I’ll display Elmo one final time, just like in Counterintuitive Saints, even though this article will have absolutely nothing to do with Sesame Street. Why? Because that’s what 12MC wants to do at the moment. How often does one get to feature Elmo?
Elmo, not St. Elmo
Own photo, taken at 2013 White House Easter Egg Roll
I should probably recap some other salient points from the earlier article while I’m at it. First, St. Elmo (St. Erasmus) was the patron saint of sailors and abdominal pain. However a different St. Elmo — a fictional title character for a wildly popular romance novel written by Augusta Jane Evans in 1866 — happened to inspire multiple places and geographic labels in the United States during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. I’m sure enthusiast of Victorian-era literature could draw uncountable comparisons and inferences between the book and its title character, the fictional St. Elmo Murray, and the historical saint of mariners and intestinal distress. I’ll ignore that entire perspective and stick with geography.
Seriously though, many different sources listed St. Elmo as one of the best selling U.S. novels of the Nineteenth Century, contending for popularity with Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur. My education must have been horribly deficient because I’d never heard of the book until last weekend. I wondered if my situation was a spectacular case of ignorance and forgetfulness, or if St. Elmo simply fell so far out of favor over the last century as to become completely obscure. It’s disconcerting.
Anyway, let’s go examine some objects named for the book.
St. Elmo Estate
St. Elmo Estate, Columbus, Georgia, USA
Evans finished writing St. Elmo at the home of her aunt, Mary Howard Jones, in Columbus, Georgia. Mary was the widow of Seaborn Jones, a former U.S. Congressman, who had passed away a few years earlier. Seaborn Jones commissioned this estate in 1833 and named it El Dorado.
Researchers familiar with St. Elmo and its author believed that its fictional estate, La Bocage, was based largely upon the Seaborn Jones property. A subsequent owner even changed the name from El Dorado to St. Elmo as a tribute.
While it must have been a grand estate during its heyday and while the vintage home remains quite impressive, the surrounding acreage succumbed to typical suburb. The only notice of the estate’s exalted place in American literature is an historical marker in front of the property and nearby St. Elmo Drive (map).
That was just one example, and a fairly logical one. Augusta Evans Wilson, 1835-1909: A Biography, By William Perry Fidler (1951) noted a near-frenzy of more unusual designations.
Readers can explore the various St. Elmo towns on their own using GNIS. I’ll focus on some other possibilities.
St. Elmo Historic District
St. Elmo Historic District, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
Chattanooga, Tennessee included a St. Elmo Historic District named for the book, "nestled in the valley of Lookout Mountain below the curling stretch of the Tennessee River known as Moccasin Bend." A page maintained by the District claimed that "Evans had spent several summers on Lookout Mountain and found the view similar to that of St. Elmo Castle in Naples, Italy." She apparently did visit Lookout Mountain at least once during the Civil War although I never could corroborate "several summers" or the Castle claim.
St. Elmo Cigar Company
Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California, USA
This location was much more difficult to finger. First I had to find the St. Elmo Cigar Company, which probably disappeared about a hundred years ago, and then follow it back to its exact location. Eventually I stumbled upon the Los Angeles Herald, 3 September 1905 courtesy of the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
St. Elmo Hotel
St. Elmo Hotel, Ouray, Colorado, USA
I found numerous historical references to multiple hotels named for St. Elmo in the decades immediately following publication. The only example that still seemed to be standing with its original name was the St. Elmo Hotel in Ouray, Colorado. As its website mentioned,
This hotel would have been built, named and operated during the correct era. However I couldn’t find that one final piece of evidence to tie the name to the novel. Even so it probably remained the leading candidate for that possibility.
I really wish I could have found a recipe for St. Elmo punch, too.
I stumbled upon the history of St. George, the city in Utah. I was surprised to learn that its name had nothing to do with the Saint George I assumed it referenced. By using the title "counterintuitive saints" I meant counterintuitive to me. I realize some of these examples might sound completely natural to others in the 12MC community arriving from different perspectives.
St. George, Utah, USA
The story of Saint George, the one more familiar to me, was attributed to a Roman soldier during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. This marked a period of particularly intense and brutal persecution of Christians. By tradition, Saint George professed his faith to Diocletian, whereupon the emperor ordered his death. As Catholic Online noted: "Pictures of St. George usually show him killing a dragon to rescue a beautiful lady. The dragon stands for wickedness. The lady stands for God’s holy truth. St. George was a brave martyr who was victorious over the devil."
His veneration spread throughout much of medieval Europe and he came to be acknowledged as the patron saint of England sometime around the Eleventh Century: "The banner of St George, the red cross of a martyr on a white background, was adopted for the uniform of English soldiers possibly in the reign of Richard 1, and later became the flag of England and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy."
St. George Utah Temple by J Brew on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
I’d assumed that St. George — the city in Utah — must have been connected back to England somehow. Perhaps, although the name clearly was not. The saintly namesake of St. George turned out to be George A. Smith (1817-1875), an early leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a First Counselor to Brigham Young. He had numerous descendants including a grandson George Albert Smith who became an important Mormon figure in the first half of the Twentieth Century.
