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all of which helps you do more than your customers thought possible. comcast business. beyond fast. [ cow moos ] >> a montana cowboy inherits a barren patch of prairie. >> this place isn't big enough to starve to death on. >> but beneath the parched soil, he finds prehistoric treasure. >> this is one of the most important discoveries in this century. >> i've got a year to try to see if i can survive with our ranch and selling dinosaur fossils. this is a jaw bone to a tyrannosaurus rex that i found. >> will this cowpoke's strange inheritance lead him to boom... >> whoo! >> [ laughs ] >> ...or bust? >> lightning doesn't strike the same place very often. [ chuckles ] maybe never. ♪
>> i'm jamie colby. and today, i'm driving in the badlands of eastern montana. it's rugged, big-sky, cattle-ranching country. i'm on my way to meet a lifelong resident whose father left him a chunk of this land. >> nice to have you here. >> thanks for having us. >> my name's clayton phipps. and in 1997, my father passed away, and i inherited from him a small portion of the family ranch. and along with that came a few pretty exciting surprises. >> 41-year-old clayton phipps is like a character out of "red river" or "lonesome dove." [ horse neighs ] >> most of the time, i'm on my own. i'm happy that way. this ranch had been in our family since my great-grandfather homesteaded here. and it's a part of me that i just didn't feel like i wanted to ever part with.
>> clayton grew up and learned to cowboy here on the ranch his father shared with three brothers. he describes the operation as cash-poor but reasonably successful. >> my dad worked us hard, but that was a good thing, too. >> after clayton's father dies in 1997, the ranch is split up. at age 24, clayton inherits 1,100 acres and 30 cows. that may sound like a lot. but to make a decent living these days, clayton would need 10 times that much land and about 500 head of cattle -- at least 40 acres for each cow. >> [ whistles ] i always tell people this place isn't big enough to starve to death on. but it's every cowboy's dream to have their own place. >> okay, we're saddling up. >> just step on my knee with your right leg. >> okay. >> there you go. >> clayton insists i wear a helmet. >> yeah, that's pretty smooth. >> good girl!
somebody must have told him i'm a lawyer. ♪ i can see why clayton loves being out here. i also learn why he calls ranching a big gamble. >> there is a big gamble in ranching. wintertime can be hard. you can have some big storms. there can be death loss. you can buy a bull for $10,000, and he can go wreck himself or break his leg or something, and you may not get any return out of him. >> for years, clayton works a second job, hoping to make enough money to build up his own herd. getting the ranch to pay off becomes more urgent when he falls in love with lisa landwehr, who teaches at the local one-room schoolhouse. >> love at first sight. [ laughs ] my mom said she could see why i fell for him. my dad said, "are you sure you shouldn't wait?" [ laughs ] he's always been very good to me. we've had a lot of fun together. >> my wife's from minnesota. the whole thing's been a culture
shock for her. [ chuckles ] you know, it's 120 miles to the nearest movie theatre. the old timers would say, you know, "this country's hard on horses and women." >> in 1998, the couple's first child, julie, is born. she'll grow up to be a cowgirl, through and through. >> julie came along, and, yeah, there's another mouth to feed, and a little more responsibility. and you have to start, you know -- "what am i gonna do?" >> it all ratchets up the pressure on clayton to make the ranch financially viable... now. >> got to figure out a way to try to buy more land, enough land to raise enough cows to provide a living. >> then one day, clayton runs into a stranger who'd been prospecting in the badlands near clayton's ranch. >> he started pulling these things out of his car. he started saying, you know, "this piece here might sell for $500," you know, and it was a fragment of bone. and i'm like, "what?" >> they were fossils, remnants of giant beasts who lived here eons ago. clayton figures if there are
