My birthday is this week, so I am going to be taking the Thursday and Friday off. I will return on Saturday for a weekend post. In the meantime, you might have seen the story in the Chicago Tribune that Scott Wolter and the crew of America Unearthed visited Chicago two weeks ago to shoot an episode about the Haymarket Riot of 1886. According to the Tribune, the episode will attempt to discover who threw a bomb at police during a peaceful labor protest in favor of an 8-hour workday, sparking the riot that took lives of seven police officers and four civilians.
Wolter told the Tribune that he had never heard of the Haymarket Riot, despite the event being one of the most important inflection points in labor history.
But more interesting to me is what the paper’s description of the upcoming episode reveals about the changing direction of America Unearthed as the former H2 conspiracy theory series retools for the Travel Channel in an environment where fake news and alternative facts no longer carry the same luster. The paper’s description suggests a show more like America’s Lost Vikings and other “ignorant he-man does man stuff while pretending to talk about history” shows currently in vogue:
At the Fire Arts Center, Wolter learned how to make casings to try to re-create the bomb that exploded near Haymarket Square amid a labor protest rally to advocate for an eight-hour workday. Several police officers and protesters were killed or wounded in the blast. Wolter, a forensic geologist, and his crew plan to detonate a bomb in the Minneapolis area under FBI supervision.
Ah, yes, the U.S. government at the heart of Wolter’s conspiratorial world view is now actively colluding with him to create his show, just like the evil Smithsonian did in the show’s original run.
But more to the point: The topic of this hour suggests that the Travel Channel is looking for a replacement for Expedition Unknown and is targeting a more mainstream audience than the narrower one obsessed with Templar/Holy Bloodline conspiracies. I imagine the new 10-episode series will have its share of Templar conspiracies, but it seems that the series is broadening out from diffusionist conspiracies and treasure hunts to a more generalized look at American history.
But, on the other hand, there is an important caveat that might take this in a very different direction: There was a Victorian conspiracy theory that the labor movement was a front for the Knights Templar, so you never know. The best part? That 1873 conspiracy theory revolved around the same labor group later involved in the Haymarket Riot. I posted the text of the conspiracy years ago here on my website, so if it shows up on America Unearthed... well, I guess I will feel guilty. Read the 1873 piece and see how it presaged Scott Wolter.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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