Mysteries: Cold War Checkmate Pictures

Don investigates the badge that inspired an ambitious teen to undertake a perilous nuclear experiment and a chess set used in an unparalleled match of Cold War wits.
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St. Louis may be best known for the giant arch that is the “gateway to the West,” but the city is also home to a less-talked-about institution that introduces visitors to a very different slice of history. The World Chess Hall of Fame holds an array of artifacts, including one of the first computerized chessboards, game pieces carefully carved from precious materials and photographs of the greatest chess players of all time.

Within the museum’s collection, there is a very ordinary-looking chessboard. It’s 16 by 16 inches and consists of 64 wooden squares of alternating wood grain patterns — just like any other. However, this board is anything but ordinary. It not only played a pivotal part in one of the most epic chess matches ever, it almost started a world war.

There are a number of sights in Albuquerque, NM, that highlight the region’s nuclear past, such as the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. There, visitors can view artifacts linked to the research and development of nuclear technology, including a B-29 Superfortress bomber plane, a nuclear test device called "The Gadget" and radioactive-influenced quackery from the early 20th century.

Tucked away inside the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is an item that looks completely inadequate next to the larger exhibits. The story behind this Boy Scouts badge reveals a brush with disaster that placed an entire town in great danger.

At one time these harmless-looking rodents could be considered cute. However, this specimen spread the fear of death among thousands of New Mexico residents and threatened an entire region.

New York City has some of the tallest buildings in the world, but what many people don’t realize is that the city also has some of the biggest and most beautiful cathedrals in the United States. Trinity Church, at the head of what is now Wall Street, houses the Trinity Museum, where visitors can view exhibits connecting the past with the present.

To see one of Trinity’s most intriguing items, you need to delve deep into the by-appointment archive. Inside this diary from 1880 is a succession of handwritten notes that catalogs a bizarre chapter in Trinity’s history — a devious scheme perpetrated by a cunning individual.

The southern Louisiana city of New Iberia was founded by Spaniards in 1779 but later became a refuge for Acadian French settlers deported from Nova Scotia by the British. New Iberia combines this Cajun culture clash with some down-home Southern charm, attracting visitors with its eclectic cuisine, old plantations and rollicking music scene. And on the city’s historic Main Street is the Bayou Teche Museum. Founded in 2010, this former grocery store chronicles the area’s rich history and is deliberately laid out in a winding pattern designed to resemble the snakelike curves of the Bayou Teche itself.

Among the artifacts at the Bayou Teche Museum is a seemingly drab collection of slabs of uneven size and shape, the largest measuring 17 1/2 inches wide, 11 inches tall and 6 1/2 inches deep. These unassuming blocks were at the heart of a spicy story that led to the creation of one of today’s most recognizable brands.

Redwood City, CA, once known mostly as a port for lumber, is now a city in the heart of Silicon Valley. At the center of this high-tech town sits an institution that has survived many waves of change: the San Mateo County History Museum. Its displays hold such treasures as a stagecoach, a stained-glass dome and models of galleon ships that once docked nearby.

This gun on display at the San Mateo County History Museum represents the culmination of a conflict between 2 prominent San Franciscans and the race for mayor that made the city look like the Wild West all over again.

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