It has been more than an hour since a train left Union Station, but a crowd remains. About 100 people are gathered in front of the Kansas City Power & Light gallery. They give off the disjointed thrum of folks waiting for a train that has been too long coming.
From De Soto, Kansas, and DeKalb County, Missouri, and parts farther away, they've driven in for the day, joining residents of Kansas City in the hope that their own artifact is the one picked from 40 objects being shot for America's Lost Treasures, a new show that begins airing in April on the National Geographic channel. They sit and listen to instructions from the crew about the day's schedule for the program, which provides a historical take on the Antiques Roadshow model. Of course, they also want the money — the owner of the chosen object wins $10,000, a prize handed out at a follow-up taping at the Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall three days after this second Wednesday in January.
This is like the moment before forking over $5 to get into the swap meet, before the first Power Ball number is called, before getting all the way up the driveway to the estate sale. This moment is still full of promise — the promise that the object you're holding in your hands could turn someone's past into your future. The contestants have all been screened through National Geographic's website, where each has submitted a description and a picture of his or her item and verified ownership of it.
"There's only so much you can get from a photograph," production coordinator Alexis Schwerin explains as she stands outside the roped-off holding area in the side hall. "Today, we're really seeing people's personalities."
It's only 10 a.m., but Schwerin has been at Union Station for close to four hours getting the crew of 15 set up on the lower level and making sure every contestant has filled out a digital release on an iPad. The treasure seekers and amateur genealogists sit on blue stools attached to portable folding tables on wheels, a layout reminiscent of a middle school cafeteria.
Like any other production — reality or narrative — America's Lost Treasures needs extras. The "movers," as they're called here, are told to mill around in the background to make the goings-on look more interesting. A few of them have brought their own items, and they sit in folding chairs, ready to watch the people waiting to be featured on this episode. One mover, an elderly woman, unintentionally makes a marionette with fiery red hair dance as she listens to a producer. Another, a man in a peach-colored sweatshirt, clutches a document tube tightly in his right hand.
Among the contestants is a white-haired man in a plaid vest. "It's amazing the stuff you keep. You just can't quite throw it away," he explains as he leans over an old wooden rail cart. One of the show's appraisers asks him how he's doing. "What more could I ever want? I'm so good I can hardly speak," he answers.
This is the sixth location shoot for America's Lost Treasures, sandwiched between stops in Austin, Texas, and Philadelphia. Supervising producer Adam Flacks says, "It's beautiful. This is exactly the kind of place we like because it's got beautiful architecture and a lot of history." Flacks' credits include Ice Road Truckers and Swords. He pauses to speak into a Secret Service-style coiled earpiece, giving instructions.
It's 10:33 a.m., and the first cluster of people is headed to the lower level for the initial shoots of the day. Downstairs, people walk slowly through the station's exhibits as crew members tinker with the lighting and the sound.