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Fourth of July: Where to celebrate being an American

July 03, 2012|By Mary Forgione, Catharine Hamm and Chris Erskine
(National Park Service )

You'll probably grill a hot dog, watch some fireworks and, perhaps, think about the wonders of being an American. One of them is our freedom to see this country. In thinking about the Fourth of July, we've assembled a list of some of the places we think will make you remember what it is to be an American -- a hot-dog-eating, apple-pie-chomping, optimistic sort who learns from the past in order to face the future head on.

A bit pie-eyed

Thank goodness Harvard grad Samuel Sewall thought to record something as mundane as his first bite of "applepy." His diary entry of 1697 qualifies as the first American mention of apple pie, according to "America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America." The expression "as American as apple pie," which links the sweet stuff with patriotism, wouldn't come into vogue until hundreds of years later, in the 1960s.

Still, apple pie wasn't invented in this country. I wouldn't tell that to folks in the mountain town of Julian, Calif., which has cultivated its reputation -- and a good bit of tourism -- with apples. The Julian Pie Co. (2225 Main St. (760) 765-2449), for example, began when Liz Smothers became smitten with baking apple pies. In 1989, she and her husband, Keith, planted 17,000 apple trees just to supply her pie-making habit. Now they ship fresh pies -- original (made with Granny Smiths), Dutch apple, boysenberry apple, peach apple and other combinations -- all over the U.S.

In fall, I like to tour Julian's apple orchards and pick fruit, take a carriage ride through town or hoist a glass of cider or two. For the Fourth of July, it's hot, so the town skips fireworks (because of fire danger) and puts on a snazzy hometown parade at noon. And I'm sure there's always a slice of pie to be found somewhere in town. For information on Julian's parade, click here.

-- Mary Forgione

To the dogs

First of all, Dodger Dogs may be the most overrated food item in America, as limp as a piece of asparagus. Pink's is merely a pretender. In Chicago, they'd burn an ordinary place like that to the ground. Who let these dogs out?

I don't know that any single ingredient makes a proper Chicago-style dog what it is. Rather, it's the symphony of flavors and textures that make it sing: the dill spear, the nuclear-green relish, the chopped tomato, the celery salt, a hot pepper, all of it pillowed into a magnificent poppy seed bun. In my book, the best Chicago joint is Superdawg (6363 N. Milwaukee). At this retro landmark, the dog has snap, and the poppy seed bun is super fresh. At $5.50, it's a little on the steep side, as Chicago dogs go. But worth every penny.  

Hot Doug's (3324 N. California) is also worth a stop, serving a dressed Chicago-style dog for $2. Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it? (Note that Hot Doug’s is closed on July 4.)

-- Chris Erskine

The man from Independence

What could be more perfect for the Fourth of July than a town called Independence? Perhaps a town called Independence that was home to a president.

To visit Independence, Mo., is to remember that no matter how far down you are, life can turn around. And to know that mental toughness is as all-American as that Julian apple pie.

One clarification here: Harry Truman wasn’t born in Independence, which is about 15 miles from downtown Kansas City, Mo. Instead, Truman's life began on May 8, 1884, in the town of Lamar, Mo., about 125 miles almost directly south of Independence.  But he spent much of his growing-up years in Independence, and it was there that he met Bess Truman (who, by the way, turned him down the first time he proposed, suggesting again that resilience is an important trait)

After serving in World War I, Truman and a colleague opened a haberdashery business in Kansas City. It failed. But politics beckoned., and by 1934, he was running for (and winning) a seat in Congress. In 1944, he replaced Henry Wallace as the vice presidential candidate under Franklin D. Roosevelt and was sworn in Jan. 20, 1945.

Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, leaving the country in the hands of a man who had been reluctant to assume the vice presidential post, never mind the presidency.

His terms were fraught with difficulties, and when he left office, he was one of the most unpopular presidents ("To err is Truman" was a popular saying), but history has been kinder to him.

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