This post is by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress.
Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting the keynote address at the 35th History and Social Science Teachers’ Conference at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Il. On my way there, after flying into Indianapolis, I was driving west on I-70, and saw a sign promoting the World’s Largest Wind Chimes in the community of Casey, IL. Had it not been getting dark and starting to rain, I would have stopped to see them. I enjoy such attractions and appreciate the way communities differentiate themselves with them.
Because the Library of Congress is The Largest Library in the World, just for fun, I did a search on “world’s largest” on loc.gov and was tickled to find a photograph of the World’s Largest Bike, in Sparta, Wisconsin, a WPA poster for Buckingham Fountain on Chicago’s lake front, described as the “world’s largest and most beautiful illuminated fountain,” a photograph of Vulcan, the world’s largest cast iron statue in Birmingham, Alabama, and many others.
If you are looking for a primary source analysis activity that presents many possibilities for speculation, and may inspire research projects related to local history, you might use these images or others from the collection! Share them with students and lead a class discussion with questions such as: What do these items have in common? Why do you think individuals or communities chose to promote them? Are you aware of other, similar attractions? Do such attractions always feature over-sized items? If not, what other superlatives capture attention and imagination?
The Library’s primary source analysis tool includes prompts specifically for photographs and prints that can help your students look for details and refine their questions about these larger-than-life constructions.
We’d love to hear about more of these! If you live in a community that boasts of being home to the “largest,” “greatest,” “most,” or other superlative attraction, please tell us about it! And we’d love to hear how and when the attraction came to be!