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Versailles

Take Me to Your Leader is the tenth episode of season two of Life After People: The Series. It originally aired on March 16, 2010.

Man's presidents, prime ministers, dictators and kings are gone. Leaving behind their worlds of extreme security and luxury. From the White House, to the Forbidden City, and the Palace of Versailles, which of these powerful places will last the longest, when there's no one to declare war on nature's advancing armies?

1 DAY AFTER PEOPLE - The home of the most powerful man in the world stands unguarded. Originally known as the President's Palace or the President's House, Theodore Roosevelt made a long standing nickname official in 1901, when he added the words White House to the presidential letterhead. The white walls of this famous house will last for a very long time, but not their distinctive color. The walls are made from aquia sandstone, a local rock prized for it's toughness. It was quarried along a tributary of the nearby Potomac River, and was also used to construct the US Capitol. The White House sandstone is naturally greyish, so why is the White House white? Legend has it that after the british set fire to the house during the War of 1812, it was painted white to cover up the burn marks. Bun in truth, soon after the walls were first completed in 1798, workers applied coats of lime based whitewash to seal the rough stone. Later, white paint was applied as a more effective barrier against moisture. By the late 20th century, the sandstone walls were regularly repainted, each time requiring 570 gallons of white paint. If the walls are well protected, the windows are impenetrable. The Oval Office is fitted with bulletproof glass. It was first installed in 1941, after the hysteria following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Now, the bulletproof glass will keep nature out, but there is an intruder in the Oval Office. Bo, the president's dog, has crossed to the West Wing. He is the last in a long line of sometimes bizzare presidential pets. Like Woodrow Wilson's sheep, Benjamin Harrison's goat, and William Howard Taft's cow. Bo is a portuguese water dog, originally bred to work on fishing boats, diving for fish, retrieving broken nets, and guarding boats for their masters. Soon, Bo will have to leave the house, and use his intelligence to survive. What dangers await this pampered pet on the streets of the nation's capital?

2 DAYS AFTER PEOPLE - In New York City, the vast United Nations complex once welcomed leaders from almost 200 member countries. Their flags arranged alphabetically from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, still flutter along First Avenue. The 39 story Secretariat Tower looms over the cavernous General Assembly Building, where all 18 hundred seats are now empty. In the UN's vast subbasements, an eerie glow still filters through the hallways and offices. These glowing and dark markers guided workers safely out of the building during the 2003 Northeast Blackout, that darkened New York City. They owe their glow to a substance called strontium oxide aluminate. Exposed to light, it's electrons are pushed to a higher energy state. In the dark, they lose energy, giving it off in waves lengths of greenish yellow light. But these markers can only glow for up to 20 hours. With no electric lights to recharge them, this vast labyrinth will soon join the rest of the city and the world in total darkness.

1 WEEK AFTER PEOPLE - Around the world, mankind's leaders remain embalmed and entombed. For one great communist leader, the recipe for immortality was a botched job. Few dared to oppose chinese premier Mao Tse-tung. Whose policies and execution orders are believed to have killed up to 70 million people. On September 9, 1976, he died at the age of 82. Despite Mao's last wishes calling for his body to be cremated, officials debated over what to do with his corpse. In the 1970's, embalming was rare in China. So the scientists charged with preserving Mao's corpse for austerity, had to first do some research. The mistake caused bloating and extensive skin damage. But somehow, they were still able to create a presentable corpse that could be viewed for decades in a court sarcophagus in Tianamen Square. Will the secret of Mao's body finally be revealed in a life after people?

2 WEEKS AFTER PEOPLE - In Manhattan's Riverside Park, no one is buried in Grant's Tomb. In fact, nobody ever was. The real answer to the classic riddle "who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" is that Ulysses S. Grant and his wife were both entombed here, above ground. So they are technically not buried at all. Ulysses S. Grant was once the most famous man in the world. So popular was the former Civil War general and US president, that in 1897, when his mausoleum was dedicated, more than 1 million people showed up. The body of general Grant took a tortured path to it's final resting place. Like Chairman Mao, he was the victim of a botched embalment job. When Grant, a legendary chain smoker of cigars died of throat cancer in 1885, it was hoped his body could be preserved to go on public tour. When the public got it's first look at Grant, they were horrified. The face was blackened with decay. What no one knew, what that the general's face had begun to deteriorate before he died. The cancer blocked the blood circulation above his neck. Now, his body rests in a granite sarcophagus, inside the largest mausoleum in North America. Grant seems well protected, but an enemy force has the general surrounded.

3 WEEKS AFTER PEOPLE - This nearly 200 year old mansion in Virginia, houses the groundbreaking inventions of one of America's greatest men. A great clock, powered by descending cannonballs. A copying machine used to make duplicate documents. And even one of the first indoor toilets in american history. The home is Monticello, personally built and occupied by president Thomas Jefferson. Despite his opposition to slavery, many of Jefferson's own slaves helped to build his dream house. And it was built to last like no other home in America at the time. The current shingles are 316 grade, a surgical grade of stainless steel. The roof was designed to include 13 skylights, a concept far ahead of it's time. Now, a potential gateway for destruction. The home of the author of the Declaration of Independence is holding back Mother Nature's revolution, for now...

