When America's Celebrity Culture Began

In a piece at Slate, Matthew Pearl asks, “Did Charles Dickens’ 1867 trip to America inspire the first stirrings of modern celebrity culture?”

As with all questions posed in magazine article subheads, the answer is no, as evidenced by an article I wrote awhile back:

In French Founding Father: Lafayette’s Return to Washington’s America, which runs until August 10, patrons are told of the story of the young French nobleman so entranced by the American Revolution that he defied his king, sailed overseas and fought beside George Washington. Rabinowitz cares little whether you remember that Lafayette returned to France in 1779, or the particulars of his life for the next 45 years, or that upon finally returning to the United States in 1824 he visited all of the then 24 states.

He does care, however, that you grasp the significance of Lafayette’s return, the war hero’s welcome that he received, the awe Americans felt in the physical presence of a hero, and the way his visit shaped our expressions of patriotism to this day. Hence the delight Rabinowitz felt, while researching the exhibit, when he unearthed old Portland newspapers published prior to the Frenchman’s stop in Maine. A prominent advertisement promised a huge exhibition of bears to honor him.

“I’m trying to impress upon people that something special happens when Lafayette comes to town, so we’re not going to emphasize that they cheer him, or bring out the war veterans, or wear little Lafayette cockades on their hats,” Rabinowitz says. “We’re going to show people that they bring all the bears out! Isn’t that perfect? You’re never going to forget that.”

Did anyone ever round up all the bears for Charles Dickens?