Chicago Jew and the Lost City of Honduras

By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

Growing up in Highland Park, Tom Weinberg enjoyed the thrill of exploring the ravines and streams. “I loved being in a spot where probably no one had stood since the Native Americans. That’s what was in my imagination; that’s what registered with me.”

Now 73, this fourth-generation Jewish Chicagoan is a brave adventurer who went looking for a lost city in the northeastern Honduran jungle and wrote a 194-page book about it with beautiful photographs.  What he drew from the experience was learning “that I could do something I never thought I could do, something I would never think of doing.”

‘Chasing the Lost City: Chronicles of Discovery in Honduras’ is the story of the search for Ciudad Blanca, also known as The City of the Monkey God. Along with more than 180 photographs, it’s a compilation of Weinberg’s thoughts and feelings about the discovery that has become a world-famous 21st century historical and archaeological breakthrough.

The book is the pictorial and personal companion to the 2017 New York Times bestseller, ‘Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story’ by Douglas Preston.

Weinberg went to Honduras with explorer Steve Elkins and famed writer Preston. Hidden deep in the dense jungle in a valley of the country’s La Mosquitia mountains, it is one of the last scientifically unexplored regions on earth.

“The journey was a 22-year process in tracing, tracking and discovery of a lost city where no human being has been for hundreds of years,” Weinberg said. The idea, the planning, the setbacks, the money, the government’s role, make for an intriguing and fascinating book. The reader is brought into the world of the discoverers complete with dangerous snakes and insects, untouched beauty, exhilaration and a rare disease that came with the discovery of an ancient civilization.

Weinberg first visited in 1998 aboard a U.S. military helicopter. He and other filmmakers shot stills and video from above as the chopper dipped into the valley where they thought the lost city likely to be located.

“Looking down at nothing but dense forest from the helicopter and anticipating what was there was my first thrill,” he writes. “Setting foot on the ground was the first big payoff…it was sacred. I’ve never experienced the spiritual and natural feelings that this spot in the jungle made me feel.”

Before the expedition, in 2015, the explorers conducted an aerial search with LiDAR technology, a new kind of radar that can penetrate jungles. It allowed the explorers to uncover locations that might have relics of civilization in completely uninhabitable jungle. The $1 million aerial research project was funded by California producer, Bill Benenson, a philanthropist who gives to many Jewish causes.

On the ground, the first moment of discovery was a place not bigger than a prescription counter, Weinberg said. There were relics everywhere. One they uncovered was a stone carving of a jaguar.

Weisberg writes that for him, the driving force in the exploration wasn’t so much the buried objects that might be in the jungle …”those were the cool material things. For me the tingle, the drive…is the gut need to go to and experience what it feels like to be in an unknown place on the earth.”

Weinberg started as a print journalist and became a four-time Emmy award-winning television/video producer of more than 500 nonfiction TV shows. His credits include the national PBS series ‘THE 90’s’, ‘Image Union,’ a public TV staple for 30 years, and more than a dozen documentaries covering culture, politics, sports and profiles.

He founded and his board chair of the Media Burn Independent Video Archive, which contains more than 8,000 nonfiction videos, 3,000 of which are available free online.

His archive has received recognition by the National Archives as well as Save America’s Treasures due to its distinctive collection of private works that are essential to the history of the relationship between Chicago’s film, media, and politics.

“I’ve had a pioneering TV/video life, using the tools to show the world and ordinary people as they are, not staged or manipulated in any way,” Weinberg writes in ‘Chasing the Lost City.’

The book is now available through Amazon.

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