And across the Atlantic, the famous mirrors of this legendary palace have killed before. What is their toxic secret?

1 MONTH AFTER PEOPLE - Now that the world's leaders are gone, new forces are looking to seize power. Just outside of Paris, France, the palace of Versailles, with it's spectacular gardens, sits untended. This is one of the most opulent homes built by any leader in history. The palace is 500 thousand square feet, 10 times larger than the White House. It's construction in the late 1600's nearly bankrupted the nation. And it was here that the angry mobs of the French Revolution captured Marie Antoinette and her husband king Louis XVI. Taking them away to Paris, and eventually the guillotine, overthrowing the french monarchy. In 1919, Versailles was one of the few places that could accomodate the hundreds of dignitaries that had descended on France, to negotiate the treaty ending WW1. The peace agreement that would become known as the Treaty of Versailles, was signed here in the palace's famous Hall of Mirrors. At more than 235 feet, the hall is longer than a 747, and it's lined along 1 wall with 367 mirrors, most originally installed in 1684, each mirror contains a deadly ingredient: mercury. Every 10 square feet of mirror required more than 100 pounds of the toxic liquid metal. Inhalation of mercury vapors can cause inflammation of the lungs, and respiratory failure. And in fact, actually killed some of the craftsmen who made the mirrors. Now, could this centuries old poison determine the fate of the historic hall in a life after people?

1 YEAR AFTER PEOPLE - Former president Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home continues to hold off nature's assault. Even the skylights are holding out, thanks to Jefferson's innovative design. The skylights have proven effective at keeping out moisture for many years, but Jefferson's home might not be as strong as it appears. Unlike the opulent kings of France, Jefferson had to manage his budget carefully. Jefferson's money troubles forced him to come up with some creative construction techniques, that might doom his treasured home.

8 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - For 8 years, Bo, the former first dog has survived on his own. Falling back on the survival skills of his ancestors, this portuguese water dog has sought sustenance from the sea. First scavaging in the banques of the Potomac, he soon found his way to the nearby Chesapeake Bay. By turning to the food source of his ancestors, Bo has found the way to survive and thrive in a life after people.

20 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - The White House has returned to it's original color: grey. Birds are the new unelected residence. The house itself is holding up well, it's future might have been more bleak if it wasn't for a renovation in the mid 20th century. As it turned out, leaving the White House set up an even more dangerous situation for the president. During the 4 year renovation, Truman lived across the street in Blair House, normally a guest house for visiting heads of state. On Novemebr 1st, 1950, 2 puerto rican nationalists tried to assassinate him there. A gunfight broke out on the steps, killing a White House policeman and one of the would-be assassins. Truman was unharmed. Completed in 1952, the renovations gave the White House a new 25 foot deep foundation, supporting interior steel frame walls. The mansion's exterior walls have a less certain future. The local sandstone turned out to be not as tough as the original builders believed. In 1814, the White House was gutted in a fire set by british troops. The walls were still standing, but the workers sent in to repair the house discovered that moisture had been penetrating the stone for years, causing extensive damage. After that, marble and granite became the stones of choice for the capital's monumental buildings. Exposed to moisture over long periods of time, the surface of the sandstone White House walls can turn to mud, and that's exactly what's happening now, as the White House grounds are already returning to the watery wetlands they were before the first colonists arrived.

20 years after people, the places where mankind's leaders exercised their greatest power now conceals the greatest secrets. Including one abandoned place in America with a suprising link to the most deadly weapon ever created by man.

20 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - The rusting buildings and splinter docks of this former naval base conceal a dark history. From here, at Hunters Point in San Francisco Bay, the most fearsome weapon ever launched by one of mankind's leaders set sail into world history. Home to 18 thousand workers during WW2, this place was the point of departure for hundreds of warships heading to the Pacific. No mission was more important than the one that began here in the summer of 1945, when parts for the atomic bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" were delivered to the base. It was the first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon, killing an estimated 140 thousand people. And along with the second bomb dropped on Nagasaki, it put an end to the war. Many of the buildings constructed on the base during WW2 are still standing. The mess hall, which once fed thousands of sailors and dock workers is now a wreck of peeling lead based paint. Decaying fixtures, and corroding appliances. After the war, Hunters Point took on a newer and darker mission. It began in 1946, after the US military conducted secret tests on the effects of nuclear blasts on warships out on the Pacific. The surviving ships from what was called Operation Crossroads were told back to Hunters Point for decontamination. Workers sandblasted the hulls, unknowingly exposing themselves to dangerous levels of radiation, and allowing radioactive paint scraps to fall into the bay. It was the beginning of a toxic saga at Hunters Point. Scientists with the NRDL turned the base into the world's most advanced laboratory for studying the effects of nuclear radiaton on everything. Including living creatures. Some believe there may have been human testing. But what is certain is that farm animals were systematically exposed to radiation to simulate the effects of nuclear fallout. The research here caused widespread contamination. But all the while people continued to live and work in this place. Where now locker rooms stand forgotten. And latrines are deep in the clutches of mold and decay. Weeds choque the officers' quarters. And broken windows offer refuge for hundreds of birds. The vast manufacturing buildings were submarines and other warships were welded together are empty and silent. The ship building machine tools were long ago removed, and sold for scrap. But much of the office furniture and business machines from another era sit in forgotten decay. The radiation laboratory was shut down in 1969, but the work done here is still blamed for at normally high rates of certain cancers found in the San Francisco Bay area. In 1989, the base was declared a toxic superfund site and slated for cleanup and decontamination. That work was still going on in 1991, when the US government finally shuttered Hunters Point. Along with dozens of other military bases as part of a widespread cost-cutting measure. Built for a time of war, it's a time of peace that is finally tearing Hunters Point apart.

