and leading like a alphaman would be a welcome change. >> lou: thank you and molly appreciate it. see you tomorrow night. good night. >> i can remember being a little kid and asking my father what it was. >> a century-old mystery. >> he said, "it's from the white house." and i go, "talking about d.c. white house?" i was just stunned. >> the white house neither confirms nor denies... >> what do you see? >> gold! [ laughs ] >> let's investigate! >> i scrape the paint layers down to the wood. >> and when you heard what it was worth? >> and sold! [ door creaks ] [ wind howls ] [ thunder rumbles ] [ bird caws ] >> i'm jamie colby, and today i'm in boston to meet an heir
who has an inheritance so strange, it takes years just to figure out what it is. >> my name is mike meister. my siblings and i inherited something that goes back to our great-uncle more than a hundred years ago. we'd always been told that it came from the white house, but it was just a family story. hi, jamie. welcome to boston. >> thanks, mike. nice to meet you. >> yeah, nice to meet you, too. >> mike leads me inside, saying he has something amazing to show me. he keeps it in its own molded, air-tight protective case. can i take a look? >> sure can. >> you brought me all the way here, mike. this is... what is it? mike's strange inheritance is this piece of decorative pinewood. 30 inches long, 14 inches across, four inches thick. on the back is a faint signature and a date -- j.s. williamson, october 15, 1902. >> there's a real story behind it.
family legend is that it's from the white house. >> could that be? the white house does have a colorful past. it's nearly completed at the end of john adams' presidency. he moves in in november 1800, but stays only a few months. thomas jefferson spends two terms there before handing the keys to james madison. then british troops set it ablaze in the war of 1812. [ indistinct shouting ] first lady dolley madison orders the staff to remove this beloved portrait of george washington by gilbert stuart. but according to william seale, author of two books on the white house, the building's interior is destroyed. >> they burned the second floor with rubble, and then they broke up all the furniture and poured lamp oil on it. and the attic fell in, and then it burned through the main floor and the whole thing, in about two hours, was just a
shell. >> after the war, the original architect, james hoban, rebuilds it exactly as it had been -- in what will become known as the federal style. >> president madison decreed that it be rebuilt as a symbol of survival. >> by 1817, the renovation is almost complete and our fifth president, james monroe, moves in. a dozen years later, the seventh, andrew jackson, lets a drunken mob trash the place during his inaugural ball. maybe this poor piece of wood was part of the collateral damage. who knows? over the years, presidents come and presidents go, redecorating, repainting, and renovating to suit their individual tastes. then, in 1902, theodore roosevelt begins the first wholesale restoration of the mansion that he officially names "the white house." it's time to pick up the thread
of this strange inheritance story. according to mike meister, in 1902, his great-uncle, joseph williamson jr., is a law student at georgetown university in d.c. one day, he strolls down pennsylvania avenue, spots the piece of wood in a junk pile, and thinks, "it's pretty neat." >> joseph jr. picked it up. >> like a yard sale? did they buy it? >> no, it was scrap. i mean, it was things that were gonna be eventually hauled off to landfills, burned, whatever. >> he brings it home to illinois from law school and gives it to his father as a memento. his dad inscribes his name and writes the date on the back. the piece is handed down in the family to mike's dad, wayne meister, in the 1930s. where was it kept? >> it was in the basement of our house out in illinois -- a farm that my parents bought after world war ii. and it was hanging on a wall. i can remember being a little kid and asking my father what it was. and he would say, "that's a
piece of the white house." >> did you believe him? you're a farm kid in illinois, and your parents have a piece of a white house? >> when he said something, it meant he wasn't making things up. >> pretty cool, though it's just one conversation piece in a house that wayne and his wife, ann, pack with all sorts of gewgaws, knickknacks, and odd antiques. >> one of their hobbies was going to auctions and tag sales and finding things of value, and then, if they needed refinishing, they would refinish them. >> did they ever consider taking sandpaper or a paintbrush to that mysterious hunk of wood in the cellar? mike shudders to think. >> what if she decided, "this ugly old thing, i'm gonna strip the paint"? but she certainly never did. >> are you kidding? that could have happened? >> well, it didn't. >> in 1964, the meisters -- and a moving van full of antiques -- relocate to massachusetts. it's there, during christmastime in 1988, that mike, all grown
up, announces he's getting married. >> we had a family dinner to meet the in-laws. and my brother-in-law, larry forrest, was there. >> that night, mike brings larry into the attic. >> i said to larry, "i want to show you something," and i took him upstairs, and i showed him. it was in a moving box from 1964. >> they didn't even unpack it. >> no, no. >> mike pulled out a piece out of the box, and he said, "it's from the white house." and i go, "talking about d.c. white house?" he goes, "yeah." i was just stunned. if you asked somebody what's the most important building in our history, they're gonna say the white house. and here it was, sitting right next to me. >> did mike ask you to learn more about it for him? >> the more we got talking about it, we said, "let's find out where this came from." >> but it's just talk, and it will be for years. mike's dad dies in 1996, and his mom in 2001.
