Monthly Archives: March 2010

One-year anniversary. Looking back, looking forward

Total monthly readership for the blog has grown from 1,059 in April, 2009 to 21,450 in March, 2010.

A year ago, I wanted to do a daily blog, but didn’t really have an idea about a good subject. Honestly, my life isn’t all that interesting, so I didn’t want to focus on me. Then one day, it hit me – we live in the greatest country in the world, and there are so many things about it worth celebrating. On March 31, I created Great American Things. That first day, I had seven hits. I don’t know how I had that many.

The first subject (at first the posts were numbered, but after a while I realized it appeared that I was ranking things, which I certainly wasn’t) was McDonald’s french fries. That set the tone – small things, specific things, universal things.

Over the year, I changed the appearance of the blog a bit. I started with one photo, and now every post has at least two. Not long after starting, I began to add an appropriate YouTube video each day. I changed the header photograph for each season, and even changed the template theme for a slightly more contemporary look.

Visitor totals gradually increased as word of mouth spread. That’s the only way it has grown, because except for a daily post on Facebook and frequent Twitter posts, there has been no real promotion. In April, 2009 (the first full month) Great American Things enjoyed a total of 1,059 visits. A year later, that total for March, 2010 is 21,450. That’s nothing compared to the big national blogs, but it’s very satisfying to me to have that readership, knowing the totals are growing each month.

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What have been the most popular posts in the past year? I could never have predicted these as I was preparing them – I often think I can guess whether a topic will be popular, and I’m frequently wrong. Here are the top 10 topics since the blog began:

10. History: Appomattox
9. Film: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
8. TV Show: The Twilight Zone
7. TV Show: American Bandstand
6. Food: Philly Cheesesteak
5. Person: Dr. Jonas Salk
4. Actor: Jack Nicholson
3. Americana: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
2. TV Show: The Cosby Show
1. Kid Stuff: Sesame Street

The only thing I can learn from this is that TV shows are a good topic. There were no leaders from the Sports, Music, Singers, Songs, Travel, or The Arts categories.

My plan for 2010 is to take the blog to a Web platform where I can offer advertisers the opportunity to participate in the blog’s growth. Which is, of course, a way of saying that it would be nice to earn a little income from all the time I spend doing this.

But you must know that this isn’t about money, it’s totally a labor of love. I enjoy making the selections, I like doing the research, and I have fun putting it all together. I’m glad that many of you have expressed your compliments and appreciation, and I’m honored that you’ve recommended it to your friends. Thank you for making this so worthwhile for me. To me, you’re all Great American Things.

Robin Chalkley

Actor: John Wayne

No actor has ever been so identified with the West and the U.S. Military as John Wayne. Uploaded by

Let’s start, this time, with all of John Wayne’s accolades. The Harris Poll has conducted a survey each year, asking people to name their favorite movie star. John Wayne has been on it every year since it began in 1994, and is its only deceased star. The American Film Institute named him number 13 in its list of the Greatest Male Stars of All Time. He was also awarded both the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

How did Marion Morrison make it to such a lofty reputation? He went to high school in Southern California, then played football for USC. He started getting odd jobs around the movie studios, which led to bit parts in the early 1930s, which led to a friendship with John Ford, which led to his breakthrough role in Stagecoach (1939). The film was a big hit, and Wayne went on to star in several more Ford pictures in his career, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

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Largely due to his starring roles in Westerns and war movies, Wayne got a reputation as a “man’s man.” His most successful films during a long career include Flying Tigers (1942), They Were Expendable (1945), Fort Apache (1948), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), Rio Grande (1950), Flying Leathernecks (1951), The High and the Mighty (1954), The Wings of Eagles (1957), Rio Bravo (1959), The Alamo (1960), Donovan’s Reef (1963), The Green Berets (1968), and True Grit (1969).

Wayne finally won an Oscar for his performance as “Rooster” Cogburn in True Grit. In accepting the award, he said, “Wow! If I had known, I would have put that eye patch on 35 years earlier.”

