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46h. Fads and Heroes

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46h. Fads and Heroes

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The Roaring Twenties was a time of great change. As exciting as dynamic times may seem, such turmoil generates uncertainty. Sometimes, in an effort to obscure tensions, people seek outlets of escape. Fads — sometimes entertaining, sometimes senseless — swept the nation. Another coping strategy in a time of great uncertainty is to find role models who embody tried and true values. National heroes heretofore unknown to peacetime America began to dominate American consciousness.

The radio created the conditions for national fads. Without such a method of live and immediate communication, fads could amount only to local crazes. Roaring Twenties fads ranged from the athletic to the ludicrous. One of the most popular trends of the decade was the dance marathon. New dance steps such as the Charleston swept the nation's dance halls, and young Americans were eager to prove their agility. In a typical dance marathon, contestants would dance for forty-five minutes and rest for fifteen. The longest marathons lasted thirty-six hours or more. Beauty pageants came into vogue. The first Miss America Pageant was staged in Atlantic City in 1921. One of the most bizarre fads was flagpole sitting. The object was simple: be the person who could sit atop the local flagpole for the longest period of time. Fifteen-year-old Avon Foreman of Baltimore set the amateur standard — ten days, ten hours, ten minutes, and ten seconds.

Mah-jongg is a Chinese tile game. Colored tiles with different symbols were randomly arranged geometrically. The object is to remove all the game pieces. Crossword puzzle fever swept the nation when Simon and Schuster published America's first crossword puzzle book. The Book-of-the-Month Club drew thousands of readers into literary circles. Two new periodicals began to grace American coffee tables. The nation's first weekly news magazine, Time, was founded by Henry Luce and Briton Hadden. Their punchy writing on timely stories and eye-grabbing pictures hit the newsstands in 1923. DeWitt Wallace made a business out of condensing articles from other periodicals. His publication, Reader's Digest, began in 1921 and boasted a half million subscriptions a decade later.

No individual personified the All-American hero more than Charles Lindbergh. His courage was displayed to the nation when he flew his Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris, becoming the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. National and international news was hidden in the back pages of the major newspapers while Lindbergh stole the front pages. Confetti flew and bugles sounded in New York City when he returned successfully, and President Coolidge hosted a gala celebration. There was more to Lindbergh's appeal than his bravery. Throughout the ordeal, Lindbergh maintained a hometown modesty. He declined dozens of endorsement opportunities, ever refusing to sell out. Spectator sports provided opportunities for others to grab the limelight. Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were role models for hundreds of thousands of American boys. Fortunately, Cobb's outward racism and Ruth's penchant for drinking and womanizing were shielded from admiring youngsters. Football had Red Grange, and boxing had Jack Dempsey. Gertrude Ederle impressed Americans by becoming the first woman to swim the English Channel. These heroes gave Americans, anxious about the uncertain future and rapidly fading past, a much needed sense of stability.

QUIZ TIME: 1920s Quiz

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