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History Detectives: Mussolini’s Dagger, Liberia Letter, N.E.A.R. Device

Airs Monday, August 17, 2009 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Photo of a dagger. According to a family story, Jerry Steichen’s uncle grabbed this dagger from Mussolini’s apartment. Did it belong to the Italian dictator? The dagger bears the symbols of Italian fascism, and the initial “M” hangs from the belt clip.

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"Mussolini's Dagger" – Many servicemen brought back souvenirs from World War II, but did the uncle of a Reno, Nevada, man score a dagger from Fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini? The dagger bears the symbols of Italian Fascism, and the initial “M” hangs from the belt clip. A family letter says the uncle had orders to pick up Mussolini, but when he arrived, Mussolini was already dead and hanging in the town square. The letter goes on to say that he went to Mussolini’s apartment, where he grabbed the dictator’s dagger. "History Detectives" host Wes Cowan connects various records, pictures and expert opinions to come up with an answer. Watch an interview with Wes Cowan.

Photo of an old hand-written letter. In 1877 Harvey McLeod, a freed slave, wrote this letter to his sister, Mary Vance, also a freed slave.
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Above: Photo of an old hand-written letter. In 1877 Harvey McLeod, a freed slave, wrote this letter to his sister, Mary Vance, also a freed slave.

"Liberia Letter" – A Lynchburg, South Carolina, woman has a scrapbook of handwritten letters sent to her great-great-grandmother, a freed slave who lived in South Carolina. She thinks her ancestor’s brother, Harvey McLeod, wrote the letters. What caught her attention were the repeated references to Liberia. In 1877, Harvey writes: “I hope you will change your mind and come to Liberia, Africa with us.” Was this family part of the post-slavery exodus to Liberia? As "History Detectives" host Tukufu Zuberi tracks the path of the letters, the story pieces together a tale of slaves adapting to freedom. Watch an interview with Tukufu Zuberi.

Photo of ham radio enthusiast, Wayne Gilbert, who came across this hand-sized black box with the wording “National Emergency Alarm Repeater, Civilian Warning Device.”
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Above: Photo of ham radio enthusiast, Wayne Gilbert, who came across this hand-sized black box with the wording “National Emergency Alarm Repeater, Civilian Warning Device.”

"N.E.A.R. Device" – A Colorado ham radio enthusiast may have stumbled across some Cold War history. While sorting through a bucket of old power adapters, he came across a curious device, a hand-sized black box with the wording “National Emergency Alarm Repeater, Civilian Warning Device.” The contributor believes it may have had something to do with nuclear attack preparedness, but he lived through the cold war and has never heard of a Civilian Warning Device. "History Detectives" Gwendolyn Wright sifts through the secrets to find out whether anyone mass-produced this device and what happened to this Civilian Warning program. Watch an interview with Gwen Wright.

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