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'American Stories' from Ben Franklin to Kermit the Frog

By Larry Lazo, CNN
updated 4:45 PM EDT, Thu April 12, 2012
The "American Stories" exhibit includes one of several pairs of the sequined size-five shoes worn by 16-year-old Judy Garland as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." The "American Stories" exhibit includes one of several pairs of the sequined size-five shoes worn by 16-year-old Judy Garland as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."
HIDE CAPTION
Dorothy's Ruby Slippers, 1938
Abraham Lincoln's pocket watch, 1850s
Irving Berlin's uniform, 1943
Kermit the Frog, 1970
Joseph Ellicott's tall case clock, 1769
Fragment of Plymouth Rock, 1620
Samuel Williams' telescope, 1768-69
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new Smithsonian exhibit features American stories, large and small
  • The exhibit at the Museum of American History opened Thursday
  • Kermit the Frog, Ben Franklin and more tell the tale of America

Washington (CNN) -- Reinforcing identity and learning more about who we are: That's the theme of "American Stories," a new exhibit now open at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington.

"There are so many stories in American history," says museum curator Bonnie Lilienfeld. "We tell big stories here about the foundation of this country. But we also tell individual stories."

From large swaths of America's past to the tales of everyday Americans, the exhibit features more than 100 objects tracing history from the 1620 arrival of the pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to the 2008 presidential election.

A slave ship manifest is one new Smithsonian acquisition that will be on display.

'American Stories' opens in D.C.

"The public hasn't even seen this yet," says Lilienfeld. "We all have a sense of the fact that slaves worked in fields and as domestic workers," but Lilienfeld adds that there are items on display that show that people forced into slavery were also painters, sculptors and poets.

Another item that dates back to America's beginnings is a suit once worn by founding father Benjamin Franklin. "It's from the 18th century ... the fabric is very fragile," says Lilenfeld.

Technology in our society is ever-changing. The people behind the exhibit are well aware of that, but they say it's important to note how that foundation was first laid down. A section of the first transatlantic telegraph cable is a testament to some of those early innovations.

"Innovation is a big theme in this exhibit," said Lilienfeld. "One of the things we thought was really interesting was to talk about objects that everybody knows."

Evidence of that comes in the form of the first iPod ever to hit the market as well as an old Apple II computer.

Entertainment also takes the spotlight. The red ruby slippers Dorothy wore as she skipped down the yellow brick road in "The Wizard of Oz" are on display.

And the sports portion wouldn't be complete without something from "The Greatest."

"Muhammad Ali's gloves are here," said Lilienfeld. "We all know Muhammad Ali ... float like a butterfly and sting like a bee."

You will even find Kermit the Frog seated and smiling.

Museum officials realize that many visitors may be drawn to cultural touchstones like Dorothy's red ruby slippers or Ali's boxing gloves, but the hope is that visitors will also take time to learn or relearn more about America's early days.

"I think one of the main things we want visitors to walk away with is that they're part of American history," says Lilienfeld.

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