Presidential Distances

On July 8, 2014 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle talked about birthplaces and death locations of the Presidents of the United States. Now let’s finish this off with a comparison of distances between those two points. This involved a rather simple process of dropping the lat/long coordinates for each president into a great circle distance calculator and recording the results. Then I plotted the distances between birth and death onto a chart.

Distance between Birth and Death of US Presidents

Don’t get too hung up on the lack of presidential names. Readers can always cross reference the numbers to each administration on the shared spreadsheet if curious. Also, don’t be concerned that it’s not scaled to time, either. Administrations lasted from a single month (William Henry Harrison) to just north of twelve years (Franklin Roosevelt). The more important point was to confirm in graphical form that distances between birthplaces and death locations increased quite remarkably for latter administrations. This wasn’t entirely unexpected as it tracked nicely with growth and settlement patterns in the United States.


LBJ's Birthplace
LBJ's Birthplace by Jim Bowen, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Four presidents came to this earth and shuffled off this mortal coil at spots less than two miles (3.2 kilometres) apart. It didn’t surprise me to see this happen for some of the earliest presidents. Travel was more problematic and the landed gentry tended to stick close to their ancestral estates for multiple generations. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Van Buren all passed away within extreme proximity to their birthplaces.

The shortest distance, less than a single mile, caught me off-guard completely. Lyndon Johnson? He didn’t serve until the middle of the 20th Century, and died in 1973. By no means did it seem logical for Johnson to be lumped into the same category as presidents born during the colonial era. And yet, not only was he there, he led the pack.

Johnson was an anomaly of course and a throwback to an earlier time. Paraphrasing from the Handbook of Texas, Lyndon Johnson’s grandfather, Samuel Ealy Johnson Sr., built a home near Stonewall, Texas in the 1880′s. Lyndon’s father, Samuel Ealy Johnson Jr., occupied the home in 1907 and Lyndon was born there in 1908. The adjacent ranch was purchased by a relative of the Johnson family. Lyndon purchased that 438 acre ranch in 1951.

Johnson united the properties. Then, as the National Park Service explained,

Lyndon Johnson took great pride in his heritage and his roots here in the Hill Country of Texas. In order to share that heritage with interested visitors, President Johnson hired architect J. Roy White of Austin, Texas in 1964 to reconstruct the birthplace home. President Johnson and Roy White relied on old photographs of the original birthplace house as well as family members’ memories to guide the project.

Thus, Johnson consciously and explicitly chose to move near his extended family and then later in life he focused on preserving his legacy.


President William McKinely Birthplace
President William McKinley Birthplace by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I used median rather than average because outliers threw the average way off. The median distance from birthplace to death location equated to about 130 miles (210 km), while the average came in closer to 430 miles (690 km). Three presidents scored very close to the median; Woodrow Wilson, Millard Fillmore, and William McKinley.


Ronald Reagan Estate, Bel Air, California

Then there were presidents who found themselves a long way from their birthplaces — more than 1,500 miles (2,400 km) — when they passed away, some unexpectedly and some at a ripe old age. John Kennedy and Warren Harding both died in office. Kennedy and Nixon died in hospitals. The vast majority of the 12MC audience would already be familiar with Kennedy’s story so I won’t dwell on it other than to mention that I visited the Grassy Knoll in 2008. Warren Harding died in the Presidential Suite of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, probably from a stroke or congestive heart failure. His wife’s refusal to allow an autopsy led to conspiracy theories the continued to persist even through the present.

I guess I have to use Ronald Reagan’s estate to illustrate this section since he was the only member of the 1,500 mile club who died at home.

The president who died farthest from his birthplace was Richard Nixon. He was born in Yorba Linda, California and died in New York City, a great circle distance of 2,436 miles.


