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America the Unique: Celebrating Our True National Treasures

Leslie Mosier

This week, Parade celebrates some of the national treasures that make us laugh, cry, think and love our country even more.

A Prairie Home Companion

Devin Pedde/PHC

Chris Thile, the 36-year-old host of A Prairie Home Companion, says that 2.6 million weekly listeners—himself included—think of the long-running public radio show made famous by Garrison Keillor as an American treasure.

“It’s a place for us to take our cares and woes and hold them out at arm’s length for examination and even celebration,” he says of the 43-year-old show. “It brings us together and makes us feel more alive.”

Thile, a Grammy-winning mandolin virtuoso who made a splash with the trio Nickel Creek and the band Punch Brothers before taking the helm at APHC last year, says the show’s purpose is to mirror the American experience and to help people find common ground.

“What I hope the show does—this is what it did for me—is to offer the opportunity to connect with the country at large every Saturday,” he says.

Chris Thile’s National Treasures
The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, the cozy home of APHC
The Chicago Cubs
Paul Simon
Redwood National and State Parks

Related: Sunday With Chris Thile

Katherine Johnson


A mathematics genius, Katherine Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 at age 97. The longtime NASA researcher and analyst recently got more recognition when Taraji P. Henson played her (she was the “girl” John Glenn asked to provide calculations for his Friendship 7 mission) in the movie Hidden Figures.

Doug the Pug

Kendra Gene Motycka

Known as the King of Pop Culture, Doug is not your average pooch. He’s a New York Times best-selling author (with “momager” Leslie Mosier) and social media star whose millions of adoring fans follow his pizza-eating, world-traveling adventures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. When he’s not chowing down, Doug makes appearances on the Today show, Billboard’s Hot 100 Festival and the CMT Music Awards. And Doug leaves celebs starstruck too—he’s taken selfies with everyone from Justin Bieber to the cast of The Big Bang Theory—but he still loves a good nap more than anything.

Related: At Home With Doug the Pug

Crash Test Dummy

Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The full-scale anthropomorphic test device (ATD) was invented by the late Samuel W. Alderson in 1960 to gauge the impact of car wrecks on humans. It was widely put into use after the publication of consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at Any Speed.

In the 1980s and 90s, commercials starring crash test dummies Vince and Larry (“You can learn a lot from a dummy”) led to an increase in safety belt usage (from 14 percent to 79 percent), saving an estimated 85,000 lives, according to the Ad Council.

Little League Baseball


On June 6, 1939, the first Little League baseball game was played at Park Point in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Lundy Lumber defeated Lycoming Dairy 23–8.) Since then, the pint-sized version of America’s favorite pastime has knocked it out of the park as the world’s largest organized youth sports program, boasting 200,000 teams in all 50 states and 80 countries. This year’s Little League Baseball World Series is August 17–27 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Dolly Parton

Webster PR

There’s the hair, the figure, the smile, the rags-to-riches story and, of course, the voice. There are the Grammy wins (eight), the songs (she’s written more than 5,000), the No. 1 hits (25), and the acting gigs (Steel Magnolias, 9 to 5, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas). But Dolly Parton’s standout achievement may be her philanthropic work. Her Imagination Library, established in 1995, has sent more than 85 million books to kids in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. The program began where Parton did, in Sevier County, Tennessee, offering one free book per month to every child in the county from birth to age 5. After wildfires ripped through the Great Smoky Mountains last year, Parton’s Dollywood Foundation gave $1,000 a month for six months to every family that lost their home—more than 900 of them. Her motto: “I think when you’re able to help that you should.”


It’s the ultimate comfort food—warm, soft, sweet, homey. And it turns 79 this year. In 1938 Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts, added cut-up bits of chocolate to the cookie she served with ice cream. A year later, she sold the rights to use her cookie recipe and the Toll House name to Nestle for $1. The cookie’s popularity was boosted by the hard times of the Great Depression and then WWII. Now it’s engrained in America, from care packages shipped to soldiers and college students to Pillsbury refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough to Chips Ahoy, Famous Amos, Mrs. Fields and Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.



A quarter of a million turn up in Wyoming annually to watch bull riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing and more during Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo (established in 1897), where 1,500 contestants vie for $1 million–plus in money and prizes. Rodeos go back almost 150 years in the U.S., when cowboys would compete to see who could rope or ride the best. Rodeo is about prowess but also about community. And for community spirit it’s hard to beat Tennessee’s Franklin Rodeo, says Siri Stevens of Rodeo News. The Franklin Rodeo (with 18,000 annual attendees) pours funds (more than $2.5 million since 1949) into community charities including college scholarships, food banks, medical care, literacy programs and school libraries.