Oh, one more thing. As a kid, he had an Airedale Terrier named “Duke.” A local fireman saw the dog follow young John everywhere he went, and started calling the boy, “Young Duke.” And, as Paul Harvey said, now you know the rest of the story…

Food: Shrimp and Grits

There are chefs who know how to prepare good shrimp and grits throughout the South. But you can't go wrong sampling them in their hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. Uploaded by

This is a low country favorite, the low country consisting of Charleston, South Carolina (Great American Things, June 7, 2009) and its environs. It unites two Southern favorites in one creamy and succulent dish.

For the ultimate experience, the shrimp should be a little on the spicy side. And the grits have to be the real, stone ground variety. They take longer to prepare, but no self-respecting Southerner would make this dish with instant grits. No suh!

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Where can you go to enjoy this dish as it was meant to be prepared? You can get good shrimp and grits all the way from the Blue Moon Beach Grill in Nags Head down to Dante’s Kitchen in New Orleans. But why not go to the source? Several Charleston establishments serve their own distinctive versions, and you could easily spend a week going eatery to eatery to make your own selection. But here are some favored by locals: Hominy Grill (Rutledge St.), Slightly North of Broad (E. Bay St.), Jestine’s Kitchen (Meeting St.), and 82 Queen (Queen St.).

Singer: Carole King

Carole King's album Tapestry stayed at number one for an amazing 17 weeks and remained on the charts for almost six years. Uploaded by

One of the standard descriptions of a musical artist today is “Singer-Songwriter.” If Carole King didn’t create that category, she could have.

As a songwriter, she and her then husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin wrote these great songs of the 1960s: “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (The Shirelles), “Take Good Care of My Baby” (Bobby Vee), “Chains” (The Cookies), “The Loco-Motion” (Little Eva), “Go Away Little Girl” (Steve Lawrence, later Donny Osmond), “Crying in the Rain” (The Everly Brothers), “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby” (The Cookies), “One Fine Day” (The Chiffons), “Up on the Roof” (The Drifters), “Don’t Bring Me Down” (The Animals), “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (The Monkees), and “A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin).

With James Taylor. Uploaded by

Following a number of unsuccessful songwriting and recording ventures, Carole released the album “Tapestry.” It still reigns as one of the most successful albums of all time. The stats are just remarkable: Number One on the chart for 17 consecutive weeks…Spawned two number one singles…and remained on the charts for nearly six years. It was recognized by the Grammys as Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, Record of the Year (“It’s Too Late”) and Song of the Year (“You’ve Got a Friend”).

Carole continues to record and perform, and is on tour this year with James Taylor, who made “You’ve Got a Friend” one of his own signature recordings. She’s been honored by membership in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Great American Things, August 31, 2009), and the Grammy Trustees Award. But considering her immense talent, more honors and recognition may still be coming…

Travel: Disney World

We'd never heard of Lake Buena Vista, Florida before Disney World. Shoot, we'd barely heard of Orlando. Then the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, and...BOOM! Uploaded by

It would be challenging to try to sum up all the great opportunities available at this Florida megapark. The thing is, I don’t have to describe it to most people. Chances are, you’ve already been there. If not, you’ll certainly want more details than my four or five paragraphs can supply.

But I can’t do a post without giving a nod to all that’s available for family fun. SO…basically, there are four main parks: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Then there are two additional water parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Then there’s what Disney calls “Things to do”: Downtown Disney (shopping, dining, entertainment), Disney’s Boardwalk (shopping, dining, clubs), the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex (game fields, Atlanta Braves spring training), and five golf courses.

Whew. I’m worn out just typing it all.

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Of course, that’s just scratching the surface. There are parades, and characters, and theme hotels and campgrounds, and special events throughout the year. There are playgrounds, pools, and beaches. In fact, if you’re willing to spend money on it (and it’s legal), you can probably enjoy it at Disney World.

