A Rock & Roll ‘Holy Grail’ History Mystery

BY George Griffin  July 17, 2012 at 3:41 PM EST

Bob Dylan plays a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar for the first time on stage as he performs at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965 in Newport, R.I. Photo by Alice Ochs/ Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty Images.

It’s one of rock’s seminal moments: It’s 1965, the scene is the Newport Folk Festival, and Bob Dylan — the godfather of folk music at the time — walks on stage and plugs in. He plays an electric guitar for the first time in live performance.

Fans boo their musical hero and Pete Seeger tries to switch off the power on his friend Dylan. And what became of the instrument that Dylan used as he transformed from folk master to rock & roll legend? Well, it went missing.

A New Jersey woman, Dawn Peterson, believes she has the Fender Stratocaster with the sunburst pattern that belonged to Dylan. Turns out her father used to fly him and other famous musicians to and from gigs in his private plane. The guitar was left behind on the plane after the 1965 festival and remained in the family attic for decades, until Dawn started wondering about its origin after her father died.

To help her figure out what she had, she contacted the PBS program History Detectives.

In tonight’s season premiere, History Detectives Elyse Luray and Wes Cowan carefully unravel the missing guitar mystery. If this really is the instrument that Bob Dylan played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, then it may be worth up to a million dollars. But Dylan’s representatives insist that he is in possession of the guitar he played in Rhode Island that night.

In this clip, we meet Dawn Peterson and her guitar, and Jeffrey Brown interviews Elyse Luray, host of History Detectives on PBS, coming up on the NewsHour later tonight:

You can watch the entire episode of History Detectives tonight on PBS. Check your local listings.