They are called pantheons because they celebrate icons, whether it’s John Lennon, John Glenn or John McEnroe. They house the artifacts that serve as historical and cultural touchstones—Chuck Berry’s guitar, Arnold Palmer’s golf bag, Red Auerbach’s victory cigar. They take us on a journey not only through the lives of people who achieved greatness, but also through great moments, whether it’s the Beatles making history on “Ed Sullivan” or Neil Armstrong making one giant leap for mankind. A hall of fame can be an immersion in artistry and accomplishment. Here are eight great ones:
Although it is located in the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida, World Golf Village—a collection of high-end resorts and residential villages and shops and spas and restaurants with names like King and Bear Clubhouse (that would be Palmer and Nicklaus) and Murray Bros. Caddyshack—is relatively new. The World Golf Hall of Fame, the centerpiece of the complex, opened its doors in 1998. But for fans of the game and its history, it already represents a hallowed place. It honors golf’s contributors from all walks of life—from greens keepers and club makers to prejudice-defying golf pioneers and NASA-defying astronauts (Alan Shepard’s famous 6-iron on the moon).
Walk past an 88-foot Wall of Fame, and you’ll find plaques honoring everyone from Walter Hagen to Ben Hogan to Bob Hope. In the Championship Moments Theater, watch a 10-minute video of iconic players’ most famous shots. Enter a Members Locker Room featuring nearly 1,000 artifacts from Hall of Famers, some of them quite quirky (like Phil Mickelson’s ping-pong paddle and Nancy Lopez’s Barbie doll). Stroll over a replica of the Swilcan Burn Bridge, the famous icon at The Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. Take an elevator to the top of the 110-foot Hall of Fame Tower to find golf’s most treasured trophies (from the Ryder Cup to the Claret Jug) on display as if they were the crown jewels in the Tower of London, And look up from those trophies and marvel at a crystal sculpture, “The Perfect Swing,” made of 162 lead crystal prisms that combined to simulate the arc of the golf swing.
Finish your perfect swing through St. Augustine with lunch and a drink at the on-site Fairways Café. You might want to order an Arnold Palmer.
If World Golf Village doesn’t win the prize for most beautiful sports pantheon, it’s because of this one. Surely it fits into the scenery and serenity of the area. You can stop for a touch of tennis after strolling along the Newport Cliff Walk—a 3.5-mile, mostly-paved public access walkway that borders the shoreline past Newport’s famous Gilded Age mansions. And you can lunch (here, it feels like it’s supposed to be a verb) at La Forge Casino and Restaurant on the Hall of Fame grounds, opting for local specialties like Rhode Island stuffed quahog.
Then you can roam through the museum housed in the historic Newport Casino. Built as a social club in 1880, the grounds now consist of six acres, including 13 grass tennis courts, one clay court, an indoor tennis facility, a grandstand, and the Casino Theatre. The public is allowed to play on the historic grass courts for free, which is a bit like allowing a pickup baseball game at Wrigley Field.
Inside the historic building, you can explore a timeline of tennis history and Newport’s role as the cradle of the sport in America. You can gawk at unusual artifacts, like the earliest known painting of tennis (a Renaissance palace scene from 1538) and Billie Jean King’s “Battle of the Sexes” dress. You can watch decades-old tennis matches on a vintage television, complete with tennis-themed commercials from the 1950s and 1960s. And, of course, you can wander through the Enshrinement Gallery honoring nearly 250 people from nearly two-dozen countries, including a turn-of-the-century star who gets my vote for the best sports name ever—Lottie Dod.
Every road trip is enhanced by a soundtrack—tunes that turn the scenery into a sort of movie of America unfolding before your eyes. And what better way to celebrate that notion than by taking a road trip to the epicenter of rock and roll, a museum that celebrates rock’s diversity, including its historical influences (gospel, blues, country), its geographical movements (Memphis Rockabilly, Detroit Motown, Seattle Grunge) and its musical evolution (Bill Haley, Bruce Springsteen, the B52s).
Rising dramatically over the shores of Lake Erie as the centerpiece of downtown Cleveland’s North Coast Harbor, the seven-level triangle-shaped building offers more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition space. The artifacts and displays include costumes (Tina Turner’s dress), instruments (Jimi Hendrix’s guitar) and paper documents (handwritten lyrics to “Hey Jude”). The museum celebrates everything from pioneering artists to one-hit wonders and from punk to hip-hop. But it also recognizes trends around the rock scene, from music festivals to anti-rock rhetoric to a display of epic and astounding rock fashions through the years. Of course, there is plenty of whimsy at this musical shrine. Where else could you take a gander at Jim Morrison’s Cub Scout uniform or ZZ Top’s fur-lined drum?
The actual Hall of Fame gallery, located on the third floor, features signatures of every inductee and a big-screen multi-media production that combines film footage, music, and interviews to tell the their stories. A favorite is George Harrison accepting his induction by echoing unforgettable Sgt. Pepper lyrics: “It’s wonderful to be here. It’s certainly a thrill.”
Named for the man who single-handedly invented the game back in 1891, this is 40,000 square feet of basketball history along the banks of the Connecticut River, from Naismith’s iconic peach basket to the outlandish ensemble (including feather boa) that Dennis Rodman wore on the day of his enshrinement—and everything in between.
