tv Trish Regan Primetime FOX Business February 15, 2020 3:00am-4:00am EST
"strange inheritance." and remember, you can't take it with you. >> an ancestor they knew nothing about... >> i went through 50-some-odd years of my life and had no clue. >> an inheritance they can hardly believe... >> what was your reaction as you opened those first boxes? >> it was mind-blowing. >> why does andrew green have george washington's will? >> bare-knuckle politics, cold-blooded murder, a legacy all but snuffed out... >> this was a cloud of suspicion of having lived a double life. >> what did they do? >> what are the chances that those boxes would've just been trashed? >> very good chance of that. >> what would you do? >> well, it drove me crazy. >> how 'bout 6,000? >> and what's it all worth? >> you think you'll ever get another auction with a story like this? >> no, i kinda doubt it. [ door creaks ]
[ wind howls ] [ thunder rumbles ] [ bird caws ] >> i'm jamie colby. and today, i'm in kennebunkport, maine. it's renowned as the bush family's summer haven and also for its succulent lobster. but this story has a cast of characters that are up and down the atlantic seaboard. the heirs, they live here, a reclusive aunt from massachusetts and their gilded age ancestor once dubbed "the father of greater new york." >> i'm john green. >> and i'm lisa green buchanan. >> i think it's fair to say that our aunt julie was a hoarder. and when she died in 2009, she left us a mountain of stuff to sort through. >> oh, what a great house! >> thank you! welcome to kennebunkport! i got a story... >> john and his sister lisa belong to a new england family whose history goes back
to mayflower days but whose legacy had been largely forgotten. in 2005, that reclusive aunt i mentioned, julie green, is diagnosed with cancer, and john moves her from the boston area into a condo up here in maine, where the siblings can help care for her. it's a big job to be a caregiver. >> i never thought of it that way. she had nobody else. >> what was she like? >> she was single and independent. >> never married? >> no. >> no children? >> she did not want children. >> nor does aunt julie want anyone to get rid of all her stuff. >> even when we moved everything out of that house, we had a dumpster put in there, and she would guard the dumpster. she would make sure we wouldn't throw anything out. >> so the basement of julie's condo gets overwhelmed with stacks of boxes of books and who knows what else. john, what are the chances that, if you and your sister didn't care for aunt julie, that those boxes would've just been trashed?
>> very good chance of that. >> in her last years, the tight-lipped aunt julie does drop references to their ancestor she says accumulated much of it all. >> the only thing she would say is uncle andrew this, uncle andrew that. we'd tease her that she was living in the past. you know, you're talking about all these people that aren't here anymore, and little did we know why. >> aunt julie dies in 2009 at the age of 73. >> everything was left to my sister and myself. when we started opening boxes, we still didn't know exactly what we had at that time. >> first, they have to separate the wheat from the chaff. and there's plenty of chaff -- decades of old knickknacks, newspapers, mail, and clothing. how many boxes are we talking about? >> hundreds. >> among the boxes, lisa discovers this book which gives them a clue of what's to come. it's a family journal going back to the 19th century.
