most of the underneath.

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It started three years ago in New Orleans when a young man named Luke Kelly came on the show.

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Where's the best place for my hands? And just wherever I go, that's your side, wherever you're comfortable.

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And he brought something remarkable with him. Well, news like that travels fast. My boss, Marcia, was there, too.

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She's the executive producer of the show.

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Something like that doesn't walk in every day.

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So tell me about what you brought Antiques Roadshow today. The appraisal starts out like it always does.

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My great grandfather was in World War Two and he was on patrol Torpedo Boat P.T. 109 with President Kennedy. And I brought the flag that Kennedy had given him from the boat. And what was your initial reaction?

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Holy moly. We have a we have a flag that was on the one on nine.

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Have you ever had this item appraised? Never. It's always been in the family and just kind of been hanging around everyone on the set who knows what's going on.

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Understand the significance of the find.

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This has been called one of the most famous small boat actions in American naval history.

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This is bigger than our show. This is an historical moment if it turns out that the flag is right. In fact, the incident, though, it was a disaster that essentially launched his political career and change the direction of the nation.

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So the place was sizzling in a room with thousands of people. Since then, our appraiser, Jeff, gets to the numbers.

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This was a difficult thing for us to price because there are so many moving parts to this story.

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He runs through some different scenarios for how much the flag might be worth.

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Let's say just for instance, that looked like it was actually gifted by Ken, a great grandfather, a boat flag and everything.

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He's looking for the information. It's lining up. It's lining up in a way that is really exciting.

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Have a value of three to five thousand dollars enough. And finally, Jeff gets to the biggest number. The next step is this is the flag that was flown by one or nine on the night of this famous encounter. That's a whole different animal. He is jumping out of his skin. A conservative auction estimate for this item would be between 400000 and 600000. Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness.

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That's crazy already. That would be one of the most valuable items we've ever had on the show.

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So I will say I started to get my stomach started to go. Oh, I hope it's right.

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Oh, I hope it's right at a good sale.

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I think that number could easily eclipse a million dollars. Wow. Oh, M.G., man, that's unbelievable. I can't. Wow. This is a big deal for Rossia. None of this was ever shown on TV. So I took a vote of people in the office as to whether or not we should have aired this flag and that we should have aired at one. So why vote ultimately matters in all of this mine and no one else's?

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It's good to be me. In fairness, the vote was me and one other person.

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Ultimately, we are not on solid ground there. We haven't done this is the kind of thing that the amount of research time that we have at Road Show is inadequate to figure out. Is this true? So we're left with a million dollar question, a question that deserves its own podcast, this one. My name is Adam on hand, and this is Detours.

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In every episode will go deep into the story of a single object and tell you what we learned after the cameras left town today on the show, the one nine fly. How do we get to that sharp right onto Morrissey Boulevard? So now I'm just going around the Rotary, getting used to Mount Vernon.

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The first step is just to figure out what the big deal is with this flag. So I headed to the JFK Library and Museum there.

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I did. Hi, Adam.

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There's actually one item in particular they have on display, which I'm thinking could help us understand our flag. Can you show us around?

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Sure. We're going to go this way. My guide is Janice Hudson. So your title is Sorry, you're an archivist? I'm a supervisory museum curator.

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Yeah.

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And she takes me to an exhibit about JFK, a young life before he was president.

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We have the dog, OK? He joined the Navy in 1941, just a few months before the U.S. entered World War Two. We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by a date which will live in infamy when Kennedy was in training.

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A request was put out for volunteers to command P.T. boats that stands for patrol torpedo boats and. There were basically 80 foot long World War Two speedboats, they would engage enemy warships, transports, tankers. The Japanese actually nicknamed them devil boats, it was a way to rise to command of a ship very rapidly because of the risk involved that boats move out to sea ports continue to harass the enemy.