Two things stand out in my memories of the place. First, it’s obsessively clean. Wonderfully, unrealistically, enthusiastically clean. And second, I forgot time. I was in another dimension that wasn’t dependent on clocks. Of course, that doesn’t mean I forgot about time altogether, because there are lots of reasons to bring your watch. But it was a step outside reality, and I loved it. It comes with a fairly steep price tag, but it’s one of those “we’ll go now, worry about money later” places. Really, it is…

Sports: Baseball Hall of Fame

The centerpiece of the Hall of Fame is the first-floor gallery, featuring the plaques of all 292 members. Uploaded by

Today’s post is another that honors two interconnected ideas – in this case, the museum in Cooperstown, New York and also the selection of players who are enshrined there. While these two are related, they are still separate entities.

It was said that Cooperstown became the site of the Hall of Fame because Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball there. But he really didn’t. And that was pretty well established by the time the museum opened. In reality, local people who knew Cooperstown needed an economic boost in the midst of the Depression conceived the idea for the Hall.

A gallery featuring the plaques of all 292 Hall of Famers is the centerpiece of the museum. That’s 203 former Major League players, 30 Negro League veterans, 26 executives or pioneers, 19 managers, and nine umpires. The museum is full of fascinating baseball artifacts, as well as a variety of exhibits. These include “Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball,” “Pride and Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience,” “The Records Room,” and many others.

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The first five players selected for the Hall were in its first class (1936) were Babe Ruth (Great American Things, August 3, 2009), Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner. Until 1946, elections were held every three years, but have been conducted annually since. While the qualifying criteria have changed from time to time, a player has to have participated in at least part of 10 seasons and been retired for five years to be eligible.

In addition to biographical plaques of its inductees, the hall includes a baseball museum that has a collection of balls, bats, and other equipment, baseball cards, trophies, and photographs. Its research library contains a complete set of baseball guides, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, record books, photos, tapes, and phonograph records.

If you love baseball, making a pilgrimage to Cooperstown has to be on your bucket list. The biggest crowds come each year when new members are inducted, and a host of other HOF players appear. If you want to go this year, circle July 23-26 on your calendar…

Person: Thomas Edison

Edison owned 1,093 U.S. patents, and among his many accomplishments, established the electric utility industry. Uploaded by

Want to go to the movies? Or would you rather stay home and read, or listen to music? Whichever you choose, you have the genius of Thomas Edison to thank for the motion picture camera, the phonograph, and the light bulb.

Of course, all those technologies have progressed dramatically since Edison’s time. But his ingenuity and inventions helped lead the way to a world where iPods and video cameras on cell phones would be possible.

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Edison was such a prolific inventor that he held 1,093 U.S. patents, as well as patents in many other countries. These successes came from his Menlo Park research laboratory, generally considered the first of its kind. Over the course of a decade it expanded to cover two city blocks.

Perhaps his greatest enduring success came from the creation of the first electric power generating and distribution system. He set up his first power station on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, serving 59 customers primarily with nighttime lighting. Then, as others began using electricity in more applications, he developed a network of power stations and a company called Edison General Electric.

Edison was home schooled, because he did so badly in school. His teacher even called him “addled.” His mother knew better, and she believed he had an undiscovered gift. “My mother was the making of me,” Edison said. “She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had some one to live for, some one I must not disappoint.”

Americana: The Star Spangled Banner Flag

The original Star Spangled Banner measured 42 by 30 feet and had stripes and stars for Vermont and Kentucky. Uploaded by

We all know the line from our national anthem: “Oh, say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” The very flag that Francis Scott Key struggled to see at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 is now on display in the Smithsonian’s (Great American Things, April 15, 2009) National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

George Armistead, the commanding officer of Fort McHenry, had ordered two extra large flags for display at the fort. He got one made by a Baltimore flag maker that measured 42′ x 30′ and had 15 stars and 15 stripes (Vermont and Kentucky had joined the Union).

After the war, Major Armistead kept the flag for many years. After his death, the flag passed to his daughter, and then to his grandson. It remained in the Armistead family for 90 years. It remained in a safe deposit vault for seventeen years before finally being donated to the Smithsonian in 1912.

