'Monumental Mysteries': Don Wildman sorts fact from myth

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Where does the expression "If you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you" come from? Could it be true that the inspiration for Dracula actually comes from Rhode Island? Why did we start thinking aliens traveled exclusively in flying saucers?

These are the types of questions answered in Don Wildman's Travel Channel series "Monumental Mysteries," premiering Thursday, May 9. The veteran of such derring-do series as "Off Limits" and "Cities of the Underworld" is now exploring the nation's monuments and sorting out fact from fiction when it comes to their history.

He brings a natural exuberance to the task and says the legends and myths around our monuments arise from the human need to tell stories that will live on.

"Everything in life, obscure or famous, eventually becomes a story with a hero and an obstacle," Wildman tells Zap2it. "It's the common thread of human society. We tell stories. So it's no different with monumental structures. ... We naturally project ourselves into this story because we're all so worried about dying. Thus, great stories are born, told and embellished into legend."

While Wildman has been around the world for his work, the Philadelphia native says he is happy to focus on his homeland.

"The older I get, the less it matters where I go because there's so much to learn everywhere. But the United States is just a ridiculously good story -- and it takes itself very seriously," he says. "It's a nation that envisions itself as righting the wrongs of history. ... Life in America is this sweeping mission for humankind -- and as such, we've built a lot of monuments to ourselves."

Should he get to do another batch of "Monumental Mysteries," Wildman says one thing he'd like to do is revisit Mount Rushmore, where some believe a vast supply of gold is stored behind the famous presidential sculptures.

"For years, we've tried to get cleared to rappel me down the faces of Mount Rushmore," he says. "The National Park Service politely says 'no.' But 'North by Northwest' is still one of my top five movies -- why shouldn't I be able to do what Cary Grant did? Never mind that he did it on a Hollywood soundstage."
Photo/Video credit: Travel Channel