only then do the meister kids begin to deal with any of the old stuff their parents accumulated. did your parents leave a will? >> we had a trust. >> did they specify? >> not in that particular case, no. to clean the house out, to send things to auction, and sell it, it was probably a good three months. but we kept a lot of the things, too, that meant something to each one of us. >> one of the things they keep is that distressed hunk of wood. >> there was no way we were gonna sell that, because we didn't even know what it was. >> what you think it was? >> an architectural element from the white house. but we had no idea what. >> it's not until 2007 that brother-in-law larry forrest convinces the meister family they need to get some answers. and he takes on the role of lead investigator. his first line of inquiry -- the white house itself. >> i spoke to a gentleman, and i told him about what the family had. and after the laughter and telling me that that wasn't possible, i said, "we're pretty
sure, it's written on the back," and so forth. and he goes, "it's probably from some other old building or whatever." >> but larry persists. his letters, his calls turn up nothing. then after two solid years, his search leads him to historian and author bill seale. >> i said, "can i just send you pictures?" so when he received them, he called me back and he goes, "i swear i've seen it." >> was it a eureka moment? that's next. >> but first, our "strange inheritance" quiz question. the current oval office was not built until 1934, when f.d.r. was president. the answer when we return. poo. allergies? stuffy nose? can't sleep? take that. a breathe right nasal strip instantly opens your nose up to 38% more than allergy medicine alone. shut your mouth and say goodnight, mouthbreathers. breathe right.
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>> the answer is "b," a laundry drying area. but if you said "c," you might know that the first formal executive office was created by f.d.r.'s fifth cousin, theodore roosevelt, and today is known as the roosevelt conference room. >> for years, mike meister was told his father had a family heirloom like no other -- a decorative piece of wood with peeling paint, reputed in family lore to be from the white house. the problem -- nobody knows how to find out if the story is true. it's become an irresistible
mystery to mike and his brother-in-law, larry forrest, who are determined to solve it. larry's inquiries are all met by laughter and blank stares, until he calls author and historian bill seale. >> he was skeptical that it could be the actual white house. so i said, "can i just send you pictures?" >> what was your initial reaction? >> well, i thought it looked suspicious. [ laughs ] and so, i didn't tell them much until i researched it. >> did you say, "ah, just leave it in the attic another 50 years. it'll be fine"? >> no. no, i was too curious for that. >> in fact, the meisters' photos have bill scratching his head. >> he called me back, and he goes, "i swear i've seen it." >> bill is remembering a particular photo from 1898, during the mckinley administration, that he used in one of his books about the white house. the photo shows a hallway called the cross hall. >> this is the cross hall.
it's used a lot now. started by president george w. bush. >> there it is. >> and this is that march to the east room. in those days, you had a grand staircase here. >> and then, suddenly, bill spots it -- off in the corner, between a chair and a potted plant. right there -- see it? look familiar? sure looks like mike's strange inheritance. and there it is, in the white house, in 1898, when william mckinley is president. >> and there is the plinth. it's the only one it could be because it's for that side. >> i'd never heard of a plinth. what is a plinth? >> it's a base of a column that runs up the wall. >> how many were there? >> well, there were four. they were in niches in the hall where originally built for stoves. >> do we know where the other three are? >> no, nobody does. >> never been seen. so now i'm wondering, how does the plinth get from that cozy corner in the white house to the meister's attic?