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The flag has undergone several restorations, most recently one that began in 1998 and just recently completed. Instead of hanging in the large open room, it’s now in a climate controlled chamber tilted at a precise angle of 10 degrees for best viewing and structural integrity.

“And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there!”

Song: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Nirvana ushered in a new sound that was raw, unpretentious, and unlike the big hair bands of the time. Uploaded by

This song changed American music when it first came out, so choosing it for the list was my decision (as all selections are). But I thought my son, Quinn Chalkley, would do a better job of describing the song’s impact. Here’s what he wrote:

I can still remember where I was the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” shortly after its release in 1991. The setting was unremarkable – I was riding in the car with my dad when the song came on the radio – but the impression it left on me was the seed that grew into a lifelong obsession with music. I was 14 years old, and the time couldn’t have been better for me. I was old enough to be realizing a bent towards music, but young enough to still be impressionable and strongly influenced by something so unique.

“Teen Spirit” was just a four-chord rock song with soft verses and loud choruses (hardly a new formula in rock and roll), but the abrasiveness, simplicity, and sheer energy of it was the antithesis of what had been dominating rock radio for the previous decade. The big hair, tight pants, and slick production of 80’s bands like Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, and Motley Crue had run its course, and “Teen Spirit” singlehandedly ushered in a new generation of rock music.

This one song by an unassuming three-piece band from Aberdeen Washington, a gloomy logging suburb of Seattle, created a new genre of music. It benefitted many 90’s bands, some because they deserved it (Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains), and still many more that proved to be nothing more than copycats (Silverchair, Bush, Seven Mary Three, Candlebox).

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Legend has it that Kurt Cobain came up with the song’s title when a female friend of his spray-painted “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on his wall. They had been discussing politics, and Kurt took it as a compliment, and interpreted it as a metaphor with revolutionary meaning. He found out after the song was written that she had actually meant that he literally smelled like the deodorant Teen Spirit. I wonder how the course of rock history would have been altered if Kurt hadn’t misinterpreted his friend, and been inspired to write the greatest rock song of the last 20 years.

My tastes have obviously broadened considerably since that night in 1991 when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – I have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for new, different, and weird music – but a lot of my favorite music is visceral, abrasive, yet melodic rock that I can trace directly to ‘Teen Spirit’ and Nirvana.

My band played a show three years ago in which we closed the night with an entire set of 17 Nirvana songs. It was a blast, and a night I’ll never forget. But as close as my band mates and I are to “Teen Spirit”, we didn’t play it, because it has become bigger than itself, and essentially “uncoverable”. You could say it’s the “Stairway to Heaven” of my generation. I expect that one day the signs hanging in guitar shops that say “Please, No Stairway” will be replaced by ones that read “Please, No Teen Spirit.”

Sports: Howard Cosell

Cosell was the perfect foil for the charismatic Ali, but Ali helped lift the toupee-wearing broadcaster out of obscurity as well. Uploaded by

“Great? Are you kidding me? You think that blowhard is great?” I can hear my father’s voice reacting to this selection. He couldn’t stand Cosell. So why would I disagree with him this fundamentally?

Not because he was born in my new hometown of Winston-Salem, NC, because I didn’t even know that until I started researching this post. No, Cosell rose to the top of his profession because he was first and foremost a journalist who didn’t settle for typical “coachspeak” and “jockspeak.” Cosell asked the tough questions, wasn’t afraid to “tell it like it is.” He was among the first to ask the questions the audience wanted to ask, regardless of how uncomfortable it made the interviewee.

Some of that no doubt came from Cosell’s background as an attorney. He specialized in union law, and some of his clients were athletes, including Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Cosell enjoyed being around stars, and unquestionably had the ability to express himself. It wasn’t long before he had a radio program called “Speaking of Sports.”