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On Borneo, volunteers were basically told, if your intention is to go back home and marry and have kids after the war, then don't volunteer for this. Oh, so here's him on the one or nine, and I'm sure this now to truly appreciate the potential value of our flag, you have to understand just how important this vote was for the entire mythology of JFK.

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The one or nine Sagger became the subject of articles, books and most famously, a major motion picture released two years into the Kennedy presidency in 1963.

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The film tells an epic tale of survival. It was late, I think it was after midnight in August of 1943, Kennedy's boat is rammed by a Japanese destroyer. In the movie, you can actually see the flag for just a second as the one or nine is split in two, then the whole wreckage burst into flames because the boat was fully loaded with fuel. It was a gasoline fire, McMahon was burned over 70 percent of his body. Now, Patrick McMahon is key in all this.

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He's the great grandfather of Luke, the young man who brought us the flag.

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There was no way he could swim himself or degree burns on both his arms, shoulder and his face aren't much better. McMahon initially told Kennedy, Don't bother, I'm going to die. Just go on without me.

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And Kennedy wouldn't give me that map.

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Kennedy decided he'd tell him in himself.

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Come on, let's go. The granite jawed actor Cliff Robertson, who Kennedy personally selected to play himself as a young Navy captain, leaps into the water. Then he takes a scrap from McMahons life jacket, clenches in his teeth and starts pulling him. They swam for something like four to five hours. One way with Kennedy pulling McMahon and they found this small island once they got there, of course, Kennedy had to figure out a way to get them rescued.

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He was swimming back and forth between other islands alone, hoping to run into a boat or something to get them rescued. And they ultimately did that with the coconut. What what is this coconut? It's a piece of a coconut candy eventually encountered two natives who were actually scouts for an Australian commander. He he carved a message, which is, you know, it's hard to read on the coconut, but you can you can see Noro first commander.

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Yeah. Native nose position position.

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Eleven, eleven. A lot needs small candy.

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And he saved that coconut piece and it was always on his desk in the Oval Office throughout his presidency.

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Now, sir, have you begun actively campaigning? Yes, I've been working for a long time. Keep in mind, this event launched JFK into the national spotlight and it's a big jump from Congress to the Senate. I'm only one to sure.

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He came from a well-known family, but most Americans wouldn't have known who John F. Kennedy was before.

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The London incident was an article in The New Yorker.

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I mean, this was big headlines for for Kennedy this evening because the honorable John F. Kennedy.

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Janice takes us downstairs to show us one more item in their collection, this actually this exhibit highlights 100 objects that are key to the story of Kennedy. There's a letter citation for his heroic conduct as the commanding officer. He did receive a Purple Heart, a logbook from the boat. And people assume logbooks are exciting reading they're not. And then there's a flag and it's right there. This is the real reason we're here. So tell us about your flight.

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How do you guys have a flag from the on?

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I came to the museum and so, yeah, turns out the library has a one or nine flag to this flag was removed from the boat in July of 1943 when it went in for repairs.

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It was in the next month in August that and the P.T. 109 gets rammed and sinks.

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So you're saying that this flag came off? You can actually see this one's torn apart, like whether because these boats went very fast and the wind would whip through them and tear at them, the one that we had, the one that we have like I actually have a picture of it. I'll show it to you.

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So I pull out a picture of our flag, which, according to the owner's story, was rescued from the sinking boat and then gifted by Kennedy to his crewman, Patrick McMahon, while he was recovering in the hospital.

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So while it is despite what looks like a moth or insect damage, it basically looks new.

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But this one would have only been on the boat for a couple of weeks, probably because it was August that the incident happened.

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Let's look at this, our signage. August 1st through second.

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And then it was like a week before they were they were found.

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This is very good news. It explains why there could be two flags from the same boat and why they are in such different condition hours the wear.

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So we get to comparing the two flags.

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Yeah, we don't have the exact dimensions, but they look about the same size, which is good, you know, visually, you know, you have to Gromit's the library's flag does have some official looking numbers printed on the side that are flag, that ours does not have something in Indiana. Plus the stitching is a little different.

