A date was set for `discovering' the stone

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THE big boo-boo when the television spent two full hours of nothing over opening Al Capone's vault shows you that television is often run by people who don't know how to run television. Had the director of that two-hour Chicago flub consulted my wife and me, we might have spared him his absurdity. I'm speaking from the autumn of 1966, when wife and I were in Salzburg and watched the television antics at an archaeological dig. We would tell the Chicago novices that they didn't rehearse enough, and about shaking hands. Our Salzburg experience was hilarious and priceless, and we're grateful to Al Capone for reminding us of it.

We had come from Munich by automobile, and after paying our respects to Mozart we strolled to look at the city. And we came to this big hole in the ground right in front of the cathedral.

There were barriers and ropes, and we learned some archaeologists were delving deep beyond the records of Salzburg to see just how far back things went. Many people stood looking down into the hole, and the archaeologists below looked like laborers on a construction job -- work clothes, and mostly pushing wheelbarrows.

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As dirt was removed, each wheelbarrow load was tagged, then pushed up ramps to street level, where it was dumped in orderly rows along the side of the cathedral. Each load -- indeed every grain -- of dirt would be scrutinized for whatever might be found to add to the lore of Salzburg.

Some days previously a great find had been made. A stone with an ancient inscription had been uncovered, and it was judged to be much older than anybody had expected to find. The place of this stone was pointed out to us.

It seems these Austrian archaeologists were a mite keener than the television boys in Chicago, and instead of lifting this stone they covered it again with about an inch of dirt and then alerted the television people in Vienna. A date was set for ``discovering'' this stone, and we were there on that date by happen-stance.

In preparation for the television debut of this stone, the barricades had been strengthened and places made safe for spectators. Down in the hole a platform was ready for the archaeologists who would ``perform,'' and another platform was to accommodate the mayor and the corporation. There were platforms for the television people and their cameras. Now everything was tidied and ready, and we hurried from lunch so we wouldn't miss anything. We were front row.

The first of the television people arranged lights and reflectors, then with a tape measure called out all the camera distances to a girl with a clipboard. The cameras were soon in place. The archaeologists appeared, not in work clothes but in suits and ties -- they made a short but authentic academic procession. Next came the mayor and the corporation in their jewels of office, led by a man with a tall hat who was carrying a mace.

``Should have a band!'' my wife said, and that's all the thing needed.

The television director took over and the rehearsals began. Without removing any dirt, one of the archaeologists went through the motions and then was coached to show great surprise, then excitement, then exuberance. His colleagues looked over his shoulder and joined him in his emotions. Then all shook hands together in the Teutonic manner, each to each and all around. I have been told it is not unusual for German-speaking husbands and wives to shake hands before sitting down to breakfast.

Now the mayor and corporation were coached to show interest, amazement, and pride -- and they all shook hands. Then they rehearsed five or six times.

By this time the uncovering of a stone that had been found a week ago was somewhat anticlimactic, but it was uncovered. The Herr Doktors were amazed and jubilant, the mayor and the corporation looked pleased, and everybody shook hands for 20 minutes.

We were not the only ones in the crowd of onlookers who appreciated the whimsy of finding something already found, and the humor of reenacting archaeological finds to accommodate television. Thus we were not the only ones to laugh that day in Salzburg.

The television people in Chicago should do the Al Capone dig again. This time with rehearsals, and a lot of shaking hands.

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