Also: Visit a historic market in Washington, D.C., that reopened after a fire. And a question from Nigeria about soul singer Wilson Pickett.
Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Faith Lapidus. This week on our program, we dive into the popularity of SpongeBob SquarePants.
We also answer a question about soul singer Wilson Pickett.
And here in Washington, we visit the city's oldest public market, which has been rebuilt after a fire.
SpongeBob Turns 10
Ten years ago, the bright yellow, imaginary sea creature named SpongeBob SquarePants appeared on television for the first time. SpongeBob won the hearts of children all over America during the first year of the cartoon series on the Nicklelodeon cable television network. Today, the happy-go-lucky sponge has fans in almost every country on the planet. Steve Ember tells about this popular show.
The creator of "SpongeBob SquarePants," Stephen Hillenburg, says he did not expect the series to last longer than one season, much less ten years.
Hillenburg began his career as an ocean scientist. He began to draw a cartoon about sea creatures as a way to teach students about underwater life. Later, he studied animation drawing at California Institute of the Arts.
Hillenburg took the cartoon idea to officials at the Nickelodeon film and television company. The first show in the "SpongeBob SquarePants" series was broadcast in 1999.
There is little science left in Stephen Hillenburg's cartoon. SpongeBob lives in a pineapple in the town of Bikini Bottom. His best friend Patrick is a loyal but stupid starfish. Another friend is a squirrel from Texas named Sandy Cheeks. She lives in a glass house, complete with a tree for climbing and growing nuts. When Sandy leaves her house, she wears an astronaut's suit so she can breathe underwater. Bikini Bottom is a crazy, magical world.
Stephen Hillenburg thinks SpongeBob's personality is what made the show so popular. The sponge is honest, child-like, sweet and funny. His love for his work is one of the show's great humor devices.
SpongeBob is a cook at a fast food restaurant. He feels it is an honor to cook Krabby Patties, the restaurant's famous sandwiches.
On one episode, SpongeBob finds one patty so appealing, he will not let anyone eat it.
SPONGEBOB: "In all my years of fry cookery, I have never seen such a lovely group of patties. Especially...you. Such perfection! From your little lettuce hair, to your rosy ketchup cheeks, right down to your mustard smile! May I call you, Patty?"
He names it Patty and treats it like a girlfriend. He takes Patty everywhere until the sandwich starts to smell and his friends protest.
SpongeBob's employer, Mr. Krabs, is a crab who cannot part with money. The evil Plankton is Mr. Krabs' tiny one-eyed enemy. He owns a competing restaurant and is forever plotting to steal the Krabby Patty secret recipe.
These unusual sea creatures have helped make "SpongeBob SquarePants" the highest rated show on Nickelodeon. It is broadcast in 170 countries in 25 languages. SpongeBob products have earned about eight billion dollars.
The show has some famous viewers, like musician David Bowie and basketball star LeBron James. But "SpongeBob SquarePants" also has a famous and powerful fan. President Obama says he watches the show with his girls, Malia and Sasha.
Eastern Market in Washington, D.C., is the oldest continually operated fresh food public market in the nation's capital. Its long history almost came to an end two years ago when a major fire burned its South Hall building. Shirley Griffith reports on the newly rebuilt market.
Eastern Market was a beautiful, modern building when it was completed in 1873. It had a high, sharply angled ceiling and many windows lining the walls of its one long, narrow room. These features permitted as much air flow and natural light as possible.
The building was called South Hall. Meat, fish, baked goods and fresh flowers were sold inside. Farmers sold fruits and vegetables outside under a permanent roof. The public market quickly became popular and welcomed shoppers for more than 130 years. Then on April 30th, 2007, a huge fire of unknown cause almost completely destroyed South Hall. Many sellers and buyers wondered if this would end the historic market.
Thomas Calomiris owns Thomas Calomiris and Sons in South Hall. The Greek food business has been in his family for more than 60 years. He remembers getting news of the fire.
THOMAS CALOMIRIS: "Well, our first thought was where we're gonna' work. How we're gonna' get a job. So either, we would have to move, open somewhere else. That's what we were thinking. We thought that that would be it."
But the day after the fire, the mayor of the District of Columbia, Adrian Fenty, took action. He promised to restore South Hall to "its architectural and historical splendor."
The 14 South Hall business owners moved to a temporary shelter across the street. The farmers market also continued operations.
Two years later, on June 26th, the new Eastern Market re-opened. Natural light floods in from above where skylights were added along the roofline. An air conditioning system now keeps the Hall cool. And in the winter a heating system will make it warm. There is also a new moveable stage and theater lighting for performances.
The Eastern Market project cost about 22 million dollars. Tom Calomiris thinks it was worth it. Business is good he says.
THOMAS CALOMIRIS: "Hey, it's been very good. We're very pleased. So, you know, we're very happy with the work they did. You know, it's a lot nicer and cleaner."
That was "Land of 1000 Dances," one of many successful songs from soul singer Wilson Pickett. Our listener Johnson Okwu Kamalu of Nigeria wants to know more about one of his favorite artists.
Wilson Pickett recorded more than 50 hit songs during his career. His heartfelt, powerful, soulful singing helped establish him as one of the greatest rhythm and blues performers of all time.
Wilson Pickett was born in 1941 in Prattville, Alabama. Like many rhythm and blues artists of the day, he began his musical career singing in church choirs. Later he sang in musical groups before launching his solo career.
By 1965 Wilson Pickett had joined forces with music producer Jerry Wexler. "In the Midnight Hour" became his first number one song. It remains one of his most popular songs.
Wilson Pickett joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. He received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1993. And in 1999 he was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
But the successful singer's personal life was as dark as his professional career was bright. He had a painful childhood at the hands of his mother. As an adult he was arrested for several crimes, including carrying a loaded gun and several drug charges. In 1993, he spent one year in jail on a drunk driving charge.
Wilson Pickett stopped performing in 2004 because of health problems. He died at the age of 64 in 2006. We leave you with his final number one song. From 1971, here is "Don't Knock My Love."
I'm Faith Lapidus. I hope you enjoyed our program.
It was written by June Simms and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer.
Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.