The docu-savvy savants have done it once again. PBS premieres its latest series, Iconic America: Our Symbols and Stories with David Rubenstein, on Wednesday, April 26. The eight-episode series delves into the complex history and cultural significance of some of the nation's most iconic symbols – from the oft-idolized all-American Cowboy to Boston's beloved Fenway Park. Now you can visit the locations featured in the new PBS series, Iconic America.
David M. Rubenstein Hosts Iconic America
David M. Rubenstein, co-founder of global investment firm, The Carlyle Group, serves as the host and executive producer of the series. The PBS program brings together his interest in history and patriotic-centric philanthropy. Leading up to this, Rubenstein lent his passion and financial acumen to projects such as the Thomas Jefferson Foundation's restoration of Thomas Jefferson's home and plantation at Monticello in Virginia.
“David brings his unique mix of wry humor, relentless curiosity, and deep engagement with history to this exploration of how we interpret our iconic American symbols throughout the country,” remarks PBS station WETA President and Chief Executive Officer Sharon Percy Rockefeller. “This series offers viewers a new perspective on how we tell ─ and retell ─ our American story.”
American History Is Complex and Rife With Opportunity
If history has taught us anything, democracy must be maintained through the ebb and flow of cultural change – and that's messy and imperfect, at best. Using Monticello as an example, it's easy to see that many historic locations are imbued with a complex duality.
Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” yet he enslaved over 600 people at his sprawling Monticello plantation. Ensuring the property's restoration allows future generations to walk its grounds, explore Jefferson's extraordinary contributions to our country – and, at the same time – engage in meaningful discussions around his ties to slavery in America. And it's this physical exploration of American history that is at the heart of the PBS Series Iconic America.
The PBS Series Offers a Similar Connection to The Past
Each of the eight episodes is devoted to an immersive, deep dive into one of America's enduring national symbols, including antiquities, archetypes, and beloved locations throughout the country. Rubenstein guides viewers through the icons' history, how it has changed, and, most importantly, when and why such changes came about.
A journey such as this is a bit like “Pandora's Box,” the gore and glory of the nation's history untethered and on full display. Rubenstein, however, makes room for the good, the bad, and the glorious as he shares with viewers the complex meaning that we, as a society, have assigned to these icons over decades or more of celebration, strife, and cultural change.
Five of The Icons Are Places You Can Visit
Among the eight episodes, viewers will have the opportunity to learn about the rich history surrounding the Gadsden Flag, the all-American Cowboy, and the nation's most beloved bird, the American Bald Eagle. The remaining five episodes, however, focus on physical locations that – over time – have come to be American icons. These include the country's first baseball park, a Tinsel Town landmark, a beacon of hope, a divisive symbol of the Confederate Army, and an astonishing wonder of engineering and ingenuity.
The PBS Series Premiere Features Boston's Fenway Park
Iconic America: Our Symbols and Stories with David Rubenstein released its first episode on Wednesday, April 26. The series opener dives right into America's favorite pastime – baseball – with the story of Boston's storied Fenway Park. The baseball field has earned its spot in history by being the oldest park in Major League Baseball, but it has also been steeped in superstition, racial controversy, and its emotional ties to the 2013 Boston Bombing.
Whether folks visit Fenway Park for a behind-the-scenes tour or a game, Boston is the top tourist destination. Tours operate year-round, but hours depend on the team's home game schedule. Fenway Park Tour Tickets are $25 for adults and $17 for children (under 17 years old).
Explore The History of The Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles
What once was intended to be a real estate advertisement, the Hollywood Sign is a cultural icon that embodies all things Tinsel Town. Nestled along the side of Mount Lee within the Santa Monica Mountains, the sign is known across the globe. Rubenstein and his guests discuss how the sign became an international symbol of luxury and embodies the idea of reaching for the stars.
Visitors can hike up to the Hollywood sign, free of charge, by way of three different trails – ranging from three to six miles. Or – for less than a dollar – tourists can hop on the local DASH Observatory Bus.
Learn About The Statue of Liberty's History
America has long-symbolized freedom – for its citizens and those seeking refuge. This episode uses the iconic symbol as a jumping-off point for exploring its ties to abolition, the plight of immigrants, and women's suffrage. How does Lady Liberty embody the nation's values, and how has that changed throughout these many years?
The Statue of Liberty is under the care of the National Parks Service, and – since it's on an island – guests need to purchase ferry tickets in advance. Multiple tour packages are available, but only Statue City Cruises offers access to the Statue of Liberty's crown.
Georgia's Stone Mountain and The Debate Over Confederate Statues
A good documentary will always prioritize the inclusion of objective information as well as opposing opinions. This late-July episode brings into focus the current national debate surrounding statues that pay homage to Confederate leaders, and Rubenstein focuses on the Confederate carving at Stone Mountain in Georgia.
Its creation began in the 1910s, and it features the then-president of the Confederate states (Jefferson Davis) and the well-known Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. As part of the episode's exploration, guests (and the audience) are forced to reckon with the idea that this monument was completed as recently as 1972.
The monument is visible from many of Stone Mountain Park's recreational activities and hiking trails. However, regardless of where you stand on the monument's fate, the episode may inspire you to visit to see the sheer magnitude of the carving. If so, the hiking trails are free – aside from the parking fee.
The Golden Gate Bridge — Extraordinary American Determination
One little knowledge nugget tied to this episode is that it took just over four years to construct San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. It begs the question; How long would it take to replicate that effort today? This episode asks similar, probing questions about whether the United States can continue its momentum of grand feats of engineering.
Of course, you can drive over the famous bridge, but those interested in its history should consider one of the free walking tours.
Iconic America: Our Symbols and Stories With David Rubenstein
This latest PBS series is a production of Emmy-Award-winning production company Show of Force, in conjunction with DMR Productions and WETA Washington, D.C. Under host David M. Rubenstein's guidance, viewers will inevitably journey through a range of emotions, all while exploring the intersection of past, present, and future as they intersect within some of the nation's most iconic symbols.
“I've long been struck by the strength of American symbols while saddened by how little we know about them,” said Rubenstein. “Our goal with this series was to explore the history and meaning of these iconic symbols and to better understand the bigger issues and societal currents they reveal. I am grateful to WETA for its confidence in and support of this project and to Show of Force for helping to create a remarkable series.”
The eight episodes will be released to more than 330 PBS member stations from April 26 through August 2. Check the PBS local listings for regional show times.