that many valuable fossils on the neighbor's land, there must be as many on his. could they help him keep his home on the range? >> as i was out fixing fence, or riding, or gathering cattle, i started watching, and, you know, started picking up fragments here and there, and then trying to learn more about it. it got me excited that, you know, this stuff's everywhere. >> it's everywhere because phipps' ranch sits right on one of the most important scientific areas on earth -- the hell creek formation. 65 million years ago, this was a warm, palm-studded forest. giants ruled the earth. peter larson runs the black hills institute, which prepares fossils for museums and collectors. >> the hell creek formation shows us the very end of the age of dinosaurs going up to the time that this giant asteroid 6 miles across crashed into the earth and actually caused the extinction of about 70% of life
forms here on this planet. ♪ >> between chores, clayton scours the gulches and ridges on his land, searching for fossils. he finds plenty of fragments -- buckets full of them, in fact -- but nothing he could sell. these bones would not put meat on the table. then one day, something in the rocky soil catches clayton's eye. >> i looked, and there was a t. rex pre-max tooth laying there in almost perfect, museum-quality condition. >> so, this tooth, for example, is a result of your inheritance? >> it is. >> clayton shows me a casting of the tooth -- his first real find -- in the back room where he prepares specimens for sale. it's a combination man cave, research library, and trophy room. >> and i went home and sold that tooth that night to a collector for $2,500, and i was back in business. [ cow moos ] >> back in the ranching business, that is. >> i used that money to buy my first cattle to help supplement
my other disease, ranching and cowboying. >> right. well, that's what kind of actually was exciting about it. we were pretty proud of being able to start our herd with something that he found, you know? that was pretty cool. >> "pretty cool" -- sure. but could such prehistoric artifacts be the cash crop they need to help them build up their herd and make the ranch a success? it's another gamble. clayton's all in. lisa, not so much. >> paychecks kind of need to be steady when you're raising a family. and it was a gamble, you know? [ chuckles ] my wife was really skeptical. >> you ever sit there and dream of another life? >> [ laughs ] >> he's not listening right now. >> i have to confess, yeah, it's crossed my mind. i wouldn't give him up for anything, but, you know, i was nervous. >> as months go by with no significant finds, even clayton begins to have doubts. >> i got to one of my sites, and my tractor tire was flat, and that was gonna be a $500, $600 bill, you know? i was thinking, "i don't even know if this is what god wants
me to do," you know? i was broke. ♪ >> and then, as if by divine intervention, his luck changes. >> it was just the coolest little skull ever. >> that's next. >> but first, our "strange inheritance" quiz question. the answer when we return. you're headed down the highway when the guy in front slams on his brakes out of nowhere. you do, too, but not in time. hey, no big deal. you've got a good record and liberty mutual won't hold a grudge by raising your rates over one mistake. you hear that, karen? liberty mutual doesn't hold grudges... how mature of them. for drivers with accident forgiveness liberty mutual won't raise their rates because of their first accident.
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>> now the answer to our "strange inheritance" quiz question. the answer is "c," tiggeraptor. >> in 2003, cowboy clayton phipps starts to feel that fossil hunting on his montana ranch is a bust. it's been almost a year since he's found a marketable bone. then he hits pay dirt, in the form of a skull from a 65-million-year-old stygimoloch. >> i found that stygimoloch on my wife's birthday, and i named the skull "lisa's dragon." this is the most complete skull discovered to date of this particular dinosaur. >> unearthing this horned relic of the cretaceous period instantly changes clayton's outlook. >> it's the thrill of discovery, you're the first person to see it. it's a special feeling.
it's hard to describe until you actually are in that position. >> that's amazing. amazing. wow. the real thrill comes when a collector buys the skull, netting clayton more than $40,000. his strange inheritance is finally starting to pay off. >> it was about a year's wages for what i was making on the ranch. >> it buys him, among other things, more time to make his grand plan work. >> i told lisa, i said, "i've got a year to try to see if i can survive with our ranch and selling dinosaur fossils." >> meanwhile, the phipps family is expanding. a son, daniel, arrives in 2004, and his brother luke, 3 years later -- two acorns that don't fall far from the tree. by now, dad has acquired a reputation and a new nickname, "dino cowboy." professionals begin to respect his knowledge of dinosaur bones, and his ability to find them.
