One Interesting American Thing per Day

Ben Railton

Ben Railton
Needham, Massachusetts, US
August 15
Associate Professor
Fitchburg State University
One interesting American thing per day, from a professor of American literature, culture, history, and Studies. Check out for more!

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MARCH 23, 2012 9:54AM

March 23, 2012: The Safari Park

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[This week, I’ll be blogging about some of the many interesting sites and spaces of public memory and community in San Diego. This is the fifth and final entry in the series.]

A few of the many reasons why the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park is a lot more than just a great tourist attraction, and in fact serves as a site of public memory and community:

1) The Northern White Rhino: Without a doubt the most tragic inhabitants we met at the Safari Park were the two Northern White Rhinos—two of the four to six surviving such rhinos, all of whom are apparently too old to reproduce. I’m pretty good at finding the good within the tragic—I’m writing a book about it, y’know—but there’s no way to see this impending loss as anything other than a tragedy. But thanks to the safari park, this tragedy won’t go unremarked—all those visitors who, as we did, get to see these rhinos are made aware of the imminent loss of these impressive animals, and that’s an important act of public memory in its own right.

2) The California Condor: At the other end of the spectrum is the genuinely amazing success story that is the California Condor. A couple decades ago these impressive birds of prey were down to Northern White Rhino numbers—but thanks to the efforts of the Safari Park and a couple other California organizations, the Condors have rebounded and rebounded with vigor, not only in sanctuaries like the Park but in increasing numbers in the wild as well. The Condor represents, among other things, the way in which a public site, and communal efforts and support, can change the course of history, and produce a more inspiring future as a result. Pretty good public memory lesson!

3) The Baby Giraffe: This is a much more personal moment, yet still a deeply public one. Our visit to the Park happened to coincide with a special addition—the Park’s youngest inhabitant, a three-week old baby giraffe (our younger son’s favorite animal), was spending his first day out in the Park with his Mom, siblings, and extended giraffe community. Obviously a cute and powerful moment, and we could feel how much our various tour guides and park keepers shared in it. But it was also, for me, an inspiring reminder in miniature (well, miniature-ish) of the Park’s most central purpose: to remind us of the larger world of which we’re a part, a world that is as fragile as it is enduring, to which each of us, small as we are, is deeply and significantly linked.

It was a great trip! More this weekend,


PS. Any interesting or inspiring public sites you’ve visited (in any place)?

3/23 Memory Day nominee: Bette Nesmith Graham, the Texas high school dropout, single mother, and long-time bank secretary who invented Liquid Paper, became one of the 20th century’s most successful inventors and entrepreneurs, and mothered one of the Monkees; if there’s a more distinctly American story than that one, I’ve yet to hear it!

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A visit to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., brought tears to my eyes after I read the words from the Second Inaugural speech carved into the wall. It was so moving, that call to create a better world. This was about ten years ago, and the contrast between Lincoln's elegantly elevated rhetoric and that of our then-current President (Bush) — couldn't have been more depressing.
Hi Brunhilde,

Yeah, that's an amazing spot. I could definitely do the same kind of series I did for San Diego on Washington, DC--and maybe doubly so because my visits there were mostly as a kid, when those kinds of sites can be even more impactful. Great stuff. Thanks!