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History Detectives: PsychoPhone, War Dog Letter, Pancho Villa Watch Fob

Airs Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Did Thomas Edison make a machine to unlock the secrets of the dead? HISTORY DETECTIVES host Gwendolyn Wright sets out to learn who made the PsychoPhone (pictured) and why.

"PsychoPhone" – A couple in Cincinnati acquired a peculiar phonograph at an antiques auction. The machine, labeled “PsychoPhone,” included four grooved wax cylinders. The contributors think Thomas Edison invented the PsychoPhone to record messages from the afterlife. As early as the 1870s, Edison and other scientific minds explored psychic phenomena, believing every living being was made of atoms that could “remember” past lives. Did Edison make a machine to unlock the secrets of the dead? "History Detectives" host Gwendolyn Wright travels to the Thomas A. Edison Menlo Park museum in New Jersey to find out. Watch an interview with Gwen Wright and explore more cases online.

Andrew Turner discovered a secretive letter from World War II that hints at a scandalous investigation.
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Above: Andrew Turner discovered a secretive letter from World War II that hints at a scandalous investigation.

"War Dog Letter" – A World War II collector from Kansas City, Kansas, has a cryptic letter from a soldier to another military man. The soldier explains that military investigators have questioned him about a man named Prestre — specifically about his character and qualifications as a dog trainer. The contributor wants to know why the military was investigating Prestre and what the dogs were being trained to do. The search takes "History Detectives" host Tukufu Zuberi to remote Cat Island near Gulfport, Mississippi, and Fort Lee in Virginia. The military put great effort into a new “War Dogs” program during WWII. What went wrong on Cat Island?

"Pancho Villa Watch Fob" – Just before he died, a man gave his neighbors a most unusual gift: a watch fob commemorating Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s murderous raid on the border town of Columbus, New Mexico. The man says he was a boy when the raid occurred in 1916, and he and his parents survived by hiding under a train car. The new owners want to know more about this watch fob. Who made it? Did their friend indeed witness this infamous raid? New guest host, Eduardo Pagán, leads an expedition that reveals an especially wild chapter of the American West.

Think you have a case for the "History Detectives"? Send us your mystery.

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