Edmund F. Wehrle, a professor of history at Eastern Illinois University, recently found himself far away from the classroom and, instead, in the mountains north of Los Angeles to film an episode of the PBS series "History Detectives."
The program typically explores a "history mystery" submitted by a viewer. Wehrle's segment involves a letter signed by President Ronald Reagan, thanking a naval officer for selecting the site that eventually became Camp David, the presidential retreat in Western Maryland.
"Years ago, as a recently minted Ph.D.," Wehrle explained, "I researched and wrote a history of Catoctin Park for the National Park Service. Camp David is located in the park."
Founded in 1942 by President Franklin Roosevelt, who sought a nearby refuge from the pressures of wartime Washington, D.C., the site originally was known as Shangri-la. Seeking information on how the park located in Western Maryland came to serve as the official presidential retreat, producers of the "History Detectives" contacted Wehrle.
"We chatted on the phone, and they asked if I'd be willing to appear on camera. I figured they'd come to Illinois or perhaps fly me to Maryland, but since Reagan wrote the letter, they decided to film my interview in sunny southern California at the Reagan Presidential Library. That was fine with me."
The segment's host, Wes Cowan, one of four "detectives" who regularly appear on the program, interviewed Wehrle as the two walked the grounds of the presidential library. "You couldn't have picked a more scenic location. The Reagan Library's set high in the mountains, with a stunning view of the Simi Valley below," Wehrle recalled.
The Shangri-la segment, which also will feature interviews filmed in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., is set to air this summer, most likely in June, Wehrle said.
The "History Detectives," now in its sixth season, appears on PBS stations across the country, including WEIU.