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Chapter 9 On the Trail Commemorating the Lewis & Clark Expedition in the Twentieth Century Wallace Lewis 198 Concerned over the nation’s inadequate commemoration of the explorers’ 1804–06 journey to the Pacific Ocean and back, delegates from more than twenty communities in the Pacific Northwest and Montana gathered at Lewiston , Idaho in 1929 to form the Lewis and Clark Memorial Association (LCMA). “It seems almost incredible,” the group’s initial report states, “that through all those years there has been no national monument erected in their honor. Perpetuated only in a few place names, they claim but scant present attention, except from close students of western history.” The association may have overstated the case, ignoring the two world’s fairs that commemorated the centennial of the expedition in 1904 and 1905, as well as the many statues, monuments, and books those two events inspired in the ensuing decades. Nevertheless, popular interest in Lewis and Clark had diminished considerably since the early twentieth century, as had the number of people who even knew where or when the expedition occurred. Though disheartening, it was probably not surprising to the members of the LCMA when their efforts failed to stir much interest in the approaching 125th anniversary of the trek across the continent.1 While they failed in their initial goals, the members of the association realized that part of the problem lay in the ways that Lewis and Clark had been memorialized in the past. Their first goal was to inculcate a “better understanding ” among the American public, which would in turn “inspire a higher conception of what is suitable to commemorate them.” That “higher conception” apparently involved road building along the expedition route, since promotion of a multistate Lewis and Clark highway underlay the association ’s agenda. Making the route of the expedition serve as the nation’s memorial to the expedition represented a radical new way of commemorating the past, and no one at the 1929 meeting of the LCMA seemed to recognize what their goals implied or how to enact them. This partly re- flected the new but half-understood excitement about automobile tourism that appealed to every kind of western booster. This new leisure industry briefly flourished in the late 1920s with the availability of inexpensive vehicles and the construction of continuous paved highways across the Great Plains and the mountain west, then faded altogether in the midst of the Great Depression and wartime rationing. It required the economic expansion of the post–World War II era to make automobile tourism a persistent and widespread feature of American culture, which in turn provided the context in which the expedition route developed into the principal monument for commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition. “The Trail”— as the route became known—was not the result of “better understanding,” as the LCMA once predicted. Rather, it became the means through which many Americans came to understand the Lewis and Clark expedition. In the process, touring the Trail provided an important benchmark for assessing the magnitude of change in the American landscape over the short course of two centuries.2 Commemorating the past has commonly been a way for Americans to validate the present and create a sense of common identity. This usually occurs in one of two ways: traditionally through plaques, statues, and other monuments, the most visible and fundamental means of memorializing; or through “public historical imagery” like rituals, reenactments, and pageants . While both types of commemoration marked public awareness of the significance of the Lewis and Clark expedition after the turn of the century, new ways of identifying historic sites have proliferated in the past forty years or so and become meaningful to the public in ways that traditional commemorative types do not. These include simple markers to elaborate replicas of structures and multimedia interpretive centers that interpret historical events at a particular site. The popularity of these new forms of commemoration probably derives from their convenience to vacationers and purported educational value, but they also appeal to the imagination in ways that commemorative statues and monuments simply cannot. Place becomes the hero: this is where something significant occurred.3 While all of this has been fairly recent, it clearly distinguishes past commemorations of Lewis and Clark from more recent efforts to memorialize their expedition. Lewis and Clark received relatively little attention in the nineteenth century. The national government seems to have permitted the fiftieth anniversary of the expedition to pass unrecognized. Local communities...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520937147
Related ISBN
9780520238220
MARC Record
OCLC
55749588
Pages
298
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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