this is so cool! this is a caricature of andrew green, known as the father of greater new york. i'm from new york. i've never heard of him. did you know much about him before? >> no, we didn't. >> that's when i started to go down the rabbit hole. they learned that this guy, their great-great-great-uncle andrew green, was born in 1820 in an area known as green hill in worcester, massachusetts. >> he had 10 brothers and sisters. his father was a lawyer. they were well-off but not rich. >> 300 miles south of kennebunkport here in manhattan, historian mike miscione has pieced together the story of lisa and john's ancestor and how he left his mark here in the big apple. and while there's no skyscraper, highway, or airport named after him, it turns out there really ought to be. >> he was largely responsible for creating the institutions
that transformed new york into a world-class city. >> mike explains that, as a teenager, andrew green left massachusetts and moved to new york city. >> he worked as a clerk at a dry-goods operation, and, eventually, he decided to settle upon a career of law and came into contact with a up-and-coming lawyer by the name of samuel tilden. >> tilden is making a fortune representing railroads. he's also becoming a big shot in new york politics. >> green's dealings with tilden brought him into democratic political circles. and soon, he was involved in new york city civic affairs. >> green becomes tilden's law partner and begins making a hefty salary. instead of marriage and children, he's devoted to work. but when tough times befall his family up in massachusetts, andrew returns temporarily to worcester to take charge. >> he was able to not just get the estate out of debt
but make it prosper, as well. he became the patriarch of his family for the remainder of his life. >> great shot. is that the house? andrew figures the family home could use some extra rooms, 42 to be exact. one of those rooms is a museum showing off artifacts from the green family's history. >> there was a museum in the home for the family, not for the public. >> and how do you know that? >> this book is the story of the family and green hill. >> can i look? >> sure. >> so this is the story of the home 1754 to 1905. that's a lot of family history. >> mm-hmm. >> andrew's ready to make history himself back in new york by shaping it into a world-class metropolis. among other jobs, he heads the commission that creates central park. >> central park, the metropolitan museum of art,
the american museum of natural history. green would be largely responsible for creating the bronx zoo, the new york public library. >> there's very little green doesn't touch during new york's gilded age. in 1871, when city coffers are almost bankrupt, he becomes the city's comptroller. >> andrew green needed to be escorted by a ring of mounted policemen as he was approaching the comptroller's office on his first day of work. and this was a blood sport in this era. >> green exposes the shenanigans of new york's corrupt democratic machine, known as tammany hall, and helps send the city's notorious boss, william tweed, off to prison. oh, and one other little achievement... >> it was green's efforts to get new york to expand beyond the borders of manhattan island and to annex the municipalities around new york harbor, which included the city of brooklyn, and make that all one giant metropolis.
>> so how could his own family 100 years later not know all about him? could it have anything to do with the way green died? that's next. >> but first, our "strange inheritance" quiz question. in the presidential election of 1876, andrew green's law partner, samuel tilden, won the popular vote but lost to rutherford b. hayes. the answer after the break.
>> it's "a." among other problems, florida democrats printed ballots showing abraham lincoln's face in an effort to trick freed slaves who couldn't read into voting democratic. a special commission was set up to decide the contest, leading to the election of hayes over tilden. >> john green and his sister lisa green buchanan initially think their hoarder aunt julie has simply left them a big headache
when she dies in july 2009. but among the hundreds of boxes that filled her basement, they uncover a 19th-century journal that begins to open their eyes to the legacy of their great-great-great-uncle andrew haswell green, a man theodore roosevelt nicknamed "the father of greater new york." >> nobody told us the story. >> i went through 50-some-odd years of my life and had no clue how important he was. >> john comes to suspect that may be because of the scandal surrounding green's death in 1903. >> a man approached him and accused him of seeing his mistress and shot him in the back. [ woman screams ] >> the stranger -- his name was cornelius williams -- shot andrew green five times, killing the man instantly. he made no attempt to escape, made no attempt to deny what he had done.
>> the confessed killer claims green and a brothel owner named bessie davis were part of a conspiracy against him. newspapers across the country relish the salacious story. >> this was a very troubling, mysterious set of circumstances, and andrew green was under this cloud of suspicion of having lived a double life. >> the police determine green was a victim of mistaken identity. or was it payback from the political machine that he had taken down? whatever the case, the damage to his once-spotless reputation is done. plans to erect memorial gates in his honor at the entrance to central park evaporate. in worcester, green's mansion is sold to the city and later demolished. gradually, even his own kin forget all he accomplished and left behind, the effects of an important man boxed up in cardboard. >> they cleaned the mansion out.
and my grandfather's father took possession of all these items, and then it went to my grandfather. they were passed on to julie. >> and why julie? >> she took care of my grandparents when they got elderly. when my grandparents moved into assisted living, julie was the one that took 'em. >> and because john and lisa take care of aunt julie in her dotage, she leaves them this strange inheritance. what was your reaction as you opened those first boxes? >> it was mind-blowing, really exciting. >> there's china, tiffany silverware, coins, stamps, antique books, clothing, toys, and jewelry. and how many items are we talking about? >> thousands. >> so after tossing aunt julie's actual junk, including decades of old newspapers and mail, they reach out to richard oliver, a family friend and local auctioneer. >> we knew there was enough value to get historians and people like richard involved.