My apologies in advance to followers of the LDS church, as no offense is intended. I don’t know how sainthood works within the Mormon faith, and whether it included a formalized vetting process or whether the title came to be applied as an honorific or as a more general term of art. The larger point was my surprise at finally understanding that a city of a hundred-thousand residents traced its name independent of England and/or any supposed slaying of dragons.
However that led me to wonder if there might be other places in Utah named "St. Something-or-Other" for early Church leaders. I found a small handful of additional possibilities in the US Geographic Names Information System.
St. John, Utah, USA
My intuition and upbringing also lead me to assume that just about any place in the United States called St. John would have derived its inspiration from Saint John the Apostle. Certainly there were other Johns who came to be sainted in various faiths although most of them would have had qualifiers appended to their names as differentiators, as in the case of Saint John the Baptist (e.g., the Parish in Louisiana).
St. John was once an independent town in Utah, still recognized as a place name by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names although merged with other locations in the 1930′s to form the amalgamated town of Rush Valley. In a Mormon context, this particular Saint John referred to John Rowberry (1823-1884), presiding and first LDS Bishop of Tooele County. From the Latter-Day Saints Biographical Encyclopedia (1901):
(St.?) Elmo, Utah, USA
Elmo, Utah had a couple of name variations, one saintly and one not. Neither explanation had anything to do with anyone Mormon, though.
Catholic Online provided a brief description of Saint Elmo as it applied within its Church:
That source also mentioned Elmo as a patron saint of "stomach cramps and colic" in addition to sailors.
The first origination theory for the Utah placename failed to mention sainthood whatsoever. This was offered by the government of Emery County, where Elmo was founded in 1908. Elmo, in its opinion, was an acronym formed by the names of four early families that settled there.
The second explanation verged on folklore. The US Board on Geographic Names listed Saint Elmo as a variant name for Elmo as recorded by the Federal Writers’ Project in 1941, part of the Depression-era Work Projects Administration. Supposedly the name reflected a wildly-popular romance novel written by Augusta Jane Evans in 1866 titled, as one might expect, St. Elmo. The book title came from a primary character, St. Elmo Murray. He was no saint, LDS or otherwise (book) (synopsis).
As noted on Evans’ Wikipedia entry,
This would have been my third theory
Own photo, taken at 2013 White House Easter Egg Roll
Was St. Elmo a realistic variant of Elmo? Who knows. However, I preferred the tantalizing acronym anyway because it had the backing of local government and because I appreciate odd explanations.
There was one final saintly Utah community, Saint Albans (location). I couldn’t find any information beyond its GNIS citation.
The final tally: two Sainted communities in Utah named for LDS leaders; one definitely not; and one unknown.
I mentioned Colfax, Louisiana in "Just the -fax, Ma’am." Something rang in my mind with a sense familiarity. Where had I heard of the town’s namesake, Schuyler Colfax before? I combed through the 12MC archive and discovered he’d made an appearance in a different context, mentioned originally by reader John Deeth and then featured in First Name, Surname Symmetry. Mr. Deeth noted that there was a town of Schuyler that served as a seat of local government for Colfax County, Nebraska. This was intentional; both the town and the county were in fact named for Schuyler Colfax.
Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain
If I could be bold or perhaps exceedingly lazy, I think I’ll quote from myself as presented in that earlier article.
I then went on to reference the irony of Schuyler, the town in Nebraska, having been situated along the Transcontinental Railroad so that the man and the scandal would be link forevermore. Actually the town was founded two years before the Crédit Mobilier scandal broke in 1872 so the irony didn’t come until later. However it served thereafter as a visible reminder of Colfax’s political demise, certainly visible to Colfax personally and to those who happened to possess knowledge of an obscure Nineteenth Century bribery scheme like the members of the 12MC audience.
That would become prescient. Railroads, as I noticed once I began to reacquaint myself with the life and times of Schuyler Colfax, would continue to trail him to his death and beyond.
Cold and Alone
Where Colfax Died, Mankato, Wisconsin, USA
I featured Mankato, Minnesota recently in the Blue Earth series. Little did I realize that I’d return to Mankato for its prominent role in the death of Schuyler Colfax. An historical marker sat in a public park although it wasn’t always a park. It was once an railroad depot. Waymarking.com recorded the Washington Park Historical Marker, including the key paragraph.
His biography on the United States Senate website attributed his death to a heart attack and duly noted, "Unrecognized by those around him, the former Speaker and vice president was identified only by papers in his pocket."
Rest in Peace?
City Cemetery, South Bend, Indiana, USA
Schuyler Colfax, recently departed, was delivered to the place where he’d spent much of his adult life, and he was interred in the City Cemetery in South Bend, Indiana. Always a popular figure in Indiana, Colfax was further honored by town officials when they renamed a street Colfax Avenue adjacent to the cemetery.
Notice, however, the proximity of several nearby rail lines and railyards. They practically extend all the way to the cemetery gates, no doubt their warning whistles and clacking tracks taunting his gravesite.
Colfax Gets a Statue
Schuyler Colfax Statue by Jimmy Emerson on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Undoubtedly, Colfax would have been pleased by the statue of his likeness placed prominently in a town named for him in California. However, the location added to the irony. Take a look at a map in Street View. Colfax town officials placed the Colfax statue on Railroad Street at the Amtrak train station. This line also formed part of the original western route of the Transcontinental Railroad.