Traveling through Norfolk, Nebraska, couple of months ago, we stopped at a number of historic locations and shrines related to the legend of Johnny Carson, who grew up in town.

I grew up with Carson, only vaguely remembering Jack Parr, his predecessor on The Tonight Show. Seems like my family used to watch Carson almost every night in the late-60s, and by the time short-fingered vulgarian Jay Leno replaced him, The Tonight Show seemed almost a relic, a throwback to an earlier time when there were only a few channels, and you watched whatever the networks gave you.

I believe it’s fair to say that Carson is a legend, a near mythic creature who gave his community an identity and an enduring sense of pride. Much as Frank Lloyd Wright or Ernest Hemingway are to Oak Park, Carson is to Norfolk.

At the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norwalk, there are a number of Carson artifacts, which you can see in the slide show above. It was at the Elkhorn Valley Museum that I picked up mug that was, I was told, actually used by Carson on The Tonight Show (apparently they circulated a number of cups past him every night, which he used and which were then donated and put up for sale). I have no papers to prove that connection, but I want to believe that the cup I use for morning coffee was, indeed, the same cup that Johnny may have used when he interviewed Phyllis Diller, Gore Vidal, Jimmy Stewart and Joan Rivers.




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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...