Follow the yellow brick road, the Appalachian Trail, or your own path
Update: Thanks to you, our Kickstarter campaign to "Keep Them Ruby" was a success and we have the support we need to conserve and display Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Stay tuned for updates on the project. But our journey on the yellow brick road isn't over yet. Help us conserve Scarecrow's costume from the 1939 movie so that it can join the Ruby Slippers on display and help support a new exhibition devoted to the arts, music, sports, and entertainment. Your support will help to make this project a reality.
"Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road. . . ." Admit it—you know which movie these lyrics are from as soon as you hear them. Your mind instantly pictures Dorothy in her blue gingham dress standing at the beginning of that famous yellow road, red shoes glimmering as she anxiously begins her journey to find the Wizard, and ultimately her way home. As we all know, the journey was not as straightforward as she had hoped. She met many characters along her way, some good and some bad. She faced many obstacles along the road but was able to overcome her fears and insecurities in order to reach the Emerald City of Oz. By the end of the movie she had discovered the true meaning of friendship, and that if you make the journey with the right people you'll make it there and back.
As the museum launched its "Keep Them Ruby" Kickstarter campaign to conserve the museum's pair of Dorothy's Ruby Slippers, my 24-year-old daughter and I decided to watch The Wizard of Oz for the hundredth time. It is still one of her favorite movies‐and mine, too, although the flying monkeys still freak me out. While watching, I started to think about how long the journey Dorothy and friends were taking, and much to my daughter's dismay, I started making comparisons to objects in our sports collection that have traveled many miles. Two collections and their stories came instantly to mind—those of a veteran Appalachian Trail hiker and a skateboarder who found his way across America four times.
Earl Shaffer is not well known in the sports world, but if you have ever hiked the Appalachian Trail you might have heard the name. Shaffer was the first person to thru-hike the 2,160-mile trail, which begins north in Maine on Mount Katahdin and ends south in Springer Mountain, Georgia. The Appalachian Trail was first proposed in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, a regional planner who envisioned an extensive trail from Maine to Georgia through the Appalachian Mountains. My dad was actually a trailblazer with the Appalachian Mountain Club and cut the trail near Mount Flume when he was 16, so this history has a place close to my heart. The trail was completed in 1937 but fell into disrepair due to World War II and the lack of people willing to maintain the trail. Shaffer's first thru-hike revived enough interest in the trail to have it reopened in 1951. In 1968 the trail became the first National Scenic Trail and a part of the National Park System. Today the trail is hiked by over three million people annually.
Shaffer had trouble adjusting to everyday life after returning from World War II, so he began walking and found his way to the Appalachian Trail. In 1948 he completed the trail in four months. He hiked the trail a second time in 1965, beginning in the south and walking north in 99 days. As if twice weren't enough, Shaffer hiked the trail a third time in 1998 at the age of 79. Shaffer's love of the trail is reflected in a book of poems he wrote after his first thru-hike and in the hundreds of photos he took during his 1965 hike. The book and camera were donated to the museum's collections, along with clothing and equipment Shaffer used during each of his hikes. Some have been displayed in an exhibit celebrating his love of the trail.
When you think of skateboarding, your mind doesn't naturally go to "let's skateboard across the country," unless your name is Jack Smith. In 1976, wondering what to do over summer break, Smith and two friends, Jeff French and Mike Filben, had the idea to skateboard across the country. That would be a tough thing to do today, but the skate technology of 1976 made it an even bigger challenge. At least urethane wheels had just been introduced to the mass market in 1972 by Frank Nasworthy, replacing the steel and clay wheels that were the standard in the 1960s and early 1970s. The urethane wheels made for a smoother ride with easier turning, which ultimately gave way to the skateboarding boom of the late 1970s. Smith and company took that new innovation and rolled with it—32 days later they had skated from California to New York.
Smith and his friends used the leapfrog method to get themselves across America safely. The three skaters would start the day in different positions. Smith would start skating while the other two skaters would drive two miles ahead; the next skater would get out and wait for Smith to meet up with him, Smith would then get in the van, and then the second skater would begin to skate. The van would drive another two miles ahead and the third skater would get out to wait for the second skater to meet up. The skaters repeated this pattern until the day was through. Each skater would travel between 20 and 40 miles a day, totaling approximately 650 miles for each skater over the entire trip.
Smith made the trip across the country three more times: in 1984, in 2003, and again in 2013. Unlike the first trip, the other three trips were "pushed" for a cause. In 1984 Smith and three friends—Paul Dunn, Bob Denike, and Gary Fluitt—pushed for multiple sclerosis and made it in 26 days, breaking the transcontinental skateboard crossing record he set in 1976 by six days. In 2003 Smith's son Jack Marshall Smith died from complications due to Lowe Syndrome, a condition that affects the eyes, brain, and kidneys. Again Smith took to his board and along with three friends—Nick Krest, Scott Kam, and Josh Maready—and pushed across America to raise awareness for Lowe Syndrome, setting another new world record of 21 days.
Smith's final push came in 2013 as a tribute to his father, Jack Smith Sr., who passed away in 2012 from Alzheimer's. The five-person team, ranging in age from 20 to 56, left Newport, Oregon, and skated to New York City in 23 days to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. After this push Smith, his wife, and son Dylan came to the museum and donated the skateboard used in Smith's first push across America and the skateboard he and Dylan used in 2013. They also donated safety equipment and the shoes used during the trip—which showed wear only on one foot, where Smith literally "pushed" his way across America.
Dorothy's journey is a metaphor for all of us. These objects show us what people can accomplish and how far they can go when they put their minds to it. The objects in the collections donated by Earl Shaffer and Jack Smith represent their personal growth—one trying to deal with life after combat and finding peace on one of the longest hiking trails in America, and the other seeking a grand adventure with friends and finding his purpose in public service by raising awareness for devastating diseases that personally touched his life. Whether it is Dorothy finding her way on the yellow brick road or everyday people using sports to find their way through life, the Smithsonian is the place that brings all these collections together to share a unique and diverse American experience.
Jane Rogers is curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts.