I believe that no other country embraces,
studies, celebrates, laments, digests, and analyzes pop
culture like America. Maybe it’s because we virtually
invented the modern concept of pop culture—this interesting,
sometimes uneven mix of history, current events, and celebrity.
But in trying to define “pop culture” in order
to create a yardstick for this collection, I still found
myself searching for a proper definition of what the term
means. Then, buried in an obscure, online encyclopedia,
I found this:
“Pop Culture: Those series of
activities & events that are more or less equivalent
to national identity.”
In one simple sentence, it was just
what I needed: a frame to hold these hundreds of “tiles”
(which is how I have now come to view all of the entries
in this book). Some tiles are bigger than others, some more
interesting to look at, some more colorful, some more vital,
but each one necessary to create a full and complete mosaic.
In this case, the mosaic forms the American pop culture
But while that definition helped set
a criterion for what I would include in this book, it didn’t
address the main concept. The purpose of this book is not
merely to list the events that helped shape our national
identity. Rather, the purpose of this book is to identify
the exact places where these events took place, thus allowing
one to stand on the spot where pop culture history was made.
Think of all the events that have touched
us. The news stories, movies, songs, concerts ,and television
shows. The tragedies, heroic deeds, controversies, and strange
phenomena. The historic events we learned in school, from
Columbus to Lincoln to Lindbergh to Kennedy . . . all of
the moments that have amazed us, stunned us, entertained
us, delighted us, appalled us. The landmarks which shaped
our tastes, opinions, and passions.
Some aspects of these events we tend
remember more than others. For instance, who was involved.
When it happened. What the details might have been. But
the one component that seems least available is where exactly
did the event occur?
We’re taught that Columbus discovered
the new world, but just where exactly did he land? Where
was Lincoln standing when he delivered the “Gettysburg
Address”? Where did Lindbergh take off from on his
famous transatlantic flight? Images of the Hindenburg’s
fiery crash are iconic, but where exactly did it occur?
We all can picture Marilyn Monroe’s white dress billowing
up as she stood over a subway grating. But where exactly
was she standing? Where did Buddy Holly crash? Where did
Jimi Hendrix burn his guitar? Where did Wilt Chamberlain
score 100 points? Does the Brady Bunch house really exist?
And where exactly was John F. Kennedy, Jr. standing when
he saluted his father’s casket? That remote intersection
on a desolate stretch of highway where James Dean was killed
. . . where the heck is it?
Has the exact spot ever been documented?
Is it marked? Can I go stand there if I want to? Has it
been turned into a parking lot?
I wrote this book to help answer those
questions, and all the others that might arise as one attempts
to trace the physical path of pop culture history. After
all, I think there are many of us who feel the need to visit
these places. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but
for me it’s always been about getting “closer”
to the event by gaining the same physical perspective as
the subject. Whether the environment has been altered or
not, you still get a sense of place. Other people I talk
to about this seem to have the same motivation, in some
cases coupled with a nostalgic desire to make some sense
of a part of their own past.
As I began putting this book together,
it became clear that its two most important aspects would
1. The criteria in choosing the events.
2. The categorizing of these events.
As for the first aspect, choosing the
events, there were two simple questions that I attempted
to measure each entry against: Would most people be generally
aware of the event or landmark? Would most people be unfamiliar
with the exact location?
Naturally, there are exceptions to
every rule. I’d like to believe that many of the things
I’ve included are at least semi-familiar to most of
you reading this. But I’ve also included some you
probably are not aware of, which I feel are relevant in
helping to fill out this pop culture mosaic. For instance,
most people are aware of the devastating Chicago fire that
happened October 8, 1871, started perhaps by Mrs. O’Leary’s
cow. So in this book, you’ll discover the exact site
where that fire originated. But did you know that on that
same day, an even more devastating fire occurred in Peshtigo,
Wisconsin? It’s not surrounded by the myth and lore
of the Chicago blaze, but it’s an event that (I believe)
belongs in a collection like this.
Generally speaking, American historical
events (including natural disasters and major tragedies)
were fairly easy to choose. Where Washington crossed the
Delaware, where the Declaration of Independence was signed,
where Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star Spangled Banner,”
etc. are matters of deep historic record and are natural
inclusions in a book like this.
However, when it came to the more subjective
choosing of events/landmarks that involved the arts, things
got trickier. After all, who is to say which film or concert
or television program has earned a place among pop culture
icons? In my selection, I tried as hard as I could to not
let my own tastes get in the way. I chose movies that I
believe have stood the popular test of time (i.e. Casablanca)
and/or greatly influenced pop culture (i.e. Saturday Night
Fever). Of course, it also helps when there is an actual
public place to go visit, given that most movie sets are
closed environments. The same standards applied for television,
music, and sports sites. Did the event leave an indelible
mark on pop culture? Were many people affected by it? Do
people still care about it today?
All of the caveat questions aside,
I know there are bound to be some issues not just with what
has been left out, but with what I have chosen to include
as well. As I have learned in discussing this book with
friends, that’s the fun of a project like this—it
demands a debate fueled by personal taste and dissenting
As for the categorizing of the locations,
many events could easily fit into more than one category.
For instance, Marvin Gaye was murdered by his father. It’s
a crime, but he was a singer. Crime section? Music section?
Where does it belong? What we did (myself and my publisher,
Jeffrey Goldman) was to classify each event based on its
most definitive element. Thus, Marvin Gaye goes into the
Celebrity Death and Infamous Celebrity Event chapter. Once
again, opinions will no doubt differ as to whether each
event is in its most appropriate place. But I can assure,
we did the best we could given the eclectic range of information.
That’s sort of the trademark of American pop culture—the
wildly disparate quality of what ends up entering the national
So that’s about it.
Whether you visit these places or not,
I hope you find comfort in simply
knowing that they actually do exist, that you could go there
if you wanted to. To reflect, to inspect, to gain some new
insight, perspective, or appreciation. There are so many
anonymous, out of the way spots which have been forever
altered after their random brush with history. Some have
become national historic landmarks, others have evolved
into places for fans to pay homage, and many have been forgotten
But however they exist today, they
So, if you’ve ever found yourself
wondering, “Where exactly did that happen?”
Well, look no further. Because you’re
about to find out.
© 2003 Chris Epting