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History Detectives: John Brown Pike; Siberian Bullet; Ronald McDonald Costume

Airs Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Wes Cowan gathers clues about the pike from Michelle Hammer, blacksmith specialist for the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

America's top gumshoes are back to prove once again that an object found in an attic or backyard might be anything but ordinary.

Your Investigation

If you need more help with your own investigations, visit Detective Techniques, with guides on how to research a WWII military record, rock and mineral identification, and more information on art and photo evaluation. You can also find a step-by-step guide to genealogy, researching buildings, document evaluation and much more.

Wesley Cowan, independent appraiser and auctioneer; Gwendolyn Wright, historian and professor of architecture, Columbia University; Elyse Luray, independent appraiser and expert in art history; Dr. Eduardo Pagán, professor of history and American studies at Arizona State University; and Tukufu Zuberi, professor of sociology and the director of the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, leave no stone unturned as they travel around the country to explore the stories behind local folklore, prominent figures and family legends.

Did abolitionist John Brown use this pike in his notorious raid on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry?
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Above: Did abolitionist John Brown use this pike in his notorious raid on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry?

Forty years ago Dave Damp (left) paid less than a dollar for this World War I era bullet from Siberia. Through the HISTORY DETECTIVES investigation he met Steven Thompson (right), a family member of the bullet’s original owner.
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Above: Forty years ago Dave Damp (left) paid less than a dollar for this World War I era bullet from Siberia. Through the HISTORY DETECTIVES investigation he met Steven Thompson (right), a family member of the bullet’s original owner.

Elyse Luray (left) speaks with Hazel Polakov (right), the widow of Michael Polakov who played ‘Ronald McDonald’ in the first national ad campaign. Did he wear our contributor’s costume?
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Above: Elyse Luray (left) speaks with Hazel Polakov (right), the widow of Michael Polakov who played ‘Ronald McDonald’ in the first national ad campaign. Did he wear our contributor’s costume?

"John Brown Pike" - Our contributor bought a spear, or pike, from an antique shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He knows abolitionist John Brown lived near Chagrin Falls and wonders if rebels used this blade in John Brown’s famous raid at Harpers Ferry, VA.

In October 16, 1859, John Brown and 18 men attacked the federal armory in Harpers Ferry. Brown wanted to secure weapons for a future slave rebellion. Instead, thirteen raiders were killed; John Brown was captured and hanged.

To find out whether rebels used this pike in that raid, "History Detectives" follows the trail to the blacksmith who forged the weapon over 150 years ago, and walks the ground at Harpers Ferry where the battle took place.

"Siberian Bullet" - Rummaging through a box of shells and bullets at a Colorado gun show, a "History Detectives" fan discovered a World War I vintage cartridge with a curious etching: Leo V. Thompson, CO E 31st Inf., A.E.F. Siberia. The wording makes him wonder if American troops were in Siberia, Russia during WWI. Inside the casing we find a small blade that looks like a letter opener. Nearly 40 years after he paid one dollar for the bullet, our contributor still wonders about Leo V. Thompson.

"Ronald McDonald Costume" - Have we found the original costume that launched Ronald McDonald? The label credits a well-known costume designer, and the costume looks similar to the suit we see in an early Ronald McDonald commercial: the yellow balloon coverall, red and white striped shirt and long stockings, and red oversized shoes.

But there are also some curious differences. "History Detectives" consults with a food and social historian, meets McDonald’s first chief marketing officer, and finally speaks with the widow of one of the first Ronald McDonald clowns.

"History Dectectives" is on Facebook, and you can follow @histdetectives on Twitter.

Video

Preview: History Detectives: John Brown Pike; Siberian Bullet; Ronald McDonald Costume

Watch the full episode. See more History Detectives.

Video

History Detectives: Season Nine Preview

Watch the full episode. See more History Detectives.

Above: Our five intrepid detectives are back with new investigations and fascinating stories in season nine of the "History Detectives."

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