well, in september 1901, president mckinley is in buffalo, new york, at the pan-american exposition. he's shaking hands with the public, when an anarchist named leon czolgosz assassinates him. suddenly, vice president teddy roosevelt is sworn in. among his many big ambitions is a gut rehab of the executive mansion. >> 1902 was a major reshaping of the symbol of the white house into a more worldly time. america became more international, and the white house was redone to be compatible with that. >> t.r.'s goal is to return it to its original federalist incarnation, while clearing it out to accommodate a brood of six children and a pony. it also means separating the living quarters from our nation's most important executive offices. >> he moved the offices out of the family floor and built
the west wing. he reorganized the place so it wasn't just an old plantation house. >> to that end, roosevelt's architects rearrange the entrance, removing this stairway and these victorian tiffany panels from the cross hall -- as well as all that old ornamental woodwork, like the plinths. the workers pile loads of rubbish outside, and souvenir hunters snatch it up. >> there is one letter from theodore roosevelt, and he said, "people are scattering around for souvenirs." >> so bill seale is beginning to believe that the meister family lore about great-uncle joseph must be true. and that this hunk of wood really is a relic of the white house, going all the way back to 1817, when president monroe moved in after that nasty business with the british. were you interested in it? >> very. i was stricken by it, to tell you the truth. >> so, something that looks like
wood or plaster is actually a whole story, in and of itself? >> it's like dna. and the object has many, many things to say. >> and the next step is very much like a dna test. what they discover was that this strange inheritance was a lot more important and valuable an artifact than even bill seale had imagined. you're smiling. that's next. >> here's another quiz question for you. which amenity was added during the obama administration? was it the white house... the answer when we return. she's nationally recognized
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converted to a basketball court for the former high-school hoops player. >> it's november of 2009, and historian bill seale, based on this photograph, believes that mike meister likely inherited a rare and very important relic -- an actual piece of the white house. it's an ornamental piece of wood called a plinth that may have been removed during teddy roosevelt's 1902 renovation. in order to verify its authenticity, seale advises the family to have the paint analyzed. so mike and his brother-in-law, larry forrest, drive from boston to bryn mawr, pennsylvania, to meet with this guy, historic paint analyst frank welsh. >> he said, "you guys go out for a little while, i'm gonna do analysis on it, and see what i think." >> frank studies the paint layers with a magnifying glass, and then a stereo microscope, as he scrapes away each layer with
an x-acto knife. >> then i start recording, starting with the layer closest to the wood numbering layers -- one, two, three, four -- all the way up to the most recent. >> well, we got a call in about half-hour, and he goes, "this is spot-on." there's 17 layers of paint on this, there's three layers of gold leaf on it. he said, "there's absolutely, 100%, exactly what it should be for that time period." >> everything seemed to line up very, very well. i felt very comfortable that the paints that i was looking at could easily be as old as they felt the plinth was. it is very unique. >> as t.r. would say, "that's bully!" in identifying those 17 layers of paint, frank may be the first person to open the door to a previously unknown decorative history of the white house. author bill seale matches each paint layer with a chapter in presidential history. >> if you want accuracy in
history, here's the real thing. this is our only touch with those periods. >> bill does the math. there were 21 administrations between presidents james madison and teddy roosevelt. but three of them -- harrison, taylor, and garfield -- were exceptionally short due to death from illness or assassination. if the hallway isn't repainted during those presidencies, and maybe one president lacks the inclination to repaint, you've got your 17 layers right there. after generations of repeating their family legend, the meisters now know they spoke the truth all along. you went from rejection to respect. how'd that feel? >> we had solved a mystery. >> bill seale encourages them to donate the plinth on the spot to the white house historical association. they say they're inclined to, but first they need to find out what it's worth. did you have a number in mind
that you thought it would be? >> no. >> what about you, larry? you did all the running around. >> you could shoot real high on this one, just from the fact of how much historical value it has. >> and when the meisters get the appraisal, they'll have some thinking to do. that's next. what's your "strange inheritance" story? we'd love to tell it. send me an e-mail or go to our website -- strangeinheritance.com. rethink what's possible. rethink your allergy pills. flonase sensimist allergy relief helps block 6 key inflammatory substances with a gentle mist. most allergy pills only block one. and 6 is greater than one. flonase sensimist. ♪ potsc(in unison) drive russ, leland, gary: yes. gary: i have a ford f-150. michael: i've always been a ford guy. potsch: then i have a real treat for you today. michael: awesome. potsch: i'm going to show you a next generation pickup. michael: let's do this. potsch: this new truck now has a cornerstep built right into the bumper. gary: super cool. potsch: the bed is made of high-strength steel, which is less susceptible to punctures than aluminum. jim: aluminum is great for a lot of things, but maybe not the bed of a truck.