>> the only way you can find fossils is with your eyes. and the only way you can do that is get out there on foot and and walk the outcrops. a guy like clayton can invent. he can solve problems. ♪ >> clayton offers to show a new york gal how it's done. he starts with a safety lecture. >> any snakes? >> there's rattlesnakes. there's mountain lions. walking along the crest of a hill, there could be a cavity, and you could step on one of those and fall 30 feet down. looks great. if you move the dirt, you might find one. >> now, what is that? >> this is a little end of a limb bone to a little plant-eater. it's pretty cool. you can see the whole end of the bone. >> oh, this is definitely bone. >> yep. that's most like a rib. i can tell by the -- >> oh, the shape. i can see why they call him the dino cowboy. >> another piece of bone washed down there. >> and i can see how you could get hooked on fossil hunting.
it's the feeling you get picking something out of the dirt and realizing it was part of a living, breathing behemoth 65 million years ago. >> there's spikes on this. look. >> we're gonna have a project here. >> i'm starting to think the whole phipps family has some kind of dino radar. >> looks like a rib. >> like the top of one? >> in just the first few minutes, clayton's youngest, 7-year-old luke, finds a rib. >> okay, i'm having a blast. can i get down here and keep looking? now, is this just wood or petrified wood? >> no, that's a bone. >> i found part of a leg bone. amazing! slowly but surely, this is a whole dinosaur. >> it came off this hill somewhere. you know, one of these layers is gonna produce, you know, hopefully, some more of this skeleton. >> so, we found a spot worth looking into. >> maybe. oh, for sure. >> clayton knows there is dino gold somewhere in these hills, and he aims to find it. >> the highest selling fossil that i know about sold for a little over $8 million. that was one single dinosaur. >> that $8-million find, a
42-foot long t. rex nicknamed "sue," now stands in the main hall of chicago's field museum. >> it could buy a lot of cattle. >> it would help. [ chuckles ] >> fortunately, his reputation as a man who can find old bones leads an experienced fossil hunter named mark eatman to knock on clayton's door. >> clayton is a total modern-day mountain man or macgyver. i went to his ranch, where we started to look for fossils together. >> another chapter in this "strange inheritance" story is about to begin. >> you're always thinking, "right over the next ridge or over the next patch of badlands, it's gonna be there. i'm gonna find that big one." >> as it turns out, mark's words are prophetic. >> whoo! >> that's next, on "strange inheritance." >> here's another quiz question for you.
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>> now the answer to our quiz question. which came first? the answer is "b." the oldest shark fossil is more than 400 million years old. the oldest cockroach fossil is 350 million years old. the oldest dinosaur arrived 100 million years later. >> as i listen to clayton phipps tell the story of the ranch left to him by his father, i can't help but think that his strange inheritance is not just about this 2 square miles of montana badlands filled with dinosaur bones. it's also the unexpected journey that came next -- from struggling rancher to hopeful husband to dad worried about
being a good provider, and then to renowned dino cowboy who's still hoping to find a way to make it all work financially. he gets a boost when professional fossil hunter mark eatman knocks on his door. using clayton's ranch as a base of operations, they set out to scour not only the phipps ranch, but parts of the surrounding hell creek formation on which it sits. in june 2006, mark scans a rock outcropping and spots fossil fragments from a triceratops, a 7-foot tall plant eater. this beast died right here more than 65 million years ago. [ roaring ] it's only about 60 miles from the phipps' ranch. but the remarkable journey launched by clayton's strange inheritance will transport him to a time and place he could hardly imagine.
