Our Times

By Cataldo, Robert J. | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Our Times


Cataldo, Robert J., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


"Our Times: A Virginia Century" is an unusual museum exhibition based on the outcome of a poll. Last year Media General newspapers in Bristol, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Danville, Lynchburg, Manassas, Richmond, Suffolk, Waynesboro, and Woodbridge ran a questionnaire prepared by the Virginia Historical Society asking readers to choose the most important Virginian or Virginia event of the twentieth century in several categories. Because there was no limit to the votes one person could mail in, the poll was meant more to stimulate conversation than to be a scientific survey. More than a thousand Virginians responded. In efforts to broaden the perspective of the exhibit, the society also picked experts to answer questions related to their fields of expertise. Their choices offer an intriguing supplement to the readers' selections.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a special section at the beginning of the year devoted entirely to the poll's results. The categories ranged from politics to entertainment and many interesting points in between. Here is just a sample of the results.

The people's choice for most important sports figure was no surprise, Tennis Hall of Fame member Arthur Ashe, Jr. Though not as instantly recognizable as Ashe, the expert's choice certainly pleased avid golfers. Eddie Webb, director of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, picked the pride of Hot Springs, Sam Snead, who won more tournaments than any other pro (eighty-three officially). On display are two issues of Sports Illustrated featuring Ashe, one after his stunning defeat of Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1975 and the other in 1992 when SI named him sportsman of the year. Also on display are Wheaties cereal cards from 1952 with the likeness of Snead.

Tops in crushing the competition was Gone With the Wind, voted overwhelmingly by Virginians as their favorite movie. The exhibition includes the mourning hat and veil worn by Vivien Leigh in the bazaar scene, as well as other memorabilia related to the film. The Sound of Music and Casablanca finished a distant second and third_in the polling.

No survey of the last hundred years would be complete without mention of World War II. It was voted both the most significant economic event and the most significant overall event of the twentieth century. Fewer and fewer Virginians may be able to recall the events of the war, but lack of firsthand experience had no effect on the voting. …

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