"strange inheritance." >> by the fall of 2014 in boston, mike meister, and his brother-in-law, larry forrest, have determined that a piece of wood called a plinth, handed down through several generations in the meister family, really is from the white house, and very rare indeed. but is it valuable? they take it to an appraiser. you're smiling. >> well, he appraised it at $500,000. >> the appraiser was an old-time
white house appraiser. i was very surprised -- that was more than i expected it would be. >> who would buy such a thing? >> someone with the money to buy it, or someone that wants to buy it and give it to a museum or presidential library. >> historian bill seale is hoping the meister family will cut out the middleman, donate the plinth to the white house historical association themselves, and take a tax write-off. but that's a lot to ask of mike and his three siblings, who could be looking at walking away with $125,000 apiece. are you gonna sell? >> we're having it put up for auction. i think in the long run, and i'm hoping, that it'll be appreciated by many more people than might have been with the white house historical association. >> the meisters reach out to bobby livingston at rr auction in amherst, new hampshire. >> when i first laid eyes on the plinth, i was like, "wow! it's spectacular." as someone who handles a lot of historic items, when you see something like 17 layers
of paint, it tells a story. >> he joins us live from new hampshire. >> next thing you know, the story is getting big media coverage, including on fox news. >> we've never, in 30 years, offered any pieces of the 1817 white house. because there's no, you know, photography from that era, it's incredibly important. we've had registrations from all over the world, so we expect the bidding to be quite lively. >> number 22 -- architectural ornament from the main hall of the white house. >> the meister family is on hand for the auction in boston in september 2015. >> $100,000, $100,000, $110,000. >> here we go. >> $120,000. looking for $120,000. >> the bidding starts to pick up a little momentum. >> $120,000, $130,000, $140,000. >> but then it just fizzles. >> $160,000 once, $160,000 twice. sold, $150,000. fantastic. >> it's nowhere near the
half-million dollar appraisal, though a $150,000 is nothing to sneeze at. and mike reminds us that it wasn't only about the money but sharing a neat piece of america's past -- just like his ancestor, who wandered by the white house one day in 1902 and thought to snatch up a souvenir to send back home. is this the best case of being in the right place at the right time? >> i believe it is, i really do. i think from what we've learned of it and what hopefully other people can learn from it, i think it's a living piece of history. >> so, who bought mike meister's strange inheritance? well, we know this much -- a fox viewer. all bobby livingston would say is that one of those watching him on fox news before the auction was so intrigued, he phoned in and plunked down 150 grand. if you're watching now, enjoy your piece of history.
and, remember -- you can't take it with you. i'm jamie colby. thanks for watching "strange inheritance." >> a precious heirloom... >> "this was once the property of george washington." you're a v.i.p. >> [ laughing ] yeah. >> ...and the pride of a modest family. >> my father was a truck driver. we got along, but we were very frugal. >> so how did she end up with washington's wallet? >> are you a descendant of george washington? >> no, i'm not. and it's quite a long story. >> a story about love of country... >> we want these things because we want a connection to these men. >> ...the allure of big bucks... >> i established a value for the wallet. >> it was a lot of money. >> ...and some good old-fashioned intrigue... >> someone took the wallet and disappeared. [ door creaks ] [ wind howls ] [ thunder rumbles ]
[ bird caws ] >> i'm jamie colby, and today i'm crossing the delaware river from pennsylvania into new jersey. yes, i'm following the route that general george washington took to his big victory during the revolutionary war -- the battle of trenton. i'm tracking down what i believe is the most intriguing strange inheritance i've heard of so far, something the father of our country may have been carrying that fateful night -- his wallet. >> my name is barbara farwell, and this is my daughter, linda. i inherited something from my mother, and one day my daughter will inherit it from me. >> for reasons that will become clearer as we follow the twists and turns of this story, the farwells have let their heirloom go on display right here in trenton. barbara, how are you? i'm jamie. so nice to meet you. >> i'm glad to meet you.