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Ours has like double stitching, which is stronger.

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So with all this in mind, I asked for Genesis take on our flag.

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I would be really skeptical that in the midst of everything that was going on, somebody would have said, let's grab the flag.

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Yeah, yeah. Well, darn it, I'm feeling a little deflated after my visit to the JFK Library. So I call our appraiser, Jeff, to talk about the really cool coconut I just saw.

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Wait, not that I called to talk about our one or nine flag, which is kind of starting to feel like it's not the flag from the one or nine that digress.

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Thank you for calling advance guard military people what you're called a strong third.

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Remember that Jeff is the original appraiser who looked at this flag. He's an expert on military history. So now that I've got some more information, I'm hoping he can help solve the mystery.

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Jeff Shrader. Hey, Jeff, how are you doing? I am well.

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And you, sir. Good.

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Can you put us on hold? Can we we listen to the music again. You know what?

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I can make that happen before I start by taking them back to where it all began that day in New Orleans.

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Of course, it's been a day or two to his first reaction when this young man claims to have had the flag from the window nine.

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Candidly, my reaction was short. Of course it is. And then how that changed.

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His great grandfather was, in fact, machinist's mate. First Patrick, my man. And then I started to get the goosebumps because this it was at that point plausible. In taking your pictures and looking at it, is it recognizable that it's immediately that it's a party boat flag or is like, is there a way to know that right away? Yes.

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OK, maybe flags in World War Two anyway were graded by size. The boats used either a number one or number 12, which are the smallest two sizes.

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That confirms what we saw at the museum. So we asked Jeff about those official Navy markings on the side of the flag.

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Yeah, that's that's the next thing that you've got to look at. So the fact that it wasn't marked doesn't preclude it from being a Navy used flag, but it doesn't help it.

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OK, so so you see it to the best of your knowledge, it is a flag. Any other research that you did anything to try to suss out if it could possibly be from the one or nine?

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Well, there were a list of questions that I had. Is it possible that this that the flag that was on the one or nine even survived the impact?

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And of course, the answer to that we know is yes, the flag was most likely flying at the middle of the boat on the radar tower or in the middle of the back of the boat, the stern bonus points for using nautical terms, which did, in fact stay afloat after the impact.

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The next one was in the chaos of what happened.

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Would there have been any time to remove that flag? And of course, then the answer to that is yes, of course, from accounts.

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We know that the crew spent several hours around the wreckage searching for survivors and gathering supplies. OK, next question.

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Would removing the flag from a vessel that was going to sink, would that have been a priority by a U.S. naval tradition here? Jeff had to consult some Navy veterans who all said no.

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You're worried about getting your people to safety and you're not going to worry about a flag.

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On the other hand, would there be any logical reason to take that flag, as it turns out?

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Yes, their hope was to be rescued. They wanted to be recognized, but recognized by the right people and not shot at by their own folks. And the flag would have been very useful in that regard.

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So I'm hearing a number of reasons why it could be still, Jeff, at this point. You you can either prove or disprove. Yeah, but yet we're not we're not done.

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Another really important piece of evidence that we've got to look at is the written account from the time. What did the survivors of the 109 have to say? And in that report, it is actually very, very specific of what they got away from the boat where they took several guns.

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There are 645, probably a good idea in hostile territory, one 38 revolver, a flashlight, a large knife, a flag.

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And there's absolutely no mention of the fly. OK, no flag, however.

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And there were a lot of twists and turns with this.

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Jeff dug into some recent research on the insight, really enjoyed William Doyle's book on the topic. Pete one. Tonight, an epic of war, survival and the destiny of John F. Kennedy. It came out just a few years ago in 2015.

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He has found more information than, frankly, kind of contradicts some of the stuff that was in the initial report, one of which is in that extensive inventory.

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There's absolutely no mention of a Thompson submachine gun, but we know from William Doyle's research that radio him and John McGuire at least try to carry a Thompson on that swim and lost it about halfway through. So you're thinking that them failing to mention that they had this giant gun on the report, I could see it as an oversight that you don't mention that you've grabbed the flag from the P.T. 109.

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Right. They may not have put the same historical emphasis on it then that we would today, but Lieutenant Kennedy wanted that piece of I think it was a coconut husk. Yeah. Where he'd written the rescue message. He wanted that back. You know, he saw it. He saw the value in that. So all of these little windows leave open the possibility that this is what our guest wants it to be. Adam, the will to believe is a very, very powerful thing.

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Where I run into trouble is you've got to thread too many needles to my mind to get there.

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But somehow there always seems to be another. But if there is the possibility that this was the 109 flag in the time that it was struck, I think that million dollar figure is laughably conservative. I think, you know something that would be a national treasure. Well, so any idea what a carved coconut shell by JFK would be worth? Good Lord, yeah, I could guess at this point I'm running out of ideas. So we start working. The phones come off.

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I talked to Sharon Whitley, a reporter who is one of the last people to interview McMahon in his home a few years before he died. I said, would you please tell me your story just to see if she recalled the flag?

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I just don't remember seeing a flag. It could have been there. I just don't remember that.

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Then I tried the author of that book, Jeff mentioned. Hello, is Bill Doyle here? But no luck. I've never heard an account of Kennedy giving McMahon a flag.

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I'm starting to wonder if my boss Marshall is right. After all, how could something so significant have been ignored for decades? I mean, this incident has been studied to death and there's just no mention of this flag and in any historical accounting of it or any interviews or anything. So I'm forced to expand my search. I'm OK.

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Call my mom. Oh, OK. Love you. Wait, no, don't leave yet.

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I still have to I still have to ask your question. Who offers this advice?

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You know, if it says made in China, I wouldn't think it was from the pub.

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Now we're getting desperate. Thanks for calling California striking as a new customer. You can speak to a psychic at a special introductory rate, hopefully work doesn't ask about that bill, but then a breakthrough.

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Hi, is this Aaron? After the break.

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Saint Petersburg's hermitage, Moscow's Red Square golden ring town's Viking, dedicated to bringing travelers closer to the real Russia along the waterways of the SaaS, offering a small ship experience with a shore excursion included in every port, discover more Viking cruises dotcom.

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And this is Adam Honohan from Antiques Roadshow.

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How are you? Well, thank you.

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Aaron Beehler is a chemistry professor at Boston University. And I call him because I have a theory.

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I want to try out the boat itself. It was designed to carry a ton of fuel. Then when it gets rammed, fuel went everywhere. It was burning on the water.

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And we also know that fuel at the time had led it flagged potentially could have had a bunch of lead fuel on it.

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So here's the theory. If by some miracle this really is the flag from the one or nine, would we expect to see some trace elements of in its fabric nearly eight decades later?

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I think if it were sitting and it soaked in the gasoline with the light and then it was brought out and it has been sitting around since, it would be a reasonable expectation that you could see significant elevated levels of blood.

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Bingo. What like how how could it be tested?

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Like, what do you do when people are looking for metals on a small level, parts per million, parts per billion level?

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He tells us about a technique called ICP mass spectrometer, mass spectroscopy, mass spectroscopy.

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It's the same thing doctors used to test people for lead poisoning. I think that would work here. Sounds promising.

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And amazingly, I can certainly help facilitate the tests being done. Great, given that the difference is between two hundred dollars and a million, I'm hoping that our guest is willing to undertake the test.

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That would seem reasonable. We'll be in touch, hopefully. All right. So I get in touch with Luke. Hello, my name is Luke Kelly, the owner of the flag, and asked them to come into the studio. Where are you coming from? Just from Cambridge. Oh, at Harvard Square. Oh, that's great. Turns out he went to Harvard just like JFK did.