On June 24, 2014 · 2 Comments

The website hit came from Lockport, Illinois. Lockport sounded familiar, although from a different time and place than Illinois. It also seemed quite descriptive, a lock on a canal combined with a port (or perhaps a portage). Locks would be ideal places for settlements during the heyday of canal travel a century or more ago. Commerce naturally congregated at places where barges had to slow down or sit in a queue for awhile before going through the locks.

Lockport, Illinois

I&M Canal, Lock 1
I&M Canal, Lock 1 by Eric Allix Rogers, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

The random visitor from Lockport, Illinois (map) came from an historic town founded in 1830. Lockport served as a key point on the Illinois and Michigan Canal (now a state trail).

The I&M canal became the initial link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico through the continental interior, joining a huge section of North American into to a single transportation system. The canal itself connected Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River by coupling the Chicago River to the Illinois River via a 96 miles (154 km) waterway. The I&M was replaced later by the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (where engineers reversed the flow of the Chicago River) and closed altogether after the completion of the Illinois Waterway in the early 20th Century.

Lockport was the headquarters of the I&M and eased settlement of the Upper Mississippi watershed during the second half of the 19th Century. Chicago would not have become the dominant city of the Midwest without Lockport thirty miles inland to bridge the eastern continental divide.

Lockport, New York

Lockport New York 099
Lockport New York 099 by Jim Jordan, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I was more familiar with Lockport, New York, a town of similar size and function except on the Erie Canal (map). This one had personal meaning to me. The Old Howder Homestead stood nearby. The other side of my family traveled up the canal and through the locks at Lockport on their migration to the Midwest in 1844. As I said in that earlier article:

In one of life’s odd coincidences, my mother’s side of the family (in a canal boat) and my father’s side of the family (farmers living near Lockport) came within amazingly close proximity of each other on or around the evening of Thursday, October 17, 1844 — literally a "ship that passed in the night." The families wouldn’t get another chance for more than a hundred years and in a completely different location.

The Erie Canal did what the I&M did, a generation earlier in a different place. It connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes in a direct fashion beginning in 1825, crossing the width of New York state.

Lockport, Manitoba

Locks at Lockport, Manitoba
Locks at Lockport, Manitoba by Dan McKay, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Canada had plenty of canals too, and naturally a good name like Lockport couldn’t confine itself to the United States. Manitoba had its own Lockport. (map). The lock and port in this instance occurred on the Red River, on a stretch where the St. Andrew’s Rapids complicated navigation. Engineers responded by constructing the appropriately-named St. Andrew’s Lock and Dam that opened in 1910: "This lock system allows access to Lake Winnipeg from the south and Winnipeg from the north."

Lockport, Louisiana

Lockport Company Canal Bridge
Lockport Company Canal Bridge by C Hanchey, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

There were fewer canals in the southern part of the United States, nonetheless Louisiana had its own Lockport too (map). This was borne from an early canal completed in 1847 that connected Bayou Terrebonne to New Orleans. The canal went out of operation long ago, however Lockport continues to sit along a branch of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. In a sense it still retains a connection by water to all of the major cities of the Gulf Coast.

Lockports Elsewhere

There were several more Lockport towns and villages along waterways, particularly in the Northeastern and Midwestern states. Pennsylvania deserved special mention. The U.S. Geographic Names Information System mentioned five populated places there.

  • Lockport on the Conemaugh River (map)
  • Lockport on the Juniata River (map)
  • Lockport on the Lehigh River (map)
  • Lockport on the Susquehanna River (map)
  • Lockport on the West Branch Susquehanna River (map)

That was an impressive number of Lockports.


Due to conflicting schedules of those who wanted to participate in the 12MC Geo-Oddity Bicycle Ride and couldn’t, the ride has been postponed until Fall. I’ll try to figure out a better date later.

