Bernard Eisenberg, Dr. Stanley Ries and Dr. C. E. Peterson may not appear to be household words, but they are famous. Really famous. They are all in a hall of fame. The Pickle Packers Hall of Fame.
"For our people, it's the higest award there is, a great honor," says R. W. Moore, executive vice president of Pickle Packers Internationalof St. Charles, III. "How does someone get in? Just lucky, I guess."
Out in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., Jennie Lee, known professionally as "The Bazoom Girl" and moving spirit behind The Exotic Dancers Halls of Fame, is talking pretty much the same way:
Any way up north, in one of the two buildings still standing in the lonesome hamlet of Knik, Alaska, sit the Dog Mushers Hall of Fame, the only establishment of its kind in the entire state.
"It's unbelievable what dog mushers did in those days," marvels Dorothy Page, who runs the hall, casually mentioning the feats of enshrinees like Leonard Seppela, here of the 1925 diptheria serum run, and Clyde C. (Slim) Williams, who drove his team all the way from Copper Center, Alaska, to Washington, D.C.
And just to show that the hall doesn't play favorites, Williams' lead dog, Rembrandt, has his pawprint enshrined in the canine section, along with such greats as the feisty Togo and that dog among dogs, Baldy of Nome.
Halls of fame are all around us now, approximately 750 in number with a new one opening every month. Halls of fame for heroes, like the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, featuring Capt. Jack Hayes, the fierce Indian fighter who was prone to leave the surroundings "littered with the victims of his fearless spirit." Halls of fame for bowlers: at last look 26 of these were counted. Even halls of fame for animals, like the projected American Humane Assn. Animals Aactors Hall of Fame, housing Lassie, Benji, Scruffy, the dog who tap danced his way into your heart in "Dogpound Shuffle," and maybe even Fred, the cockatoo from "Baretta."
"It's literally incredible that such a thing could be growing all over the country and very few people be aware of it." says Paul Soderberg, developmental editor at Jaques Cattell Press in Tempe, Arez. As coeditor of a projected four-volume "Big Book of Halls of Fame," which will list everybody in everything from the four-man County Dracula Soceity Horror Hall of Fame (Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney Sr., Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi) to the 1,500-member Citizens Savings Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame, Soderberg is more aware than most.
Halls of fame, he points out, are practically unheard of outside the United States and Canada, with only three known to exist elsewhere: the Saint's Hall of fame in the Vatican, the Romanian hall of fame, a tourist attraction built to inveigle Americans, and the New Universal Union Hall of fame in Teheran, Iran whose representative in America apparently speaks no English.
It was, however, the institutions of Europe, places like London's Westminster Cathederal and the Pantheon in Paris, that inspired Henry Mitchell MacCracken, chancellor of New York University, to found in 1901 this country's first hall, the Hall of Fame for Great American. He got Jay Gould's daughter to donate the money, architect Stanford White to design a spiffy, 130-foot open air colonnade, and 75 years later all 102 slots are taken or spoken for, though some occupants, like Mathew Maury, a naval officer who took Lafayette home, seem less famous than others.
The museum halls of fame, of which great Americans is the prime example, form only a wee portion of the sum total. Other categories, as enumerated by authority Soderberg, include association types, like the pickel-packers, usually set up in a company office, award types, like the Playboy Music hall of Fame, which Exist only on paper, and the shrine type, which never adds members, like the Senate Hall of Fame, five niches in the Senate Reception Room filled with portraits of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Robert Taft Sr., John C. Calhoun and Robert La Folette Sr. Some go-it-along halls don't fit into any category at all, like the proposed International Sports Hall of Fame here in Washington, which will induct not people but entire sports into its pantheon.
To Dr. Amitai Etzioni, professor of sociology at Columbia University, all these halls of fame are symptomatic of only one thing: "a frantic, desperate attempt to certify value."
"In a society in which everything is being washed out, in which we're really coming apart, from the church to the unions to the Democratic Party, people no longer have reliable, concrete criteria of value," he explains. "This is part of a desperate effort to find fixed points of reference. It's not damaging - if you give an aspirin to hysterical person you can't exactly call it damaging - but it is a pseudo solution to a very real problem."
Paul Soderberg agrees that the fame phenomenon springs from "people feeling alienated and all that," but he feels that "looking for people who were great people, not completely selfish and money-oriented," is a positive thing.
"When you read in the newspaper about 23 murders yesterday," he explains, "it gives you faith in human nature to look at people like Babe Ruth who were great and nothing can change it."
There is, however, one genuine casualty of the new torrent of halls of fame, almost all of which are supported by one special interest group or another. The venerable original Hall of Fame for Great Americans, with only history to back it up, is threatened with imminent extinction for lack of funds.
"This was supposed to be one central place where people with great achievement, distinguished lives, could be honored," says a saddened Leonore Cooney, assistant to the executive director. "With proliferation, the idea has been debased to some extent. It became pretty commercial and created problems with fund-raising.At a time when a new hall of fame opens every other day, the original might be going under."
So pass the glories of the world.