Charlie Topper of
Ogden, Utah is a red, white and blue American. He not only knows the words to
the national anthem, but sings them on appropriate occasions. His idea of
natural beauty is those American flags over yonder that frame the snowy Wasatch
Mountains and blow against the postcard blue of the Utah sky.
So Charlie looks
and feels in his element as he walks down the ramp leading from the red, white
and blue American Freedom Train—10 cars of exhibits lauding America's past. The
train is nomading its way about the country these days as a principal thread in
the Bicentennial quilt.
One car is devoted
entirely to sports, and Charlie likes it a lot. Why? "I think everyone can
visualize himself holding that Hank Aaron bat and dream of hitting those home
runs," he says. "Besides, I'm a sentimentalist. I get tears in my eyes
looking at this kind of stuff." And in fact Charlie's tear ducts do look
ready to respond.
visitor, Richard Clayton of Logan, Utah gives the sports car high marks and
sniffs at the observation that devoting an entire car to sports might be
excessive. He comments, "Sports are a big part of the American heritage.
Once you've worked hard, you play hard." Norman Evans, a Brigham Young
University student, thinks that "sports bring out the true American spirit,
of responding to challenge, and it is competition that makes us great."
The train is
scheduled to make its last appearance in Miami next December after 21 months,
$17.5 million in expenses, 17,000 miles, and stops in more than 115 cities in
the 48 contiguous states. By then, an estimated eight million people will have
paid $2 each (kids and old folks $1) to stand on a conveyor belt and be whisked
through America's first 200 years in 22 minutes.
Sara Wolf, curator
of the exhibit, says of the sports car, "It's sort of everybody's favorite.
They don't learn anything but they have fun and see things they like." Wolf
is perhaps too harsh on her own exhibits. It is true, of course, that you don't
learn much staring at a shirt worn by former National Basketball Association
official Mendy Rudolph. But for a generation of kids who assume that plastic
was here before the Indians, there is much to be said for the presence of the
old leather football helmet. And maybe the Cherokee lacrosse stick is similarly
The sports car is
glittery, garish, chaotic, showy. Which puts it in step with sport. Elsewhere
in the train is a quotation from Andrew Wyeth: "I want to show Americans
what America is like." The sports car helps do that.
In a bit less than
two minutes' gliding past 60 sports artifacts and a montage of pictures and
sounds, much will be missed—like the Chris Evert tennis racket just as you
enter, since at that moment you'll be trying not to fall down on the conveyor
belt. There are Jim Thorpe's medals, Gale Sayers' No. 40 jersey, the Heisman
Trophy won by Leon Hart, a Larry Mahan belt buckle and those funny-looking
shoes that gave grip to the feet below Elroy Hirsch's crazy legs.
There are the
Oakland A's championship trophy from 1973, caps worn by Johnny Bench and Willie
Mays, a picture of Intrepid hidden by A.J. Foyt's helmet and a pair of Joe
Frazier's trunks that have the style and shape of a pup tent. There is a boxing
film being shown on television screens, but you will not come close to seeing
it all, because by the time the film is finished, you will be out of the sports
car and well into the performing-arts car admiring a hat that Mary Pickford
wore in The Taming of the Shrew in 1929.
That's the rub;
once a visitor sets foot on the conveyor belt, there is no chance of getting
off. As you move along you get an informational overload, and there is no way
to pause and organize your head as you can in a museum. Charles E. Aly, boss of
the train, says the belt originally was set at 42 feet per minute, "but
after three reports of whiplash, we slowed it to 36 feet." The latest
reduction to a still quick 33 feet is it, says Aly. Running the belt any
slower, he contends, would mean waiting lines of intolerable length.