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I just graduated. What? You get your degree in history and his middle name is even Kennedy. So what is your earliest memory of the flag in your family? Oh, I don't know. My grandfather lived down on the beach in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and going to his house, he had this side room off where he had his TV and he would watch baseball and football and he had all of his war medals and everything from our family was kind of in that room and it was hanging there.

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And so ever since I was a kid going in there bothering and pestering my grandfather, I would sit there.

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He and his grandfather used to actually watch the movie one or nine, the one from the 60s.

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And in that, there's a part where my grandfather would always stop it and you could see the character that was playing Pappy, my great grandfather, when mentioned that he had a stepson and which is referencing to my grandfather and he would always say, that's me right there.

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And hearing all this makes me kind of nervous for what I have to tell him next. When this was brought back to the office, like everyone was crazy excited about it.

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Like I'm obviously here it is years later, I'm still talking about this flag, but it probably is going to be almost impossible to prove it's the flag from the PT 109, right. It's more likely just a boat flag that's in the family's history. It's come to be the flag from Taiwan or not nine. Right.

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And I understand that completely. I mean, I understand how family law, you know, makes things into things they aren't. And, you know, I didn't know my great grandfather. I didn't hear from him personally. And, you know, one story is told to another person told to another person. It's kind of like a game of telephone in a way. But, you know, as time goes by, it's harder to get pieces of information.

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OK, here we go.

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So with all that said, there is a possible chemical test, a chemical analysis test, and we want to do it on your flag if you would be totally interested.

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All right, great. So where is the flag now?

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Salute brings the flag to Aaron's lap to extract a sample since Aaron has a student named Doug who is helping out parent.

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I'm Doug Luke.

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They spread the flag out on a medal, acted out on call clean. It doesn't look clean, but it is.

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And Doug starts slicing up loose threads with a razor blade. Scissors really would have been a better choice here.

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There we are. All right.

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While he's working, we get not one, but two pieces of good news for our flag outside of these boats, about 3000 gallons.

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First off, Aaron and Doug did a little research into the leaded fuel itself.

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So the total mass would be about almost six kilograms of lead that would be in that water.

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So that's a very that's a lot of light to be lead in the water that the flag was then dragged through.

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And even better, this led that was used in fuel was not water soluble.

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So highly, highly insoluble in water. So if this was soaked in the fuel, it should have kept it in principle.

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Great. The second piece of good news comes from the loop. I think it says U.S., E.M.S., which would be Inson.

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And then size 12, when he took the flag out of its frame, he found it had official naval markings on the back, just like the flag from the JFK Library. So this is the first time I've seen it, too. He's never seen these marks before? No, never. Never. It's always been in the frame as I've seen it. So you can imagine we're in good spirits. You know, a good chemistry joke on the good ones are gone.

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OK, maybe a bit too good. Come on. That was sodium. Funny. As we send the samples off for analysis, let's talk about it and then we wait. All right, how are you? I'm good, Adam. How are you? Thanks for coming on the podcast. I'm excited. This is my boss, Marsha, again. All right. Remember, it was her decision not to air the original appraisal that sent me on this whole quest where we could this be right now?

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I'm back with an answer and I can't wait to find out because I truly don't know people.

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I truly don't know. Does the flag contain any lead whatsoever?

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OK, so we sent away the flag to be tested. And here I'll give you the what I receive back.

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And just so you all know, because I just need you know, he has like a stack of test papers in front of him because I can see him and you can't.

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So so there's a bunch of numbers here, Marsh. And so when this came in, I spoke with our our chemist, this is Aaron, who analyzed all this.

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So when you're looking at this chart by one and two, vial one and vial two and vial three, those are all from our flag. All right. Yeah. So those show that our flag does have in.

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There was a significant amount of blood vial number five and six.

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So what a just a t shirt.