As life after people continues, nature reclaims Washington D.C. And the former home of the leader of the free world is becoming a water world.

30 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - One great leader of mankind, chinese premier Mao Tse-tung remains suprisingly intact in his court sarcophagus. With none of the enviromental control systems operational, Mao's body should have long ago decomposed. Sow why might this human form still be visible after all these years? Some believe the body isn't Mao at all. If this is the case, the body on display in Beijing is destined to crack and warp rather than decay.

50 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - Just one mile from Mao's mausoleum, the imposing wooden buildings of the Forbidden City are covered in a thick blanket of snow. For 500 years, this massive complex was the seat of power for China's emperors. Built in the 1400's, it has 9999 rooms. Why not 10000? Because 9 is a lucky number in chinese culture. The tallest of all the structures is the 122 foot high Hall of Supreme Harmony. The emperor's cerimonial seat of power. In the hall's center, sits the emperor's ornate throne. It's surrounded by 6 gold covered columns, rising 100 feet to support the roof. Each one carved from a single piece of wood. But now, extensive wood rot and termite damage have put the Hall of Supreme Harmony in a dangeroulsy unharmonious condition. The smaller columns can no longer support the weight pressing down from above. But the 6 solid wood golden pillars still protect the emperor's throne.

Snow and rain have bestowed a different fate upon the great Palace of Versailles. The once famous gardens are now consumed by forest. Inside the palace, Louis XIV's great hall is the mirror image of devastation. The famous gardens have worked their way indoors. The chandeliers, and much of the roof, fell long ago, and the 8000 square feet of mirrors are in dire straits. But the mercury in the mirrors has actually prevented mold and fungus from colonizing them, keeping the antique glass from deteriorating and falling out of it's framing. But now, water is steadily rotting the oak supports that hold the mirrors to the walls. And one by one, the glass that once reflected the faces of world leaders as they ended the war to end all wars submits to a final surrender itself.

100 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - In Manhattan, Grant's Tomb is holding strong. But a relentless force is moving to attack. The trees are london planes, so notorious for producing organic debris, that New York City officials banned any new plantings of these trees for decades. Grant's Tomb has been left unattended before. Beginning in the 1960's, missed management by the National Park Service left the monumento exposed to damage from water intrusion, plant growth, and extensive vandalism. The tomb was even used for ritual animal sacrifices, possibly by caribbean immigrants practising in a religion called Santería. Grant's Tomb was viewed as a national disgrace, before it was finally restored and rededicated in 1997. Now, a century of unchecked tree growth and creeping vines has draped the granite mausoleum like a shroud.

And down the coast in the nation's capital, the White House is falling victim to a problema every home owner on Earth once feared.

150 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - With no maintenance, Monticello's 13 ingenious skylights are long gone. Their glass destroyed by hale and falling tree branches. And the stainless steel shingles could not prevent the wooden roof supports from rotting and collapsing. Thomas Jefferson's home was a masterpiece, but money troubles sometimes dogged him. The facade of the entryway looked like stone, but it was really wood painted with sand particles to resemble stone. The stone columns on the west side of the house were actually brick covered with stucco. Jefferson's cheats were convincing, but there is no fooling Mother Nature.

175 YEARS AFTER PEOPLE - In New York City, the General Assembly Chamber at the United Nations is long out of session. And about to shut down permanently. Here, the chatter of dozens of languages was once heard. Now, what's about to happen requires no translation at all. The General Assembly is outlasted by the 39 story Secretariat Tower, but just barely. The steel curtain frame is a teetering rusted skeleton. Despite a deep foundation, and a heavy-duty steel and concrete base, the Secretariat was built on filled in land reclaimed from the East River.

175 years of neglect has left the White House looking anything but presidential. Although the walls are intact, parts of the roof have fallen, and nothing can stand up to what's happening now in Washington D.C. The porous White House sandstone is degrading to mud, and the home of every presidente sice John Adams slides into a watery grave.

230 miles away, in a tangle of dense forest along New York's Hudson River, this presidential monumento is losing it's battle with the trees. Ulysses S. Grant's granite tomb was built to last, but the destructive london plane trees have breached the inner sanctum. In the time of humans, Grant's body laid in a sarcophagus above ground level. But now, the relentless soil production and tree growth has covered him beneath 6 feet of earth. For the time in history, there is truly someone buried in Grant's Tomb.

Mankind's leaders had the power to reshape the world in their image. Now, Mother Nature rules over all the land in a life after people.

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