after cutting a deal with the landowner, who will get a share of any profits, clayton starts picking away, first with a shovel, then a jackhammer, and finally a backhoe. >> i realized that there was this arm claw in there, a giant meat hook -- killer, nasty-looking creature. >> clayton has uncovered another set of bones intertwined with the triceratops. >> "what the heck did we just find?" and, you know, i knew i had a claw, but that's all i really knew. so, i run down, and i start brushing away the dirt and the sand from where i was digging with the machine. and i start to see an arm, and i start to see a leg below the arm. and, "whoo!" [ both laugh ] you know? "son of a gun. there's another dinosaur in here, and it wasn't friends with the one we just found." >> that's when i went ballistic with excitement, actually. >> it's a monster discovery. clayton's son daniel and daughter julie pose to give a sense of the enormous size of these two creatures -- predator and prey, apparently locked in a
battle to the death -- one the plant-eating triceratops, the other what looks like a young t. rex. phipps calls them the dueling dinos. >> i was talking to to a fossil dealer, and he said, "clayton, you're the luckiest guy i know." he said, "who could go out in the middle of nowhere with a backhoe and dig up the best meat-eater from the hell creek formation ever?" [ laughs ] i guess god was watching out for us that day. [ laughs ] >> it's one of the most fantastic dinosaur specimens that's been found ever. it's one of the few instances where we can actually find the culprit. "well, how did this animal die, and what killed it?" >> we believe they killed each other. >> wait, in battle? how can you tell that? >> clayton explains, using this model of the dueling dinos. >> we have teeth from the predator embedded in the prey. some of them are embedded still in the pelvis area, and they're also in the throat area. i'd give anything in the world to go back that day in time and see what happened, you know, to watch that fight and see how it
unfolded. >> for a cowboy and his family who have been just scraping by, the dueling dinos could be a life-changer. >> my initial thought was these things are somewhere around the value of maybe $10 million. ♪ >> that's even more than chicago's field museum paid for sue, the giant t. rex unearthed in 1990. clayton and his partners shop the fossils to a number of museums, seeking a multimillion-dollar deal that would permit access by both scientists and the public. >> i would like to be able to take my grandkids someday to a museum that it's in, say, "your old grandpappy found that dinosaur." >> seven years pass, but no public institution bites. so in november 2013, clayton moves on to plan "b." >> bonhams auction company contacted us, and they said, "would you guys be interested in putting it up for auction?" >> that's next on "strange inheritance."
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>> now back to "strange inheritance." >> november 2013, 16 years since clayton phipps inherited this montana ranch from his father, 10 years since he dug up the $40,000 stygimoloch skull that sealed his reputation as the dino cowboy, and it's 7 years since he made one of the most fantastic discoveries in history -- two prehistoric beasts locked in combat. now they're up for sale in new york. the bidding starts at $3 million, hits $5.5 million... then stops. that may be a fortune to a struggling rancher, but it's far below the $7 million reserve price set by clayton and his partners. the result -- no sale.
unlike the folks who cashed in on the world-famous t. rex sue, clayton walks away empty handed. >> i hope i'm not out of line expecting to get paid for, you know, what we've got into it. >> clayton believes he'll eventually get that, and more. >> we all feel the fall of the economy really, really hampered things for us, for sure. ♪ >> so, back on the range, he continues to raise cattle, search for fossils, and tinker in his lab, still waiting for his big find to pay off. if one day, however, those dueling dinos -- or perhaps other spectacular fossils yet to be unearthed on his strange inheritance -- do make him rich, i'm betting the path of clayton phipps' life still circles back to this piece of montana. >> i'm living the dream. and because i can stay outside and have the thrill of
discovery, the dinosaur hunting fits into that just perfectly. it's my hope that i can do this for as long as i'm able to do it. >> those dueling dinosaurs are now part of a pretty fierce fight among modern-day paleontologists. there are some who think the small but vicious predator is simply a young tyrannosaurus. but there are others, including clayton, who think he unearthed a specimen of a newly discovered species, a nanotyrannus. well, either way, keep that word "small" in perspective. we're talking about a dinosaur that was 8 feet tall and 35 feet long. certainly, there's no dino that would have wanted to meet the likes of that in the ring. [ chuckles ] i'm jamie colby. thanks so much for joining us on "strange inheritance." and remember, you can't take it with you. do you have a strange inheritance story you'd like to
share with us? we'd love to hear it! send me an e-mail, or go to our website, strangeinheritance.com. >> 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. hey guys. today we're here to talk about trucks. i love trucks. what the heck is that?! whoa! what truck brand comes from the family of the most dependable, longest-lasting full-size pickups on the road? i think it's the chevy. ford. is it ford?
>> 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. this isn't just any moving day.
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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. . . 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.
>> now back to "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." >> drastically altered my life for a very long time. >> this confirmation process has become a national disgrace. lauren: raw emotion on capitol hill and now the senate judiciary committee is going ahead with a vote to recommend confirmation of judge brett kavanaugh hours from now. tracee: shares of tesla getting hammered after sec sued and seek to go remove from company. lauren: investors focus on fed rate hike and upcoming season. the dow rose 54 points. nearly up 9% in the last day of