Photos: The Best of Cheyenne Frontier Days

Gold Star Mothers


In 1928, Grace Darling Seibold, whose son was killed during WWI, founded American Gold Star Mothers, a support and service organization for women who lost their military son or daughter in the line of duty. In 1936, President Roosevelt established American Gold Star Mother’s Day (September 24 this year).

“We’re a service organization, and we like to believe that we turn our sorrow into service and that we continue the service that our fallen sons and daughters never got to finish,” says Candy Martin, former national president of American Gold Star Mothers, whose son, 1st Lt. Thomas Martin, was killed in Iraq in 2007.

Food Trucks


From Urban Sugar Donuts in Portland, Maine, to Homegrown Smoker Vegan BBQ in Portland, Oregon, there’s a food truck for every taste in every state in the U.S., including Alaska’s Quickie Burger and Hawaii’s Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. The fast-growing industry (more than 4,000 food trucks roam the U.S., generating $1.2 billion in annual revenue) traces back to street vendors selling food from push carts in 17th-century New Amsterdam (New York City) and post–Civil War chuck wagons that fed wagon trains heading west. Gourmet food trucks became a thing in 2008, when Kogi BBQ began selling $2 Korean barbecue tacos on the streets of LA. Now websites and apps like Food Truck Fiesta, Eat Street and Roaming Hunger let you find food trucks in your neighborhood in real time.

Hot Dogs


From the updated and trendy (tofu dog, anyone?) to the simple, classic wiener on a bun, Americans eat some 7 billion hot dogs every summer (from Memorial Day to Labor Day), loving every last bite.

Related: The Mouthwatering History of the All-American Coney Dog

Blueberry Pie


In 2011 Maine named blueberry pie (made with wild Maine blueberries, of course) as the official state dessert, a well-deserved designation as 98 percent of the lowbush blueberries harvested in the U.S. hail from Maine.

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Other states jump into the delicious mix claiming the highbush blueberry as state fruit (New Jersey) and the blueberry variety as state muffin (Minnesota).

But there’s nothing like a hot, crusty, all-American filled blueberry pie ready to be topped with vanilla ice cream.

Little Golden Books


The books with the golden spine hit shelves 75 years ago this October and have kept kids turning pages ever since. To date, the imprint has published more than 1,400 titles and sold a whopping 2 billion copies (and counting). And the classics are still golden—today’s readers can buy The Poky Little Puppy, a top seller published in the very first crop of Little Golden Books, along with the Star Wars and Grumpy Cat lines.

Related: Celebrating 75 Years of Little Golden Books

Ellis Island


Sitting in its grand location in New York Harbor, Ellis Island, along with its resplendent neighbor, the Statue of Liberty, has long been a symbol of hope and freedom. More than 12 million immigrants entered the country through the Ellis Island gateway from 1892 to 1954, and currently almost half of all Americans claim ancestors who passed through its gates. In the 1980s, the building on Ellis Island was renovated and reopened as a museum to our nation’s immigrant heritage.

Did your family come through Ellis Island? Search the landmark's passenger list here.

There's a Fair or Festival for Everything


It’s hard to beat a great state fair, from the butter cow at the Iowa State Fair to the 212-foot-tall Texas Star Ferris wheel at the State Fair of Texas. But Americans love to celebrate, so nearly every summer weekend, you’ll find festivals across the U.S. honoring everything from strawberries (California, Tennessee, Florida and more) to sand (Texas’ Port Aransas SandFest) to scarecrows (the St. Charles, Illinois, Scarecrow Fest).

The North Country Moose Festival (August 25–26) along the Vermont/New Hampshire border includes moose chili, a moose-calling contest, moose-watching tours and a barn dance, and the Tomato Art Fest in Nashville (August 11–12) gives the coolest possible nod to America’s favorite fruit/veggie.



What American kid doesn’t remember the first time he or she opened a box of Crayola crayons and got busy coloring the world blue green, burnt orange or magenta? Thank Pennsylvania’s Binney & Smith company, which introduced the American version of the wax marking crayon to the world in 1903. School kids and grownups (check out Pinterest) still love to color, and through August 2, there’s a place to recycle your broken, unwanted crayons courtesy of a partnership between A.C. Moore Arts & Crafts stores and The Crayon Initiative, a nonprofit that collects unwanted colors and donates them to art programs in children’s hospitals to keep them out of landfills.

Related: Recycle Unwanted Crayons With The Crayon Initiative

Pontoon Boats

The first pontoon boat was little more than a wooden platform strapped to two columns of steel barrels, an idea often credited to Ambrose Weeres, a 1950s farmer in rural Minnesota who wanted to create a boat that would fit a whole family. Since then, the vessel’s popularity has expanded far beyond the Land of 10,000 Lakes, becoming a cherished regular from California’s Lake Tahoe to Maine’s Moosehead Lake—and even on the airwaves with Little Big Town’s 2012 No. 1 hit, “Pontoon.”