The two vehicles which carried Cosell to stardom were first, Muhammad Ali (Great American Things, October 18, 2009), and second, Monday Night Football. Cosell broadcast a number of the greatest fights of Ali’s career, and seemed the perfect foil for the charismatic boxer. But it was another fight during which Cosell made probably his most famous call. George Foreman and Joe Frazier were fighting for the heavyweight championship in Kingston, Jamaica, when Foreman knocked Frazier to the canvas just two minutes into the fight. Cosell exclaimed, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”

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Cosell worked the Monday Night Football booth in the memorable pairing with Frank Gifford and “Dandy” Don Meredith. Cosell looked down on ex-jocks as broadcasters, and he and Meredith couldn’t have been more different. But, as they say, that’s what makes good television, and the group teamed with occasional changes from 1970 to 1983.

Cosell’s attitude is what we remember most, but we can’t forget that voice. The accent, the vocabulary, the staccato delivery are etched into the memory of all who heard this legendary sports journalist…

Americana: Band-Aids

Band-Aids were developed by a buyer at Johnson & Johnson whose wife kept cutting and burning her hands while fixing dinner. Necessity is the nurse of invention. Uploaded by

I wish I had a dollar for every Band-Aid that covered my skin during my childhood. Kids and Band-Aids are made for each other. While people of all ages can experience scrapes, cuts, bruises, and burns, it’s hard to imagine raising a child without Band-Aids in the medicine cabinet.

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The first Band-Aids were handmade back in 1920 by Earle Dickson of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Earle’s wife was apparently a klutz in the kitchen, and Earle wasn’t fond of having dinner served by a wife whose hands were cut and burned. Fortunately for Mrs. D., Earle worked for a company called Johnson & Johnson. He developed a strip of adhesive with cotton gauze at regular intervals. The product didn’t take off at first – maybe because the bandages were three inches wide and eighteen inches long.

J&J made improvements over the years. The little red wrapper string made its appearance in 1924…the bandages were finally completely sterile in 1938…the strips became plastic in 1951…and antibiotic ointment on the pad became an option in 1997.

Two things worth noting. They used to sting more when they were pulled off than they do now, but that ouch factor isn’t completely gone. Not much J&J can do about that. And the Band-Aids name is a registered trademark of Johnson & Johnson.

Film: Little Shop of Horrors

Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Jim Belushi - and some great music, too. Uploaded by

This listing is for the 1986 movie, adapted from the stage musical by writer Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, which was itself adapted from a 1960 black comedy by famous B-movie direct Roger Corman.

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It’s not the plot that scintillates in this movie, but the performances and the great music. The leads, played by Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene, are fine, but it’s the supporting cast and cameo roles that really stand out. Consider this cast: Bill Murray, Steve Martin (in a fabulous turn as the dentist), John Candy, Jim Belushi, and Christopher Guest – with Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops providing the voice of Audrey, the blood-addicted alien plant. No local theater or traveling Broadway production can match that lineup.

Ashman and Menken wrote some wonderful songs, making this soundtrack a great addition to your music library. Highlights include “Skid Row (Downtown),” “Somewhere That’s Green,” “Dentist,” “Feed Me,” and “Suddenly Seymour.”

If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t view it thinking you’re going to be watching a fun fantasy. It’s a dark story, a black comedy, and has been since the original 1960 film. And yet, it’s very funny, surprisingly humane, and filled with great music. I just have one piece of advice for you:

Whatever they offer you, don’t feed the plant…

Music: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Leiber and Stoller wrote Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock for that guy in the middle, whatever his name is. Uploaded by

If the names aren’t familiar to you, the songs they wrote will be. Leiber and Stoller began writing songs for more or less obscure rhythm and blues artists in the early fifties, including a song that became a minor hit for Big Mama Thornton. A few years later, an unknown white boy from Tupelo recorded his version of the song. It made him a star, and launched Leiber and Stoller’s career as well. The song was “Hound Dog,” and the white boy was Elvis (Great American Things, July 29, 2009).

