Our 2018 Road Trip, Part 44: 57 Varieties, Not All of Them Created Equal


Ketchup: the most controversial hot dog topping in America. It’s torn apart families and friendships, and earned a stink-eye at so many New York City tourists.

We both like food. Anne likes history. Before we headed home, it made sense to make time for a little food history.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.

We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…

After a morning of mini-donuts in Monroeville, we made our third expedition into the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. Our primary destination was the headquarters legally known as the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, which has been an institution since 1879. When they moved into their current digs in 1996, they were cosmetically rechristened the Senator John Heinz History Center. Their namesake Henry John Heinz III was a local politician whose father was heir to the vast Heinz food empire. U.S. Senator Heinz died in a tragic 1991 collision between a helicopter and a small plane carrying him and six other passengers, two of them children.

(Nearly irrelevant trivia that demonstrates the unexpected interconnectedness of any and all random things: Heinz’ widow Teresa later remarried in 1996 to an almost-President named John Kerry. They remain married today, 22 years and counting.)

With a full six stories’ worth of exhibit space (plus a seventh for administration), the Heinz History Center is touted as the largest history museum in all of Pennsylvania. From a purely content standpoint, this sounds about right. The facilities we’ve seen in Philadelphia contained hundreds of thousands of square footage, but a tremendous amount of those comprised walking space and distant, vaulted ceilings. Two of those six levels are the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, which had nothing to do with us and were an automatic skip. We skipped another half-floor that appeared to be typical General U.S. History, which is a fine subject that tends to look alike from one history museum to the next, and our visiting time was somewhat finite.

Half of the first floor was closed off to prepare for a forthcoming exhibit on Apollo 11, scheduled to open two months after our visit. I’m sorry we missed it, because perhaps it would’ve helped us appreciate Damien Chazelle’s First Man more than we did. (More about that in a future, severely procrastinated entry.)

Despite all that skipping, we had plenty of history to check out. We arrived fifteen minutes before they opened, but were cheerfully allowed to wait in the main lobby until we could run wild around the place like Martin Prince at the box factory.

Our logical starting point was the grand salute to the H. J. Heinz Company. You might recognize them from such grocery products as their famous ketchup, their steak sauce that doesn’t hold a candle to A1, their baked beans, Bagel Bites, Classico spaghetti sauce, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, Ore-Ida frozen-potato side dishes, Wyler’s knockoff Kool-Aid, and more, more, more.

heinz and factory!

The original Henry John Heinz, American son of Bavarian immigrants, who founded the company in 1869.

green giant 57!

WELL ACTUALLY Heinz was producing over 60 different products when this number was arbitrarily chosen for their immortal “Heinz 57 Varieties” marketing campaign. They’ve never tinkered with it since.

To Do A Common Thing Uncommonly Well Brings Success!

A two-pronged tribute to fresh ingredients and aphorisms that make for super awesome inspirational blogging quote-fodder.

charlie tuna!

Special guest Charlie the Tuna, whose masters at StarKist have been incorporated in Pittsburgh since 1917. They’re now owned by a South Korean company who would prefer you not go look up their past two years’ legal troubles.

ketchup mascot!

Forgotten 1939 mascot Mr. Aristocrat (I am not making this up) once shilled for tomato juice, soup, and ketchup. Here he does his best Slim Pickens impression, which leaves me curious as to which country is about to be ketchup-bombed.

Though we’ve used a few Heinz products in our times, mostly we found ourselves fascinated by the selection of Heinz foodstuffs aimed for other countries and palates. I have no idea if any of the following were rousing successes, household staples, major fads, momentary aberrations, or deadly misfires later outlawed by overseas authorities.

baked beans pizza!

Baked Beans Pizza, aimed squarely at the U.K. in retaliation for taxation without representation.

Wattie's Bean There!

Wattie’s Bean There, whose mascot’s grandson Plankton would later become a bitter foe of Spongebob Squarepants, and Smoked Fish Pie, which sounds like something elderly rural Minnesotans would love.

glucon-d and chutney!

Shoppers in India might know Heinz from their line of bottled chutneys, or from Glucon-D, which is…possibly an edible substance? Or a motor oil substitute?

spiced girkins!

Heinz Spiced Girkins [sic], for ye olde pickle aficionados out there.

euchred figs!

Heinz Euchred Figs, which may or may not mean “pickled” and has nothing to do with cards or hopefully eating.

tomato helix!

…but mostly we know them by the trail of ketchup, fully fused inside the DNA of many an American and integral to millions of holiday cookouts.

Full disclosure: we weren’t here for the food. In the summer of 2018 the museum held a special exhibit honoring another beloved Pittsburgh institution, way more significant than that dopey Mr. Aristocrat.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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