KC’s lost treasures in national spotlight

Plenty of artifacts can be found in museums, but what about the cool old stuff gathering dust in our attics and basements?

Today, three dozen or so such items — like a medicine bag that could have been Geronimo’s, a puppet with a past, a medical journal made of human skin — and the people attached to them will go before cameras at Union Station. They’ll end up on “America’s Lost Treasures,” a new National Geographic Channel show filming this week in Kansas City.

The series is visiting 10 cities in hopes of unearthing family heirlooms and other objects “with historical importance and unexpected value” that deserve an audience — in other words, things that belong in a museum.

The show’s format sounds similar to PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow”: Owners will tell what they know about the items, experts will be on hand and some on-the-spot appraisals will be made. (The show is not looking for any additional items, and the taping is not open to the public.)

But in each city — KC is the sixth stop — “Lost Treasures” will winnow the assortment down to just five or six objects and try to dig up the story each has to tell. One item will be declared the winner and score its owner a sizable cash prize.

Unlike the PBS show, “you’ll see us do all the work,” says “Lost Treasures” co-executive producer Gayle Gilman. Sometimes an object’s owner will go along as the show consults local historians or runs forensic tests — “watching as we figure out the mystery.”

In Kansas City, the medicine bag that might have belonged to Indian leader Geronimo will be investigated by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Gaylord Torrence, senior curator of American Indian art. The show will film Thursday in the Nelson’s American Indian gallery.

“Extraordinary American Indian objects — real treasures of artistic and historical merit — still appear on occasion,” Torrence says. “Most often, as in the case of the pieces I’ll be seeing, they’ve descended in families who have cared for them over generations.”

Other items expected to be shown off at Union Station: an old copy of the Kansas state constitution, glass slides from the Bronx Zoo, a jacket once owned by actress Mary Tyler Moore, an Oklahoma circuit preacher’s diary, a Union soldier’s flag and letters from the Civil War, and a mantel clock that won a world’s fair grand prize.

Russell and Eileen Weiss of Lee’s Summit will be bringing a decorative vase produced by one Edward Lycett in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the late 19th century. For the Weisses, who own the online-only Timber Hills Antiques, this is not a case of an heirloom turning up in a garage. They bought the piece of pottery six months ago from a woman in California.

“It’s just a rarity in itself,” Russell Weiss says. “We know it’s good and we know it’s valuable, but if they’re looking for Jesse James stuff, this isn’t it.”

Late last year, when the show announced it would come here, a producer circulated a wish list of sorts. It mentioned items connected to outlaw Jesse James, the Pony Express and Missouri River steamboats — “things that are more familiar to a national audience, not ‘This is Kansas City history,’ ” says Christopher Leitch, director of the Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall.

The show’s producers know they’ll hear some colorful stories, although chances are some of the tales won’t hold up to expert scrutiny.

On Saturday, the show’s action will move to Corinthian Hall, where two finalist objects will be announced. Then it will be just one, that episode’s “lost treasure.” In reality show parlance, this is “the reveal,” kind of like when the Bachelor hands out his roses.

That last object standing will net a $10,000 honorarium for its owner and will eventually become part of a traveling exhibit organized by National Geographic. The cash is basically a lender’s fee.

So far, by the way, neither the show nor its experts have laid eyes on the “lost treasures.” People sent in narratives describing their items and what they know of their histories, along with photos.

The hour-long show is expected to begin airing in April on cable’s National Geographic Channel. Its hosts are not-quite-household-names Kinga Philipps and Curt Doussett, actors who’ve also done TV hosting gigs.

Gilman is hoping “America’s Lost Treasures” will ultimately be picked up for a second season so it can visit more cities and find more treasures.

As for the Weisses, they say they haven’t really been rehearsing for their — and their vase’s — moment in the spotlight.

“There’s only one story,” Russell Weiss says. “We really don’t know what they’re going to ask us. The only thing they tell you to do is kind of practice your story so you don’t freeze.”