Pat Summitt

Doug Benc/Getty Images

During her 38-year tenure at the University of Tennessee, coach Pat Summitt led the Lady Vols basketball team to victory in 1,098 games, the most career wins in NCAA basketball history. The acclaimed coach retired in 2012 following an early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis and passed away in 2016 at the age of 64, but her legacy lives on through the Pat Summitt Foundation, which funds Alzheimer’s research efforts and support systems.

Humans of New York

When photographer Brandon Stanton launched his Humans of New York blog in 2010, his goal was to capture and catalog the lives of 10,000 Big Apple residents. Since then, the 33-year-old Marietta, Georgia, native has reinvigorated our American love of storytelling by sharing thousands of people’s stories, both stateside and abroad, with his more than 18 million Facebook followers. And Stanton is an artist with a cause: He’s helped raise $3.8 million for pediatric cancer research and $318,530 to support victims of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

If you like the Lincoln Memorial, you’ll love…the Lincoln Cottage.

Mark Summerfield / Alamy Stock Photo

Lincoln Cottage

Statuesquely situated in Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Memorial is the most popular presidential memorial in the U.S., with 7.9 million visitors last year.

Just a few miles north, the Lincoln Cottage (30,000 visitors last year), the “summer White House” for Lincoln, wife Mary, and son Tad, sits amid 250 acres on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. It is said that Lincoln, who referred to the White House as the ”iron cage,” did some of his best thinking at the Lincoln Cottage.

If you like Stephen King, you’ll love…the Duffer Brothers.

Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images

Ross and Matt Duffer

A creature with long arms and no face, a girl with supernatural powers, trails of blood and a boy trapped in an alternative dimension. Up your alley? Then check out Stranger Things, the science-fiction/horror 1980s-based TV series created, written and produced by 33-year-old twins Matt and Ross Duffer. The brothers cite Stephen King as a major influence; King’s It “made the biggest impact on us,” Matt Duffer told The Hollywood Reporter. Echoed Ross: “We just devoured his stuff when we were little.” King himself approves: After seeing the series premiere in 2016, he tweeted, “Watching Stranger Things is [like] watching Steve King's Greatest Hits. I mean that in a good way.”

If you like Route 66, you’ll love…the Great River Road.


Great River Road

The 2,448 miles of Route 66, stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica, may be the “Main Street of America,” but the Great River Road, 3,000 miles of interconnecting roads that follow the meandering path of the Mississippi River from Minnesota to Louisiana, offers a unique glimpse into the culture and landscapes that shape our country. “To see the heart of America, I would send someone north to south from Minnesota to New Orleans and I think they would really get it,” says Jamie Jensen, author of Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America’s Two-Lane Highways. Don’t miss the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, Iowa.

If you like the Hearst Castle, you’ll love…Iolani Palace.


Iolani Palace

More than 750,000 people a year visit California’s Hearst Castle, with its 115-room Casa Grande, Tiffany lamps, gilded ceilings and that 345,000-gallon Neptune Pool. But Hawaii’s Iolani Palace is the only castle in the U.S. that housed actual royalty, in this case King Kalakaua, who began constructing the palace in 1879 and finished in 1882.

King Kalakaua lived at Iolani (meaning "bird of heaven") palace for nine years; his sister, Queen Liliuokalani, lived there after his death until a coup (led by U.S.-backed businessmen and sugar planters) overthrew the monarchy in 1893. You can see the impressive crimson and gold throne room, two kahili (the Hawaiian version of a scepter) topped with 22,000 albatross feathers, and the Grand Hall with its staircase of richly grained koa wood. Zita Cup Choy, palace historian, says visitors are often most impressed by “how modern the palace was,” including hot and cold running water, electric lights, and telephones. (Iolani Palace had electric lights four years before the White House.) Along with the modern technology are artifacts with centuries of tradition, including a puloulou (a traditional symbol of royalty) made from a seven-foot narwhal tusk, topped with a sphere covered in gold leaf. Monarchies in Hawaii go back for centuries; when King Kalakaua visited London for Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1887, he “sometimes outranked other royalty in terms of royal genealogy and how far back it goes,” Cup Choy says.

If you like the Grand Canyon, you’ll love…Black Canyon.


Tourists (6 million in 2016) love the Grand Canyon. Its sheer vastness (277 river miles long, 18 miles wide, a mile deep) is beyond breathtaking.

Colorado’s Black Canyon, less than a fifth as long and half as deep, is impressive in a whole different way. “No other canyon in North America combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness, and somber countenance of the Black Canyon,” Wallace R. Hansen wrote in a 1965 U.S. Geological Survey publication. The river at its base cuts through rock that is almost 2 billion years old, some of the oldest rock in North America. Don’t miss the 2,250-foot high (almost twice the size of the Empire State Building) “Painted Wall.”