Celebrating the players? You can wander through the exploits of everyone from Magic Johnson to Moses Malone to Meadowlark Lemon. Are you a baller yourself? The several floors of exhibits encircle Center Court, an open-to-the-public collection of hoops and hardwood beneath an enormous ball-shaped dome. Wonder how you compare to the greats? Measure your wingspan vs. Kevin Durant’s or your vertical leap vs. Vince Carter’s. Prefer X’s and O’s? You can study a celebration of coaching classics—from Dean Smith’s Four Corner Offense to John Wooden’s Zone Press.
As is often the case in such halls of fame, some of the best finds are the quirkiest—like Pete Maravich’s floppy gray socks and a life-sized statue of Larry Bird that can be described only as creepy. Oh, also, if you make a trip the restroom, you’ll find a hand dryer made to resemble a leather basketball. It’s hoops heaven.
Out of about seven billion humans, only some 500 have been selected to travel into space. And only about one-fifth of those astronauts have been inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame. So when you roam the Hall of Heroes at Kennedy Space Center, past etched-glass portraits of the likes of Alan Shepard and Buzz Aldrin and Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad, past mission patches whose relative simplicity belies the complexity of each launch into space, you are well aware that enshrinement is a lofty honor. Pun intended.
And then, of course, you can journey in space. If you’re a space nerd like me, you’ll feel like Walter Cronkite did when mission control was told that “the Eagle has landed” on the moon. He simply rubbed his hands together like a 10-year-old boy being served a banana split, grinned stupidly and let out a squeak of excitement. You’ll stroll through the rocket gardens, experience a launch simulator, tour a Space Shuttle, sit on a lunar rover, watch a 3-D IMAX movie about the moonwalkers, pose for a selfie with the Mercury 7… and you’ll probably agree that July 20th, 1969—the day of Neil Armstrong’s moonprint—represents perhaps the most significant moment in human history. It should be a national holiday. Actually, an international holiday.
You’re never too old to marvel at the icons of your youth and the classic athletic confrontations that remain exclamation points in your memory. You’re certainly never too old—or too young, for that matter—to visit the oldest sports pantheon, the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The hamlet of Cooperstown, about an hour west of Albany in upstate New York, is as quaint as they come. Dozens of restaurants, galleries and gift shops cater to diamond lovers (well, baseball diamonds), and the three-story red-brick Hall of Fame building on Main Street offers an appropriately classic home to the game’s greats.
You’ll get what you want out of it. Want to pay homage to the greats of the game? Wander the Plaque Gallery, past hundreds of honorees—everyone from Walter Johnson to Randy Johnson. Interested in baseball’s intersection with pop culture? Enjoy the “Baseball at the Movies” exhibit, or watch Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s on First” routine. Curious about the game’s influence on American society? There are displays celebrating African-Americans and women in baseball. Have a hankering for history? Roam through a timeline of the game and past artifacts ranging from a ball used by the first professional team in 1869 to Lou Gehrig’s locker to Hank Aaron’s jersey. Got little baseball fans with you? There’s the Sandlot Kids Clubhouse.
Then again, when we’re roaming through the Baseball Hall of Fame, aren’t we all really kids again?
Plato once said, “Life must be lived as play.” The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester doesn’t like to call itself a children’s museum, but rather a “family museum about history.” In fact, it bills itself as “the only museum in the world dedicated to the study of play as it illuminates American culture.” The upshot: More than 500,000 play-related objects cover more than 150,000 square feet of interactive exhibit space.
There’s a fully restored 1918 carousel, a re-creation of Sesame Street, and a year-round indoor butterfly garden. Reading Adventureland is a journey through the wonders of children’s literature, including artifacts like Harry Potter’s Nimbus 2000, a Wonka bar, even a replica breakfast—green eggs and ham, naturally. American Comic Books Heroes brings to life Captain America, Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest. A small exhibit called “U.S. of Play!” features a U.S. map festooned with various items representing “Fun From Coast to Coast”—from Mickey Mouse ears in Florida to a lobster Beanie Baby in Maine to a Tonka Winnebago located right about at Grand Canyon.
And speaking of Tonka, a highlight of the museum is a second-floor exhibit—the National Toy Hall of Fame. Picture iconic toys from yesteryear, behind glass, properly celebrated as the integral elements of American culture that they are—from Tinker Toys to the Teddy Bear. More examples? How about Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, the Jack-in-the-Box, the Frisbee, the Easy-Bake Oven, the Big Wheel, Crayola crayons, Lincoln Logs and Silly Putty. So maybe they should describe it as a Back-to-Childhood Museum.
That stands for Recreation Vehicles and Manufactured Housing—but really it means 80,000 square feet of Americana on wheels. It is, indeed, a hall of fame. There are photos and brief bios of more than 360 inductees—men and women who have been integral to the industry over the past century, including Winnebago Industries founder John K. Hanson. And there’s a nod to the current state of the industry—celebrations of everything from the Go RVing advertising campaign to KOA Kampgrounds.
But the RV/MH Hall of Fame is also a walking tour through RV history—a history that travels much further back than you might think, starting with a 1913 “Earl” Travel Trailer, the oldest one in the world. In fact, a couple of exhibition halls are dedicated to the RVs of yesteryear. A 1916 Telescoping Apartment, originally sold for $100. A 1928 Pierce Arrow Fleet Housecar. A 1931 Mae West Housecar. A 1935 Bowlus Road Chief. A 1954 Shasta Travel Trailer. A 1958 Airstream – “The Little Prince” – that was the smallest one ever built. A 1967 Winnebago Motor Home, the first motorized RV built by the company. A 1979 Starcraft Converted Van. So you can experience the How and What and Who of the RV industry. Then you can simply climb back into your Winnebago and enjoy the Why.