>> hi, linda. how are you? >> hi. i'm fine. thank you. >> so, where'd you bring me? >> this is the old barracks museum. >> and you keep something from your family here? >> yes, we do. >> come in. >> during the revolutionary war, this building housed british and hessian soldiers. in fact, it was the target on christmas night in 1776 when general george washington and his men quietly crossed the delaware and launched a surprise attack on the enemy troops who were stationed here... [ men shouting, gunfire ] ...an attack that turned the tide of the revolution and changed the course of world history. there it is! and here we are. so, this is it. it's amazing! it says, "1775." were the initials added by your family? >> no. i think that was way back when that was made. >> are you a descendant of george washington? >> no, i'm not. and it's quite a long story.
>> a story that begins back in the 1700s, when large wallets like this -- or "pocketbooks," as they're called -- are essential accessories for important men like washington. what strikes you about washington when it comes to money? >> well, he was a wealthy man, but it was mostly in land. so, in terms of cash, that was always a problem for him. >> apropos of a tale about washington's wallet, biographer richard brookhiser tells me that the great man's career revolved, more than anything, around money. the revolutionary war is sparked by cries of "no taxation without representation!" and for washington, raising an army is easier than raising the dough to pay it. >> he sees his men without shoes, he sees them without the weapons they need, and he sees them not being paid, and he is
the man who's at the center of all this and trying to cope. [ men shouting ] >> washington's ultimate victory doesn't end his country's economic woes. what do we know about the overall economic stability of our nation at that time? >> wars are always expensive. the revolution was no exception, and by the end of it, the united states was broke. >> general washington can't feel much better off. he discovers his mount vernon estate and his massive agricultural enterprise have been mismanaged in his absence. >> washington is back at mount vernon, which he's only visited once in 8 1/2 years of war. he has to get it up and running again. >> he hires this man to help, and 24-year old harvard graduate tobias lear will play a key part in this strange inheritance tale. can you tell me about tobias lear and what his role was? >> washington needs assistants,
and tobias lear is one of the people who does that for him. >> before long, duty calls washington again -- to become president of a tottering nation that, among other things, isn't paying its bills. and tobias lear goes along for the ride. washington puts him in charge of his bookkeeping, a job that, for the next seven years, engenders a close bond. that's a real relationship of trust, then, between washington and lear. >> absolutely. >> president washington does put the nation's finances on firmer footing. no wonder he's on the $1 bill. it's also why i think inheriting his wallet, of all things, is so cool. no surprise that the first person it passes to, the story goes, is tobias lear, who stays at washington's bedside at mount vernon on the night of december 14, 1799, when the former president dies at age 67.
but the modern-day heirs in this strange inheritance story, the farwell ladies, are not descendants of tobias lear, either. they invite me back to their home in morrisville, pennsylvania, right across the delaware river, to connect the dots. >> my father was a truck driver. we got along, but we were very frugal. my mother was an excellent homemaker, pretty good cook, and she was a hard worker. >> she also has a little secret. where did your mom keep the wallet? >> in a little black box squirreled away somewhere. >> after the break, the improbable path of washington's wallet, if, in fact, it's really his. she is 100% convinced this is george washington's pocketbook. are you? >> but first, our...
