[disinfo ed.'s note: The following is the prologue to Area 51 - Black Jets: A History of the Aircraft Developed at Groom Lake, America's Secret Aviation Base by Bill Yenne.]
In the cartography of our lives, our dreams, and our popular culture, certain landmarks are embodied with great meaning that transcends their identity as mere places. We travel to certain ones to see things of great cultural or historical importance. Whether we are fond of Michelangelo or Picasso, or of Winslow Homer or Warhol, we go to great museums to view and marvel at celebrated works of art. We go to the Smithsonian to see the tangible artifacts of American history, from the Star Spangled Banner to the Spirit of St. Louis.
Meanwhile, we visit other iconic places, such as Waikiki or Las Vegas or any numbers of Disney Worlds or Lands or their analogues with other themes, for specific genres of “fun.”
And finally, there are places we visit not for specific artifacts or specific amusements but for the intangible reason that we just want to be there or, arguably more importantly, to say that we have been there.
We go to such places to breathe a certain rarified air.
We go to such places—Times Square or the corner of Haight and Ashbury—not so much to see and touch specific things, but to stand there and sense an ethereal yet palpable energy or to soak up the vibe.
This genre of venues possesses an importance that is greater than the sum of its parts. Merely the mention of one word, such as “Sturgis” or “Graceland,” speaks volumes to those who venerate these places for what they represent. Of course, none of these places is for everyone, and that is what makes each of them so important and so special to those for whom they do resonate. For such people, even those who have never been to these places that are the nexus of their fascination, the mere mention of the name is like a mantra that is a key to unlock an emotion…