Ever since the 1930s, Americans have sought to memorialize their achievements, both the ridiculous and the sublime, in secular temples of worship known as halls of fame. Today more than 200 such museums dot roadside landscapes, from baseball's illustrious Cooperstown to Fort Worths National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. But if their subject matter is diverse, the spirit behind the halls is the same - a celebration of American can-do attitude and enthusiasm.
Consider the hot dog. J. Frank Webster has. His Hot Dog Hall of Fame in Fairfield, Calif., boasts more than 2,500 frankfurter items, including the Lamborweenie, a dog on wheels that "Uncle Frank" hopes some day to race against the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.
Across the country at the International Checker Hall of Fame in Petal, Miss., millionaire checker-champion Charles Walker presides world's largest checkerboard, challenging one and all to "king me" in his fiefdom of red and black.
Visiting all 200 august institutions would exhaust even the most ardent student of Americana, but the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco has made it easy: The center has assembled its own Hall of Fame of Halls of Fame, an exhibit on display through February. The show includes representative displays from 50 different halls, from basketball and football to more esoteric offerings such as quilt-making and harness racing.
"Halls of fame are walk-in textbooks narrating an alternative American cultural history," Renny Pritikin, artistic director of Visual Arts at Yerba Buena, tells Insight. Pritikin sees the notion as deeply ingrained in the American character. In its own way, each hall of fame celebrates the ideal of personal best, whether of polo-playing gentlemen or poker-playing rogues.
And, claims Pritikin, unlike museums which house and display objects d'art hall-of-fame exhibits are designed to commemorate personality through the retelling of myths about individual achievement. At the Yerba Buena center, visitors are tempted to shake the plaster cast of astronaut Buzz Aldrin's hands and give a thumbs-up to Little League hall-of-famer Dan Quayle. The objects themselves range from the exorbitantly expensive (a rare 1923 Duesenberg Model-A Sports Tourer) to the extravagantly exotic five burlesque costumes worn by millionaire philanthropist and striptease artist Tuhula Hanley, who is the most recent inductee into the Burlesque Hall of Fame and Historical Museum in Helendale, Calif.).
One disappointing exhibit: part of the set of the band Pink Floyd's bombastic rock opera The Wall. On loan and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the exhibit does little to convey the excitement or glamour of the music industry ... a little like the I.M. Pei-designed building that houses the permanent collection in Cleveland.
Far more effective is a simple dog skeleton from the Greyhound Racing Hall of Fame. Even stripped of muscle and sinew, the bones themselves somehow define the word speed, as if at any instant the greyhound could leap from its pedestal and give chase through the gallery halls.
Karen Smith, a San Francisco visitor to the Yerba Buena show, fully expected to be wowed at the sight of tennis-great Tracy Austins Wimbledon dress, but she was entranced by the gizmos on display from the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices Quackery Hall of Fame, including a phrenology device that determines personality traits by measuring the skull. …