More hits followed, still in the R&B vein. “Yakety Yak” for the Coasters. “Stand by Me” for Ben E. King. “There Goes My Baby” by the Drifters. And several more hits for Elvis as well, including “Jailhouse Rock.” Their last major hit was “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel in 1972.

Their autobiography is now available. Uploaded by

They’ve influenced a generation of songwriters, including Lennon and McCartney, and they’ve received the honors that go along with such success. They’re members of the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, and Elvis’s recording of “Hound Dog” is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Of course, when the discussion involves songwriters, the natural question is, “So, what did they write?” Look at this incredible roster of major hits from the 1950s and 60s:

“Along Came Jones” (The Coasters, Ray Stevens)
“Charlie Brown” (The Coasters)
“Dance with Me” (The Drifters)
“Girls, Girls, Girls” (Elvis)
“Hound Dog” (Elvis)
“I (Who Have Nothing)” (Ben E. King)
“I’m a Woman” (Peggy Lee, Maria Muldaur)
“Is That All There Is?” (Peggy Lee)
“Jailhouse Rock” (Elvis)
“Kansas City” (Wilbert Harrison)
“King Creole” (Elvis)
“Love Potion Number 9” (The Searchers)
“Only in America” (Jay and the Americans)
“Poison Ivy” (The Coasters)
“Ruby Baby” (Dion)
“Spanish Harlem” (Ben E. King)
“Stand by Me” (Ben E. King)
“There Goes My Baby” (The Drifters)
“Yakety Yak” (The Coasters)

Architecture: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

James Kilpatrick wrote, Nothing I had heard of or written had prepared me for the moment. There are the names. The names! I could not speak. I wept... Uploaded by

I’ve listed this post under the heading of “Architecture”, but the Vietnam Veterans Memorial qualifies as a Great American Thing on many levels. Its wall, listing the names of those who died in the Vietnam War, is one of America’s most emotional sites. Perhaps the only place that rivals it for emotional impact is Arlington National Cemetery.

The memorial has three parts. The first is the wall, the second is a statue (“Three Soldiers”) forced on the site as a political compromise by those who didn’t like the chosen design. And the third is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, added a decade later in a pathetic attempt to be politically correct.

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The Memorial Wall is composed of two black granite walls 246 ft. 9 in. long. The granite came from India, was cut in Vermont, and the names etched in Memphis. When people look at the names, their own image is reflected back, symbolically connecting the past and present.

The original design for the Memorial came out of an open competition, which drew 1,421 designs submissions. A jury of eight architects and sculptors unanimously chose the winner, created not by a world-class architect, but by a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale named Maya Lin. Many veterans groups initially opposed Lin’s design, but once construction was complete, all opposition dissipated due to the intensity of the experience it engendered.

I’ve never forgotten what columnist James J. Kilpatrick wrote after his first visit to the Memorial. “We walked, and gradually the long walls of the monument came into view. Nothing I had heard of or written prepared me for the moment. There are the names. The names! I could not speak. I wept. This memorial has a pile driver’s impact.”

TV Show: The Mary Tyler Moore Show

On CBS Saturday night during the 70s, the lineup included The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MASH, All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. Wow. Uploaded by

When Mary Richards showed up in our homes, we didn’t quite know what to make of her. A single woman in her 30s? Not widowed or divorced? Not dependent on a man? Happy with her career? Credit not only Mary Tyler Moore, but show creators James Brooks and Allan Burns with bringing something completely new and original to American TV.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was for many years a part of the Saturday night lineup on CBS, the strongest night of television ever. Consider this lineup – All in the Family, M*A*S*H (Great American Things, Nov. 5, 2009), The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. A TV hall of fame all one one night.

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The titles said the show was about Mary Tyler Moore, but this was the epitome of sitcom by ensemble. What a remarkable cast of characters: the irascible Lou Grant (Ed Asner), the long-suffering Murray (Gavin MacLeod), the pompous Ted (Ted Knight), the buddy Rhoda (Valerie Harper), the two-faced Sue Ann (Betty White), the snobbish Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), and the naive Georgette (Georgia Engel). What a cast.

