In an increasingly techno-world, there are still places and events that remain rooted in the heart and soul of the American past. Author Gary McKechnie searched for such Americana for the recent National Geographic book USA 101: A Guide to America's Iconic Places, Events and Festivals. He shares favorites with Larry Olmsted for USA TODAY.
Little League World SeriesWilliamsport, Pa. "Of all the things I've seen in America, few are as wonderful as the Little League World Series," says McKechnie, who compares the ballpark in Williamsport, headquarters of the Little League since the organization's founding in 1939, to the baseball classic Field of Dreams. The 63rd tournament starts today and runs through Aug. 30. Like all Little League games everywhere, it's free, so bring a blanket and find a spot on the grass. 570-326-1921, littleleague.org
Mark Twain's AmericaHannibal, Mo. With its carefully preserved small-town living, the author's birthplace bills itself as America's Hometown, and McKechnie agrees. "Mark Twain created the American dream of childhood, whitewashed fences, exploring caves, swimming holes, the benchmark for the next 150 years." In Hannibal everything Twain is celebrated, from the author's boyhood home (now a museum) to the famous fictional fence, riverboat cruises, guided cave tours, theater groups, horse-drawn tours, and Twain and Tom Sawyer impersonators. 866-263-4825, visithannibal.com
All-American Soap Box DerbyAkron, Ohio Soap box derbies peaked in popularity in the 1950s, yet kids from around the world still make their way to Akron each summer for the sport's main event. "It is absolutely one of my top favorites, bar none," McKechnie says. "You think it is just kids rolling down a hill, but it is so much more, so nostalgic. Jimmy Stewart postponed his honeymoon to attend, Ronald Reagan went, Indy 500 drivers go." The annual week-long event is held in late July and includes parties, parades and races on Derby Downs, a 954-foot track. 330-733-8723, aasbd.com
Miss America PageantLas Vegas Beauty contests are an American staple, but this is the Super Bowl. McKechnie says the event has enjoyed a renaissance of popularity since moving from Atlantic City six years ago. There are three days of preliminaries before the finals in the pageant (the next one is Jan. 26-30), and tickets are sold for each round. "One night they do talent, one night evening gowns and so on, so it is pretty easy to buy tickets. Whatever they choose to do for the talent show they do very well, so the quality of the performance is as good as any show on the Vegas Strip." Tickets go on sale in December. 609-653-8700, missamerica.org
Indianapolis 500Indianapolis It is the Mother of all Races, but many do not realize that the Indy 500, held the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, is the culmination of the three-week 500 Festival, including the world's largest half-marathon — run on the famous oval. Though NASCAR has surpassed open-wheel racing's popularity, "from a standpoint of pure Americana, the Indy 500 is well in the lead," McKechnie says. "It's like a small-town celebration — and the largest single-day sporting event in the world." Four hundred thousand fans have attended, yet unlike other top sports events, tickets are readily available and affordable. 800-822-4639, indianapolismotorspeedway.com