magazine to be 3.7 billion. that makes him seven times as rich as washington. >> how neat must it be to possess a piece of history like this wallet owned by the farwell family, with the initials "g.w." and the year "1775"? >> he's the father of the country. >> richard brookhiser is author of books on several founding fathers, including george washington. what do those items from our past leaders add to our american history? >> well, it makes them vivid to see actual objects that they held, that they had, that they used. that makes them like us, because we all have similar things. we want these things because we want a connection to these men. >> i've seen that time and again on "strange inheritance," but the tricky part's proving that thing in grandpa's attic is the
real deal. the question's raised in episode after episode -- did those guns actually belong to bonnie and clyde? did jfk really sign those letters? did general pickett indeed wear that bloodstained uniform? >> the fancy term auctioneers and appraisers use is "provenance." i'd put it this way -- how can the farwells be sure their beloved family heirloom really is george washington's wallet? did the wallet come with any documentation? >> there was a letter, and it tells the whole story of how it came. >> it's actually an affidavit that's more than a century old, written by a lawyer named alfred bennett. >> linda, who was alfred bennett? >> my great-great-grandfather? >> yes. >> the letter, addressed "to whom it may concern" and signed by bennett in june 1900, traces the wallet back to "the selling
of the estate of one of the family of tobias lear, private secretary to george washington." and it concludes... "this pocketbook, to the best of my knowledge and belief, was once the property of george washington." you've heard how lear is said to have inherited washington's wallet. what happens next? in 1816, lear commits suicide, and, according to the affidavit, the wallet passes to one of his heirs -- likely his widow, frances. when that heir dies, a man named stacy hall handles the estate and, the letter says, takes possession of the wallet. when he dies, barbara's ancestor attorney john bennett gets it. from there it passes to john's son alfred, author of the affidavit, who bequeaths it to his daughter jane, who passes it to her daughter elva kiernan. and elva kiernan is barbara farwell's mother. she treasures it as though it's
the most valuable thing she has. it probably is! was she proud of it? >> yes. >> where did your mom keep the wallet? >> in a little black box squirreled away somewhere. >> and inside the wallet are two old paper bills that may well have been washington's. sadly, elva doesn't have the wherewithal to properly display the wallet or to protect it from theft or damage, so, in 1960, she proudly lends it to the nearby washington crossing museum. >> to see it on display and to bring your friends to see it -- "ooh! that belongs to you?" >> but things turn sour in 1976, when the museum renovates for the bicentennial. barbara is dismayed to find the wallet's been removed! >> when i took my friends to see it, to brag about it, "where's the wallet?" >> barbara's mom is beside
herself. >> she wanted more people to see it around that time. "i am taking the wallet to another museum," and she did. >> score one for jersey! elva crosses the delaware and lends the wallet to the old barracks museum here in trenton. they'll display it, and she can take it out any time she likes. would you not want it here as a center of a coffee table? >> no way. [ chuckles ] >> why not? >> i just was afraid something would happen to it. >> a legitimate fear. in january 1992, barbara's mother is staggered by a call from the museum. >> it's surprising she didn't have a stroke. >> who swiped washington's wallet? that's next. >> here's another...
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>> 15 children, by two wives. [ telephone rings ] >> it's january 1992. 83-year-old widow elva kiernan gets a devastating phone call from the old barracks museum in trenton, new jersey. her precious heirloom, a leather wallet identified as george washington's, has been stolen from its case! >> someone took the wallet and disappeared. the new jersey detectives and the police were on the lookout for it.
>> did you post a reward? >> yes. total was $1,000 -- $500 from my mother and $500 from the barracks. >> it's all elva can afford, and, presumably, the barracks, too. weeks go by. then... it's back. a local lawyer followed an anonymous tip and secures the wallet's return on presidents' day, 1992. and this is classic -- the 200-year-old bills, presumably washington's, are missing. >> i was upset because i knew, as a child, i had seen the bills many, many times. >> did the lawyer ever disclose who brought him the wallet? >> no. >> do you remember, linda, if there was any information about who actually returned the wallet? >> no. >> but you gave it back to the museum? >> yes. >> that is, after the museum agrees to install a security system. and there it stays for the next decade, until the farwells
finally decide to have it insured. >> the first time i saw it was at one of my antique-appraisal events. >> lori verderame is an antiques appraiser with a phd in art history. you established a value for the wallet? >> based on comparable sales records, condition, provenance, and also my research, the insurance appraisal that i signed -- the pocketbook here was worth $75,000. >> it was a lot of money. >> enough to give any working-class family pause. >> that much money would really be a nice addition to our bank account [laughs] but my mother was very sure that that wallet shouldn't ever be sold. it should be for everybody to see. >> in fact, elva makes it all the way to 100 and never sells. she passes away in october 2008. barbara not only inherits the wallet but the cachet that comes
