Elyse Luray, one of the stars of PBS’s “History Detectives,” spoke at Belmont Wednesday on “A Behind the Scenes Look at the TV Series ‘History Detectives.’”
“History Detectives,” which is in its eighth season on PBS, revolves around four experts who conduct investigations to determine the historical significance of folklore, antiques, family heirlooms and everyday objects. Luray said the experts try to explore items “that show a larger window into American history.” She revealed that about 90 percent of the show’s investigations come from viewer submissions.
“Open your eyes to what you have right at your doorstep,” Luray advised the audience.
Luray has personally conducted more than 50 investigations for “History Detectives.” She has examined a coin shot by Annie Oakley, a piece of Amelia Earhart’s plane, the sunken S.S. Portland and a silver cup from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
Luray then described the research process used by the show, encouraging the audience to become their own history detectives. The process revolves around five steps: First, journal everything you know about the object and include items, theories and checklists. Second, examine the object, looking for markings, signatures or anything distinctive. The third step is to research the object; however, Luray advised against relying on the Internet. “Primary resources are the most important thing when you are doing research,” she said. Unfortunately, popular Web sites like Google and Wikipedia do not generally provide primary sources. Luray prefers using libraries and archives. The fourth step is interviewing experts, librarians or any other person who may know more than you do. Finally, the history detectives conduct experiments on their items to determine how old they really are.
Luray graduated from Tulane University with a degree in art history and worked at Christie’s Auction House in New York where she appraised the props from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the “Star Wars” films. She handled the auctions of possessions of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Steven Spielberg, Bob Marley and Marlon Brando. She also auctioned off a pair Judy Garland’s ruby slippers. Luray was a consultant on “Antiques Roadshow” before joining the cast of “History Detectives.”