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And that kind of gives you an idea of what the background is. So ours has a lot more that abnormally elevated amount of lead in this flag.

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It has abnormally elevated levels of lead. Wow.

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That I mean, I feel very confident saying that.

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So last week while you were out of the office at the Emmys, which we didn't win again, which we didn't win, I got these results.

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It has an abnormally elevated amount of lead in the flag.

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And I went around the office freaking out. And for two days, I was walking on air with that baby in the show, I think is what he does. He does. And I called our guest, hey, I'm doing good, how are you doing there, modify my. But the news I give Luke is a little different. After that first test, I felt like we really needed to do a better control test to make sure the lead we were seeing was really from the fuel of the one or nine just because you can't see us.

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I want you know, my mouth is hanging open. So then what we did is the lab ran a test on another World War two era flag. Oh, that.

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The control test also came back with not just lead a little more elevated levels of lead than our flag. Oh, my gosh. So I had to deliver the news to Luke, right, that he has a World War Two era flag that cannot be tied directly to the one or nine. How did he react to that?

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Well, he actually took it really well.

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No, it's not it's not necessarily bad news or anything like that.

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It's just news, because what it means to him is it's his great grandfather's flag that documents a part of his life that I wouldn't know about otherwise.

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And in the end, the only reason Luke's alive is because this happened.

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Yeah, right. Right. It's really amazing how it all went down.

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So the flag to him represents something different than it does to me. It's one of the few items that I own that my great grandfather owned as well. It still embodies that. And a physical object that doesn't change at all for me. All right, well, thanks very much. I'll talk to you later. All right. Thank you. Back. Bye bye. I had the worst weekend thinking about this goddamn flag. I can only imagine, like I mean, just.

[00:33:01]

Have you ever thought that they might call your name at the Emmys?

[00:33:04]

I have. I used to play in and have a written speech in my purse. Yeah, no, I don't even think about what I'm going to say.

[00:33:10]

When I got the first test back, I felt like they were going to call my name. And as soon as I got the second test, it's like they called American Ninja Warrior.

[00:33:20]

Yeah. You did not get called.

[00:33:27]

In the end, like it, I've seen the footage, I've seen the raw footage, obviously more recent than you, and we were right to not air. Yeah, well, thanks. I'm glad. And it turns out now looking at these test results, we feel really good about that decision.

[00:33:45]

Oh, Lord, thank you.

[00:33:46]

So it feels good to be back. It's good to be right. So we want to hear from you. Do you think this flag is from the one or nine? Should we have aired that original appraisal on TV? If you're curious, go give it a watch and let us know. It's up on our website now at WGBH. Doug Ford detours. If you want to hear future episodes of Detours, please subscribe on Apple podcast Spotify or wherever it is you retrieve your podcast from.

[00:34:24]

Coming up in this season, we've got a photo of Edgar Allan Poe, the FBI called us about an investigation into a possibly forged Mayan artifact and one woman's quest to reclaim family treasures stolen by the Nazis.

[00:34:38]

But first up on our next episode, we'll be coming to you all the way from Sacramento, California, with a little piece of cinema history. And it's for sale. Detours is a production of WGBH in Boston, and our producer and sound designer is Ian Costs. Our assistant producer for this episode was Elena Schwartz, along with Isabel Hibbard. Nina Perskie is the managing producer, a podcast at WGBH. And Marsha Bemko is Dieter's executive producer.

[00:35:09]

I'm your host and senior producer, Adam Monohan, special thanks to Frederic Strachman of NEMS Labs, Dr. Nader Afie of Boston Children's Hospital and Dr. Paul Ridker of Brigham and Women's Hospital for their help with the flag testing. Our theme music is Once in a century Storm by Will Daily from the album National Throat.

[00:35:31]

My thanks to Will and my thanks to you all. Have a good one. Well. Sponsors for Masterpiece on PBS are Viking Cruises, Raymond James and the Masterpiece Trust.