with it when she takes her bridge club to the old barracks for a personalized tour. tell me about it -- when you're able to share it with the ladies at the senior center. >> well, they're amazed. >> you're a v.i.p. >> [ laughing ] yeah. >> that pride in her family's small connection to the father of the country is why she agrees to tell her story to "strange inheritance." but will our questions spoil everything? i'm just curious, once we decided to do an episode of "strange inheritance," whether your thoughts about it changed in any way. >> i honestly did look in the files. >> that's next. we'd love to tell it! send me an e-mail or go to our website. usaa to me means
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[chuckling] celebrity. >> something curious happened after barbara farwell and her daughter, linda, agreed to let us tell the story about how their family inherited george washington's wallet. they keep it in trenton's old barracks museum, displayed above a decades-old plaque which flatly states it belonged to the father of our country. but when we ask to shoot inside the museum, a member of its staff tells us that now they're no longer sure if that's accurate. uh-oh! i'm wondering whether you took a second look at it and whether your thoughts about it changed in any way. >> i honestly did look in the files. we did not have an exact paper trail that goes right to 1775. >> richard patterson is the director of the old barracks museum. >> we don't have a receipt from washington. if we had a paper trail that went back a century or more, when you have some items that are attributed to a particular person, particularly a famous
person, that sort of adds to the level of documentation that you would like to have. it appears to be authentic to the period, and it's something that, quite plausibly, was carried by washington. >> mild-mannered barbara can't believe the museum, after all these years, is waffling on the wallet. >> i really am very sure that that's george washington's pocketbook. >> "plausibly" just doesn't cut it for her. washington biographer richard brookhiser understands. is it okay if we just believe it, or do we really need to know for sure? >> no, we want to know for sure. >> and we do know for sure, insists appraiser lori verderame. i ask her to make her case. >> the first thing we're gonna look for is age. i'm also gonna look for construction. the binding is just like what we would typically see. it's made the same way cambridge university would actually make its books. the age of the leather is correct, and these little bands
indicate where it was kept and what was in it. >> another key detail... >> you'll notice that sunburst in between the monogram of the "g" and the "w." >> yes! >> george washington was part of the freemasons, and that particular sunburst is an image in the 18th century that was also used by the freemasons. >> had washington lived in another age, it might be easier to remove all doubt -- if he'd been photographed with the wallet or if you could swab it for his dna. but dr. lori says that for a 240-year-old artifact, you'll rarely do better than her final piece of proof. >> so, this is where people say, "oh, we don't have a document." we do have a document. >> that affidavit attesting to the chain of custody from washington to farwell's ancestors. never sold, right? >> no, never sold -- always handed down in the family. >> that provenance, dr. lori adds, has never been challenged by anyone outside the farwell family. has dr. lori persuaded you? >> the initials and so on look
like they were done quite some time ago. >> in a graceful denouement, richard patterson seems to buy it. dr. lori is 100% convinced this is george washington's pocketbook. >> cool. >> are you? >> why not? i was leaning in that direction. >> barbara farwell is also pleased to hear dr. lori thinks the wallet could fetch a higher price -- if she wants to sell. >> value has increased, and condition has basically stayed the same because it's been protected in a museum environment. so i would appraise this george washington pocketbook for $100,000. [ cash register dings ] >> but barbara and linda still say their strange inheritance is not for sale. why is it more important to own the wallet than to sell it and have the money? >> because my mother really wanted us to keep it and pass it down through the ages. it'll be more valuable and more
interesting as the years go by. >> what happens if linda sells it? >> she said she wouldn't. >> i won't. >> i think i understand it now. >> i wouldn't take it now without an escort. [ chuckles ] >> what is it you're worried will happen to it? >> i don't want it to get stolen again, that's for sure. but did you not say you'd like to see it in the smithsonian? >> yeah, eventually. >> that's where millions of people would see it. >> yeah. >> word traveled fast of washington's victories after he crossed the delaware, with or without that wallet in his vest pocket. frederick the great of prussia said, "the achievements of washington and his little band of men were the most brilliant ever recorded in the annals of military achievements." the father of our country went for broke and pulled it off and so handed down an inheritance to all americans. i'm jamie colby.
thanks so much for watching "strange inheritance." and remember, you can't take it with you. >> i'm bob massi. for 32 years, i've been practicing law and living in las vegas. i help people with all sorts of real-estate problems, from trying to save their homes to closing major deals. eight years ago, 6,000 people a month moved here, looking for employment and affordable homes. little did anyone know that we would become ground zero for the american real-estate crisis. now, it's a different story. the american dream is back. we're gonna meet real people who faced the same problems as millions across america, and we'll dive deep into a city on the rebound because las vegas was a microcosm of america, and now vegas is back. [ woman vocalizing ]