Turning the Tables

On June 3, 2014 · 2 Comments

Regular 12MC readers learned long ago that I salivate over the geography of website visitors as reported by Google Analytics, the more unusual the better. I activated that feature during the earliest days of Twelve Mile Circle and I’ve created quite a compendium of traffic logs. Savvy readers have toyed with my daily ritual, my mildly obsessive Analytics scan. They’ve traveled to far-flung destinations, opened their browsers and landed on various 12MC pages, and then wondered if I’d paid attention. Often I’ve noticed the anomaly. I’m always thrilled to discover visits from obscure places whether I understood their sources or not. It’s like getting a delightful wordless postcard.

Thus, this article highlights some of the instances when 12MC readers turned the tables on me. Instead of content coming from me, it was they who intentionally delivering a little digital present. The flow of information reversed its normal direction.

Yerevan, Armenia

Charbakh, Yerevan, Armenia by Matt Werner, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I can always count on "January First-of-May" from Moscow to access Twelve Mile Circle from random locations within Russia or other parts of the former Soviet Union. Once I noticed a spike in traffic from Kaliningrad Oblast. Yup, that was the source. It happened again recently with Yerevan, Armenia (map). I don’t receive too many visitors from Armenia — just 50 visits in 7 years — and 14 hits from Yerevan arrived in a neat cluster a few weeks ago. That definitely grabbed my attention!

Then I received the explanation via a comment on an old article pondering Fictional Geo-Marathons. One fictional route involved Armenia.

As far as I can tell, this is the only article with an actual semi-significant mention of the country, so I’ll say it here: yeah, that’s yet again me, in a hotel in north-eastern Yerevan.

Keep traveling, January First-of-May!

Douala, Cameroon

Douala by Christine Vaufrey, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Cameroon remained one of those stubborn holdouts that hadn’t ever sent a visitor to the 12MC website. I was incredibly happy and surprised when Cameroon registered a string of hits in 2012, centered around Douala (map). I shared that sentiment in "A Plan for Rare Visitors" which prompted a wonderful explanation from "Lyn."

I was your Cameroon reader, glad that it added to an interesting article and response on here. I was visiting Douala recently for work. I’ve been a long time reader/lurker and know how you enjoy weird web hits.

Indeed. Twelve Mile Circle has registered only 10 Cameroonian visits in its entire history. The first five happened during Lyn’s visit.

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Flying in to Fernando de Noronha
Photo By Brian Arbanas © 2010 All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

Of course I have to mention a visit by "jlumsden" to Fernando de Noronha, Brasil in 2010. He’d let me know prior to departing on a month-long trip through the nation and I’d watched map dots light-up as he hit Belo Horizonte, Mariana, Ouro Preto, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador de Bahia, and São Paulo. The highlight had to have been his stopover at remote and obscure Fernando de Noronha, located well off of the South American coast in the Atlantic Ocean (map).

This became the basis for an entire 12MC article, Fernando de Noronha, complete with accompanying photographs taken during the trip like the one above.

Missed Opportunities and Wishful Thinking

pitcairn_island by doublecnz, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I’m pretty sure I had at least one visitor from Vatican City. That led me to speculate that perhaps the Holy See used an Italian service provider and registered Rome as its geographic location for outgoing traffic. Twelve Mile Circle has recorded several hundred Roman visitors with no way to break them down more specifically. I still don’t know.

A relative of a regular reader planned to visit the Pitcairn Islands, population 67, with hopes of jumping onto the 12MC website. This was a place so remote that it didn’t have an airport. Absent a private yacht or a brief cruise ship stop, the only way to get there is on the supply vessel MV Claymore II. The ship makes only 8 trips per year and visitors have to stay on Pitcairn for 4 or 11 days. No other options. A ".pn" top-level country code domain would have been the ultimate capture.

Feel free to play the game from your own Internet-accessible device. Heading to an unusual location? Ping the 12MC website. I probably won’t notice your next trip to Disney World or London although plenty of other sites will pique my interest especially if they generate a sudden burst of activity. A lot of climatologists read Twelve Mile Circle. Can’t one of you winter over in Antarctica?

12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
August 2014
« Jul