What It Means to Be American
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Ideas

A Short History of the Idea of ‘Main Street’ in America

From Nathaniel Hawthorne to Disneyland, the Concept Has Represented Both the Experimental and the Conventional

Disneyland exported its own Main Street USA to its Hong Kong theme park. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By Miles Orvell
October 16, 2017

In the United States, Main Street has always been two things—a place and an idea. As both, Main Street has embodied the contradictions of the country itself.

It is the self-consciousness of the idea of Main Street—from its origins in a Nathaniel Hawthorne sketch of New England, to Walt Disney’s construction of a Main Street USA, to the establishment of ersatz Main Streets in today’s urban malls—that makes it so essentially American. Main Street has been used in myriad …

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Identities

For Generations of Chicagoans, Marshall Field’s Meant Business—and Christmas

The Midwestern Mainstay Transformed Commerce Into a Communal Holiday Spectacle

** ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, DEC. 12 ** Jim Roetheli, one Marshall Field's Santas, takes an escalator up through one of the stores atriums level Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005, in downtown Chicago.  For many Field's is synonymous with Christmas in Chicago and this will be the last season to celebrate it under the venerable department store's name. By next season the store will be renamed Macy's, which is decidely New York. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Leslie Goddard
December 20, 2016

Christmas has not been celebrated at Chicago’s Marshall Field’s department stores since 2005, but mention the name to just about any Windy City native, and it will plunge them back into the childhood wonder of the flagship downtown shopping emporium during the holiday season. Gazing up at the towering evergreen of the Walnut Room, glittering ornaments weighing on its boughs. Winding through lines for Cozy Cloud Cottage, waiting for a moment with Santa. Marveling at the elaborate holiday windows along …

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