i mean, my brother and i couldn't have settled this estate by ourselves. >> indeed, richard will need an entire team to go through all those boxes and catalog everything. >> i said, "listen. john, you pay the expenses. i'll keep the buyer's premium." >> do all your clients pay up front? >> well, a good part of the time, we take 20% or whatever it might be, and we pay the expenses. >> john agrees but quickly learns he's taken a huge risk. research gets expensive. take this antique hebrew prayer book from andrew green's massive library. to find out where it came from, richard must run an ad in an antiques magazine. >> somebody picked up on it, and i started getting calls from israel and calls from all over the country. >> another example -- this silver cup with a wolf's-head crest. >> it drove me crazy. i wasn't able to find out what the crest was.
>> after much effort, historian bill ralph, a member of the research team, figures out it was from a group called wolf's head. sounds like a secret society. >> and it -- in fact, it is, and it was. it was the third secret society at yale. >> fascinating stuff. but can the siblings expect a return on that kind of research? did you ever say to richard, "i got your latest bill, and we're not gonna do any more research until we sell some of this stuff"? >> i didn't put it like that, but i questioned him. "are you sure we're discovering enough things of importance to pay this bill?" and, richard being richard, "oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. don't worry about it." >> i told john i had calculated we ought to be able to do $600,000 without a problem. >> that's because his team has found plenty. check out these letters apparently given to andrew green as a gift, penned by thomas jefferson, james madison, and james monroe. >> they were... >> originals? >> yes. >> what were the letters about?
>> my favorite letter, james monroe and james madison were talking about this gentleman who happened to be andrew jackson. they were afraid that he might be the ruination of their careful plans to carry on their ideology with the american public. >> the next big find? this rare copy of george washington's last will and testament, printed in 1800, right after washington's death. >> at the time, we knew there were only 13 existing copies. >> make that 14. >> it was in a plastic bag filled with other things, and it very well could've been thrown out without anybody ever knowing about it. >> by july 2010, john and lisa's strange inheritance is cataloged and ready for sale. they've invested a year and a lot of money in it. how much had john spent getting ready for this big auction? >> it was around $225,000. >> whoa!
>> i hope we get enough out of this to pay for what we've discovered. >> will they? >> sold at $1,000. >> that's next. >> here's another quiz question for you. when andrew green was new york city's comptroller, the brooklyn bridge was partially financed by renting what? apartments atop its towers, boat slips by its piers, or wine cellars at its base? the answer in a moment.
>> it's september 2010, and john green and his sister lisa are preparing to auction off thousands of items they inherited from their aunt julie. many belonged to their great-great-great-uncle andrew green, the long-forgotten father of new york city. they decide everything must go -- well, almost everything. >> these are dueling pistols. when you had to settle a score back in the 1700s, these are the dueling pistols that you used and the powder flask that goes with it. >> now, why would you keep these? >> i'm a gun nut. so i thought it was kinda cool to have dueling pistols. >> the stakes for the auction are high. to appraise and catalog the collection, the greens have spent $225,000. >> every box was another -- you never knew what you were gonna get into. >> the big question now -- will the auction bring in the money they need to break even? >> here we are. we've extended a lot of time
and a lot of money and a lot of resources just to get to this far. >> was it important for you to recover enough from the auction to cover your expenses? >> very important. >> lot number 22. let's start with... and how much? and get bidding where? >> john frets as auctioneer richard oliver unloads antique toys, dolls, and music boxes for just a few hundred dollars apiece. >> it was a slow start, like, "oh, boy. is this gonna come into it?" >> next on the auction block, that silver cup that bill ralph finally determined was from a yale secret society. even that only fetches 1,000 bucks. they're a long way from the 225,000k john and lisa paid up front to get their strange inheritance ready for auction and a far cry from the minimum of $600,000 the auctioneer predicted. and then, with one surprising bid, everything starts turning green! >> none of us thought it was gonna go for what it went for.
>> 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. there's a company that's talked to even more real people than me: jd power. 448,134 to be exact. they answered 410 questions in 8 categories about vehicle quality. and when they were done, chevy earned more j.d. power quality awards across cars, trucks and suvs than any other brand over the last four years. so on behalf of chevrolet, i want to say "thank you, real people." you're welcome. we're gonna need a bigger room.
>> now back to "strange inheritance." >> it's september 2010, and john green and his sister lisa green buchanan are wondering if they're going to be able to cover the $225,000 they've spent preparing their strange inheritance for auction. >> uh, we had to pay for this somehow. >> at first, the sale moves slowly and ekes out only a few thousand dollars, nowhere near what they need. what was the moment at which it picked up? >> one of the most exciting was the small hebrew book that they found. none of us thought it was gonna go for what it went for. the rare 17th century hebrew prayer book, a gem from andrew green's vast book collection?
>> $33,000. >> that copy of george washington's last will and testament? $16,000. a single letter from thomas jefferson to president monroe? 13k. all of the presidential letters together -- just under 70 grand. 9 booklets from 19th-century india fetch 11k. a cherry tea table? $9,000. this windsor high chair goes for $11,500. the sales just keep ringing up. the final tally at auction's end -- $700,000. so were you pleased or disappointed? >> oh, very pleased. the things in that auction needed to go to people who cared for them so the general public could see it. >> in fact, the new york public library buys a bundle of letters written by green himself for only 500 bucks, a bargain for the guy who helped create the library in the first place. >> if it wasn't for him, who knows what central park would be? he brought the five boroughs of new york together
to make one city. this is a lot of history. >> we told you how john kept those dueling pistols. john's sister lisa keeps something, too -- that dusty old journal that reconnected her to the green family legacy. >> i learned a lot while we were going through this process. it's pretty astounding, and there's no way to deny where i came from anymore, the more i learned. >> in 2012, new york city finally got around to funding a small andrew green park here along the east river for $5 million. but then the city realized that the pilings along the river would need repairs, costing another 15 million. so for now, andrew green has a dog run and a beautiful view to honor him. and his story, which was in storage for more than 100 years, is finally out of the box.
i'm jamie colby for "strange inheritance." thanks so much for watching, and remember -- you can't take it with you. >> the people's house -- a family's legend. >> 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.
♪music ♪yea, you can be the greatest ♪you can be the best ♪you can be the king kong ♪bangin on your chest ♪you can beat the world you can beat the war♪ ♪you can talk to god while bangin on his door♪ ♪you can throw your hands up you can beat the clock♪ ♪you can move a mountain you can break rocks♪ ♪you can be a master don't wait for luck♪ ♪dedicate yourself and you can find yourself♪ ♪standin in the hall of fame ♪yea ♪and the world's gonna know your name, yea♪ ♪and you'll be on the walls of the hall of fame♪ ♪you can be a champion ♪be a champion ♪in the walls of the hall of fame♪
♪be students, be teachers, be politicians, be preachers♪ ♪yea, yea ♪be believers, be leaders, be astronauts, be champions♪ ♪standin in the hall of fame >> 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. hi! we're glad you came in, what's on your mind?
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. there's a company that's talked to even more real people than me: jd power. 448,134 to be exact. they answered 410 questions in 8 categories about vehicle quality. and when they were done, chevy earned more j.d. power quality awards across cars, trucks and suvs than any other brand over the last four years. so on behalf of chevrolet, i want to say "thank you, real people." you're welcome. we're gonna need a bigger room.
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♪ "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." home. have a great weekend. lou dobbs next. [♪] lou: good evening, everybody, the deep state tonight appears to be all the more powerful and the rule of law in serious question. after 22 months of investigation, the department of justice today told former fired fbi acting director andrew mccabe that he will not face criminal prosecution for lying to fbi investigators three times. the department's own inspector general found in 2018 that mccabe lied on four separate occasions about his role in leaks about
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