Mary worked in the newsroom of WJM TV in Minneapolis, an unusual workplace in a city not known to most viewers. She had an office family we enjoyed getting to know, and a roommate we identified with. The characters grew and developed during the show’s seven-year run, and the humor was more character-driven than was typical at the time.

The show earned lots of awards, both during and after its run. It won 29 Emmys, including Outstanding Comedy Series in 1975, 1976, and 1977. The show received a Peabody Award in 1977 for having “established the benchmark by which all situation comedies must be judged.” In 1977, TV Guide ranked the “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode as number one on their list of the Greatest Episodes of All Time. In 2002, the magazine named the show as number 11 on its 50 Greatest Shows of All Time.

If you remember the show, one scene that will always stay with you occurred during the opening credits, as Mary tossed her hat into the air. The theme show was right: “You’re gonna make it after all…”

Actress: Shirley Temple

Walt Disney and Shirley Temple. Shirley received a special Juvenile Oscar after just her first year of feature films. Uploaded by

It’s hard for us to imagine now what a huge star Shirley Temple was. We don’t have a parallel – in fact, we never have. No child actor has ever been a box office hit on the scale as this little charmer.

She appeared in her first comedy shorts (films, not clothes) at the age of three, and by the next year she had her first starring role in Stand Up and Cheer! and her first smash hit with a movie created for her talents, Bright Eyes (in which she sang her signature song, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”). She received a special Juvenile Academy Award the next year in recognition of her talent and appeal.

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During her childhood she had a string of huge hits, including Little Miss Marker, Curly Top, The Little Colonel, Poor Little Rich Girl, Dimples, Wee Willie Winkie, Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and The Little Princess. She has the amazing distinction of being the number one draw at the box office in four consecutive years – all before she reached the age of 10. Shirley Temple dolls, mugs, hats, dresses, and other products were hugely popular, and of course, she never received any of the royalties.

She was cute as could be, no question about that, but her success was based on much more than her smile or the ringlets in her hair. The girl had perfect pitch, could learn dance numbers almost instantly, and she was a fine actor. She had talent.

The story is that she was offered the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but 20th Century Fox refused to lend her to MGM. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened if…

Kid Stuff: Raggedy Ann

This is today's representation of Raggedy Ann and Andy. Chances are you might not recognize the originals. Uploaded by

Decades before Cabbage Patch, before Barbie, and before Betsy Wetsy, American girls had a favorite doll. She didn’t come with a birth certificate, a trousseau, or diapers. But she was loved just as much as any doll any girl ever owned. Her name was Raggedy Ann.

A man named Johnny Gruelle had a daughter named – no, not Ann – Marcella, who showed her daddy a simple rag doll, onto which he drew a face. He combined James Whitcomb Riley’s “The Raggedy Man” with Little Orphan Annie, and suggested they call the doll Raggedy Ann. Marcella loved it so much that Gruelle figured other children might like it, too. Smart man.

An early Raggedy Ann. Uploaded by

As it happens, Mr. Gruelle was an illustrator and children’s book author, and he wrote Raggedy Ann Stories in 1918, the first year the handmade dolls were produced for sale. You may not even recognize the originals as Raggedy Anns, based on their evolution over the decades. Raggedy Andy Stories followed in 1921.

The first meeting of Ann and Andy. Uploaded by

By their nature, Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls are easily made. Patterns by McCall’s have been on the market since 1940. Today, Simon & Schuster and Hasbro have trademarks on versions of the doll, but the original doll and the original books are now in the public domain.

Those who truly love the dolls have an annual event that’s a must. It’s the Raggedy Ann Festival, held in 2010 on April 17 in Cynthiana, Kentucky. There’s a parade, and a coloring contest, and…you know.

Food: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

According to Business Week magazine, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are America's second favorite candy. Uploaded by

Peanut butter and Hershey’s milk chocolate. It’s not a complicated thing. Two very popular ingredients that came together to become one of America’s favorite candy treats.

