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‘Mysteries at the Monument’ Host Don Wildman on Exploring America’s Past

Photos: Courtesy of Don Wildman

Despite his thriving career, TV host Don Wildman is still intensely interesting in learning more about monuments in the country.

Don Wildman’s mother was a history teacher; it’s no surprise he grew up to teach us about history through monuments on the small screen.

As a longtime host of hit TV shows, including the Travel Channel’s “Buried Worlds,” “Off Limits,” and “Mysteries at the Monument,” his work has taken him everywhere from the sewers of London to the red-rock ridges of Ethiopia. Especially in the latter program, his goal is to discover and educate viewers about the legends and lore associated with famous monuments.

“I derive my deepest satisfaction in the educational aspects of the job,” said Wildman.

Studying monuments

He described a memory when he was driving through a New Hampshire village near his parents’ home when he came across a statue of a Union soldier from the Civil War. Although he’d passed the monument several times before, he’d never considered its origin or meaning. This time, he said, was different. “Where did it come from? What was it meant to signify? Was there a specific era when all these towns erected statues for old war heroes? Who made them and how did these towns acquire them? Did they order from some catalog? Suddenly, I had questions,” Wildman said.

Monuments in any city may seem like only statues, but Wildman argues they are a representation of a society’s value system and story. “Monuments still play a huge role in our daily lives. Sometimes, we don’t even know it,” he said, referring to the “Lost Cause” statuary, a global movement to remove monuments whose meaning is at odds with the society in which it resides. In the same vein, he is a proponent of statuary that corrects imperfections. Wildman referenced Sybil Ludington, who in 1777 rode through Putnam County, New York, to caution the American militia against the British’s upcoming attack. “For almost two centuries, Sybil was known locally as the female Paul Revere — that is, until 1961 when the commemorative statue was finally erected,” he said. “And New York children would forever see the possibilities of what young folks can do when they saddle up for their country.”

Waxing poetic about Lincoln

When asked about his favorite city, he said New York City, where he currently lives, because of its grandiosity, energy, and bike-friendliness. Regarding his preferred monument, Wildman replied: “Hands down, no question: the Lincoln Memorial.”

“I could go on for paragraphs about the design elements, the proportions and placement of the structure, the man himself represented inside,” Wildman said. “Every American needs to understand how the Lincoln Memorial was conceived and the epic story of its construction.”

To better understand their own history, he encouraged Americans to pause and ask questions when they come across a monument. “The monuments we have erected everywhere are signposts of our past, present, and future — but only if we utilize them actively and not passively,” Wildman said. “Use monuments to plan your trips, research their meaning and background — it’ll give you the means to sound, if nothing else, very smart to your kids.”

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