American Heroes, Myth and Reality

By Marshall W. Fishwick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Columbia's Darlings

"As Americans, we have no half-fabulous, legendary wealth, no misty, cloud-enveloped background."--Ho- ratio Greenough

On a hot July 1952 afternoon, thousands of people crowded the streets of Chicago. The Republican National Convention was underway and presidential hopefuls were arriving. Word spread that Candidate Robert Taft was about to appear. His campaigners passed out song sheets which demonstrated the light in which American hero-makers want their subjects to appear. Included were "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Onward Christian Soldiers," and "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder."

Ovations for favorites have been heard frequently in America. Many are forgotten almost as soon as the acclamation is over. Like all countries, America has had its Cagliostros, who blaze momentarily and then fade. The happy tears shed for Admiral Dewey, who avenged the sinking of the battleship Maine, could have floated a ship of the line. Practical businessmen swooned when Jenny Lind hit high C. So did their wives when Buffalo Bill entered the ring on his white horse. Otherwise respectable ladies collected Rudolph Valentino's cigarette butts and hid them in their bosoms. A cordon of policemen had to stop women from taking his buttons as his body lay in state.

In June, 1927, Charles Lindbergh received 3,500,000 letters, 14,000 parcels, and 100,000 telegrams. The New York World got two bushels of Lindbergh poetry. While he was having dinner in New York, a woman broke through his guards to peer into his mouth and determine for herself whether he preferred green beans

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