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.
Rather than call this "More Thousand Islands" and confuse it with the purpose of my recent celebratory Kiloanomaly, I came up with a new name. Rest assured, by mentioning abundant agglomerated archipelagos, I actually meant places other than the Thousand Islands poking above the Saint Lawrence River between Canada and the United states that share a similar name. The latest twist was that none of them were in English so the 12MC audience will get to see me struggle once again with my complete inability to deal with foreign languages.
I have to give a tip of the keyboard to Wikipedia’s Thousand Islands (disambiguation) page for inspiring the notion. I also researched other sources so it wasn’t like I completely stole the idea, only partially.
Rivière des Mille Îles
Rivière des Mille Îles, Québec, Canada
Rivière des Mille Îles, or River of a Thousand Isles, had the best chance of being confused with the other Thousand Islands simply because of its proximity. The river was actually a channel of a larger river system, and one could reach the St. Lawrence from either its source or its mouth. Rivière des Mille Îles when paired with other channels formed the island that separated Laval from Montréal. The whole area teemed with islands, albeit farther downstream from the more famous Thousand Islands in Ontario. It can become rather confusing.
The area included the Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, which was described nicely once run through Google Translate:
Tusenøyane, Svalbard, Norway
Thousand Islands converted into Norwegian became Tusenøyane, and indeed that’s the name of an isolated grouping found south of Edgeøya on the Svalbard archipelago. The entirety of Svalbard itself was rather obscure with barely 2,500 residents so one can imagine the remoteness of one tiny scattering of rocks along its lower flank.
Correspondingly, there wasn’t all that much additional information about Tusenøyane available. The Norwegian Polar Institute served as the naming authority, identifying Tusenøyane as "A number of small islands south of Edgeøya" with a linguistic origin tracing to "the thousand islands." The authority further noted several variant names including the Hopeless Islands.
I also found a site with several photographs. It looked barren and cold. I don’t think I’d go so far as to describe it as "hopeless" though, well unless someone got shipwrecked there or something.
Understanding the theme presented so far, it should come as no surprise that Kepulauan Seribu translated to Thousand Islands, in this case from the Indonesian language. These numerous small islets formed a string due north of Jakarta. Administratively they were actually part of Jakarta, and the city government explained:
Some Island on Kepulauan Seribu by TeYoU @ Sydney via Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Indonesia created the Kepulauan Seribu Marine National Park and it grew into a major tourist attraction. Search on Kepulauan Seribu online and one will find a nearly innumerable set of websites trying to sell luxury vacations there. This formerly unspoiled paradise may have become a little too well loved in recent decades, leading to warnings of environmental degradation.
Qiandao Lake, Zhejiang Province, China
Qiandao Lake (which was represented by several Chinese language characters I couldn’t seem to replicate in WordPress), or Thousand Island Lake, was the only location in this series created artificially. The islands were a byproduct of the flooding of a valley after construction of a dam.
My favorite quote, however, was "Qiandao Lake, known for its clear, and sometimes drinkable water, is used to produce the renowned Nongfu Spring brand of mineral water."
Sometimes drinkable? Thanks, I’d prefer consistently drinkable water.
Police sergeant Joe Friday never actually said "just the facts ma’am" on the vintage television show Dragnet, according to Snopes. Rather, the character played by Jack Webb uttered different lines that were later confused with the classic phrase now erroneously attributed to the show.
A similar confusion surrounded the suffix "-fax" appended to surnames and place names, and also to surnames that later became place names. -Fax had an interesting etymology as described in Wiktionary and in other sources:
It also noted cognates that existed in Dutch, German, Norwegian, Icelandic and Sanskrit generally translating to something like hair, head of hair, mane, and so on.
This might lead one to conclude that English place names ending in -fax might have something to do with hair. Those theories certainly existed with frequency, with some substantiated, some wrong and some uncertain, not unlike Joe Friday sort-of uttered his famous catchphrase using different words. A second title for this article — since I’m in the mood for bad puns — might have been, "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow."
I focused on four -fax place names that traced to England. I’d be interested to know if there were more, and particularly, their etymologies.
Fairfax, Virginia, USA
I was sensitized to Fairfax right away because it was both a county and an embedded independent city in Virginia just outside of Washington, DC, and quite near where I live. Longtime readers might recall my epic journey to the City of Fairfax highpoint, the so-called Water Tower Tour a number of years ago.
Fairfax had the cleanest history, etymology and past association with hair. County and city were both named for Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, the county earning its name during the colonial era and the city afterwards. In this instance the peerage was named for the surname so one must start there. I’ll help readers avoid a pile of sleazy baby-naming pages and sketchy genealogy websites peddling advertisements and skip directly to an etymological dictionary. Fairfax meant "fair haired." The million-plus residents of Fairfax, Virginia can decide whether that confers some kind of exalted level of status upon them or not.
Nearly every Colfax was located in the United States, and many traced their naming origin to Schuyler Colfax, the scandal-plagued Vice President who served under President Grant during his first administration (1869-1873).
One such Colfax town named for him, the one in Louisiana, had particular historical significance.
Colfax Massacre, Colfax, Louisiana, USA
As described by the Public Broadcasting Service,
The other side of the story, as noted by an article in the New Pittsburgh Courier Online, was reflected by an historical marker placed outside the Grant Parish Courthouse in Colfax in 1950. The marker stated, "On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of carpet bag misrule in the South." To be fair, the nation was undergoing racial turbulence during the 1950′s and the marker reflected certain sentiments of that period. Nonetheless the marker hasn’t been removed either (street view image).
American Surnames discussed two possible etymologies for Colfax. From German, Kohlfuchs referred to a specified color for horses, "dark sorrell or liver chestnut," with the fuchs part referring specifically "a very dark red." Alternately, from Old German, it could refer to the previously-noted hairy explanation. I couldn’t find anything definitive either way.
I worked hard to make sure I didn’t make any typographic errors on that last paragraph! This is a family-friendly website.
Unlike Fairfax, the Halifax peerage derived from a place name rather than a surname. The original underlying Halifax used both for the earldom and the primary North American locations was Halifax in West Yorkshire, England.
Halifax, West Yorkshire, England, UK
Legends floated across the Intertubes about how Halifax descended from "holy hair" with some fanciful tale about a pious virgin who was executed and her hair displayed in public. The explanation had fallen out of favor though, making way for a much more mundane theory about how it may have derived "from the Old English halh-gefeaxe, meaning an ‘area of coarse grass in the nook of land.‘"
Readers from the United States likely did a double-take after seeing Carfax mention because it’s better known there as a company that bombards viewers relentlessly with advertisements for vehicle history services. No worries, the Carfax reference in England seemed to be completely coincidental.
Carfax Tower by Holly Hayes on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Carfax, a crossroads, marked the central point of Oxford, England. Carfax itself also had a central point, Carfax Tower, the remnants of a medieval church (map). It’s a tourist attraction now and visitors can climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views for a modest fee.
Most sources seemed to believe that Carfax derived from the French carrefore, "a place where four ways meet" and and earlier Latin quadrifurcus, "four-forked." Some earlier sources discounted that etymology largely on the grounds that French place names weren’t common in England, and halfheartedly wondered if hair figured into the etymology. Those theories didn’t seem to reach beyond the 19th Century, though.
Overall, -fax was a mixed bag: one usage likely related to hair; one maybe and two probably not.