Remember the commercials from the 70s and 80s? Two people would collide, and then, “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” Then they tasted the result, and had a Eureka! moment.

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Well, the product didn’t quite develop that way. H.B. Reese lived in Hershey, Pennsylvania and worked for Milton Hershey as a shipping foreman. Reese had the idea for a new candy, so he quit and started making his new creation in the basement of his house. He combined specially blended peanut butter with Hershey’s milk chocolate in a number of ways, but the creation that caught on was peanut butter cups. The H.B. Reese Candy Co. continued to make Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups throughout its founder’s life. Only after his death was the company purchased by Hershey’s.

Since then, the Reese’s name has been branded on a wide assortment of food products, from Reese’s Pieces to actual Reese’s Peanut Butter. But America still loves Mr. Reese’s original cups best of all. Peanut butter and Hershey’s milk chocolate. It’s not a complicated thing.

Travel: Vail, Colorado

Vail has the largest ski area in America, 5,289 acres. Add that to 193 runs and 346 annual inches of snowfall, and that's great skiing math. Uploaded by

It’s not because Vail is the largest single-mountain ski resort in the United States. And it’s certainly not because Vail Ski Resort has a long and lustrous history; it’s only been around since 1962. And it’s certainly not because of the exciting town of Vail, which has a population of only 4,589. So what makes Vail a clear choice as a Great American Thing?

It’s how well everything comes together. Here are the facts and figures: more than 5,200 skiable acres, 193 separate trails for all skill levels, one run that’s an incredible four miles long, average annual snowfall is 346 inches, and don’t forget 31 total lifts. Then include a world-class resort with a wide variety of lodging options and a town modeled after a Bavarian village with pedestrian streets.

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It’s hard to believe that a mountain with such beauty and recreational promise went undiscovered for so long. Its development was the work of a couple of World War II veterans from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton did their training in Colorado and never forgot one beautiful and unnamed mountain they both recognized would be ideal for skiing. And in the early sixties they brought their vision to life.

Like many ski resorts, Vail has worked hard to become a year-round attraction. Now you can enjoy a vast array of “off-season” activities, including rafting and kayaking, festivals, golf, fly fishing, ranching, hiking and climbing, and tennis.

But it’s still skiing that draws the most people, and which is the lifeblood of the region. Vail has its own airport with nonstop service from thirteen cities across the country. Then you can arrange vacation deals either directly with Vail or through many of the travel Web sites. Colorado has a number of excellent ski destinations, but you’ll be hard pressed to find the combination of beauty, snow, and amenities available at Vail.

Americana: Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports has not only influenced how companies make and market products, it led to the creation of the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Uploaded by

It doesn’t take advertising, so no company can influence its editorial product. And it buys every item it tests at retail, so it tests the same products that you and I can buy. More than anything else, those are the two reasons Americans have trusted Consumer Reports for more than half a century.

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CR is especially respected in one particular category – automobiles. Its annual New Car Issue, usually out in the spring, typically is its bestseller of the year. Extensive testing, along with comprehensive repair history, gives relevance to Consumer Reports’ opinion of a vehicle.

The first issue of the magazine, then called Consumers Union, was published in 1936 with articles on Grade A and B milk, breakfast cereals, soap, and stockings. The name was changed to Consumer Reports in 1942. The magazine really took off after World War II, helping families with money for consumer goods make smart choices.

The magazine’s circulation has risen to 4,000,000, but with so much consumer information available online, people are less likely to wait for a magazine to get the answers they seek. CR recognizes this, and now has an extensive Web site with the same sorts of reviews formerly available only in print – cars, appliances, electronics, home and garden, babies and kids, money, shopping, and health. Most of the data is available to subscribers only, however.

While some occasionally raise concerns about a specific test methodology, there’s consensus that Consumer Reports has influenced how manufacturers make and market their products. The result has been a safer, better informed marketplace – and that’s quite a remarkable legacy.