On July 26, 2015 · 6 Comments

The Twelve Mile Circle "Complete Index Map" has enough entries on it now that my mind wandered to the spots not yet covered. These tended to be remote, empty places bereft of many people or dramatic topography. That would appear to be an accurate description of central Kansas in particular, seemingly flat as a pancake and lacking much of a population. Nonetheless I drilled down onto the map, spied Interstate 70 and saw a town called Hays. I wondered what might be there.


Actually there wasn’t much there although that didn’t surprise or bother me. Every spot has a story. Hays was the biggest town for miles around with more than twenty thousand residents so I figured I’d find something interesting. It also had a fairly sizable university with twelve thousand students making it quite the college town. Fort Hays University had a museum, The Sternberg Museum of Natural History, which featured numerous fossils from the time of dinosaurs all the way to the Ice Age. It seemed like a lot of these midsized towns of Middle America had fossil museums. I love that kind of stuff. I need to get out there and see a few.

Fort Hays

Fort Hays
Fort Hays by frank thompson photos (cc)

Many readers probably figured from the name of the university that the town of Hays may have had a connection to Fort Hays. That assumption would be correct. It began as Fort Fletcher in 1865 to protect wagon trains. Soon thereafter government authorities renamed it Fort Hays and shifted its purpose, as part of an effort to protect the new railroads from attack by Native inhabitants as tracks began to crisscross the Great Plains. A town grew around the fort. The Fort Hays Historic Site now occupies the original site.

General Alexander Hays

Alexander Hays

Peeling back another layer of its etymological history, Fort Hays derived its name from General Alexander Hays. He displayed abundant courage during his distinguished military career in the Civil War until his death at the Battle of the Wilderness in central Virginia. Hays was the type of General who led from the front of his troops, within the thick of the battle. He suffered several wounds during various campaigns until his luck finally ran out in 1864. He was shot through the head, not quite yet forty-five years old.

Hays was largely forgotten by history despite his bravery, having been overshadowed by much more famous military commanders on both sides of the Civil War. Very little was named for Hays other than the small fort on an expanding frontier that later blossomed into a town. Other than that there were a couple of monuments placed on battlefields as memorials and one small bland suburban road named in his honor, and that was about it.


Czech Dancers
Czech Dancers by Kansas Tourism (cc)

I noticed a town nearby to the east one level more obscure, called Wilson (map). It may be best known as the self-proclaimed “Czech Capital of Kansas.” I was amused by the title. How much Czech diaspora could be living in Kansas? It wasn’t like there would be an abundance of competition. Still, one needed to work with what had been granted in these remote places so Czech Capital of Kansas became its calling card. The story became more interesting as I checked into it. Apparently Czech immigrants arrived in Wilson from Bohemia in the 1870’s to help build the railroads. It must have been a welcoming place because they’ve remained in Wilson ever since. Residents even hold an annual Wilson After Harvest Czech Festival at the end of July (unfortunately 12MC just missed it this year; it was held July 23-25).

I couldn’t find the original Wilson who served as the namesake though. Clearly he was important person locally because Wilson was located in Wilson Township, which also had a Wilson Creek, Wilson Cemetery and an Old Wilson Cemetery.

Completely Unrelated

I got an email recently from Vexillographer who had just completed a video about the Jeddito time zone anomaly on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. I had discussed this awhile ago in USA Time Zone Anomalies, Part I

Vexillographer actually visited the anomaly in person and made this video about his experiences. Do check it out — the time zone weirdness found there is amazing. It also includes a nice shout-out to 12MC at the end. Thanks Vexillographer!

On the Steps

On March 1, 2015 · 5 Comments

I sat there cycling through television channels aimlessly the other day like I do when I’m bored. I came across a famous a scene from one of the Rocky movies where the hero Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) started running up the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (map). You know the scene I’m talking about.

Philadelphia Museum of Arts (Rocky steps)
Philadelphia Museum of Arts (Rocky steps) by Alonso Javier Torres, on Flickr (cc)

He’s climbing the steps triumphantly to a soundtrack of "Gonna Fly Now" and you know someone’s about to get a pounding. I didn’t stick around long enough to figure out which movie it was — apparently Stallone recreated the scene in just about every Rocky movie — although it did get me thinking. Movie locations aside(¹), were there any genuine historical events that happened on steps or stairs?

On the Steps of the Lincoln Memorial

The occurrence that came to mind immediately was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (map) in 1963. The site selected by Dr. King was highly symbolic, as it was the 100th anniversary year of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that trumpeted freedom for slaves living within Confederate states then in rebellion. He drew obvious parallels between the Lincoln of old and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, recognizing Lincoln’s achievements while signaling the struggle continued.

Those same steps featured prominently in another Civil Rights milestone a generation earlier when Marian Anderson sang from that spot in 1939. She’d already earned fame as a classical vocalist, a contralto. She performed on those steps because she’d been denied a performance hall in the city.

Marian Anderson was an international superstar in the 1930s—a singer possessed of what Arturo Toscanini called "a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years." But if race had been no impediment to her career abroad, there were still places in the United States where a black woman was simply not welcome, no matter how famous. What surprised Anderson and many other Americans was to discover in 1939 that one such place was a venue called Constitution Hall, owned and operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the capital of a nation "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

The DAR refused to relent in spite of withering criticism. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the organization, writing "You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization failed."

Fifty thousand people showed up to hear Marian Anderson perform on the Lincoln Memorial steps; many times more than would have heard her at the indoor venue. The Daughters of the American Revolution deeply regretted it actions later and invited Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall several times beginning in 1943.

On the Steps of Aztec Temples

Templo mayor ruins, in the middle of Zocalo
Templo mayor ruins by Antoine Hubert, on Flickr (cc)

Many Mesoamerican societies practiced human sacrifice in the centuries preceding European contact. The Aztec of central México took the practice to an entirely new level. There were many varieties of ritual and sacrifice although it was human sacrifices particularly that attracted the most attention of armchair historians. Bloodletting reached its pinnacle at Templo Mayor, the Great Temple at Tenochtitlan, now in modern day Mexico City (map).

At the climax of the ceremony, prisoners of war were taken to the top of the steep steps of the pyramid leading to two shrines. Held down, the victims’ abdomens were sliced open by high priests wielding ceremonial knives, and their hearts – still beating – were raised to the spirits above and the crowd in the sacred precinct below. The lifeless bodies of those sacrificed were then kicked down the stairs, and as one followed another, these flowed with blood, bright red against the white of the temple walls. Over the four days of the opening ceremony, some 4,000 prisoners were killed to satisfy the Aztec gods.

That was hardly the only time in history where violence happened on stairways.

On the Steps of the Theatre of Pompey

Largo di Torre Argentina
Largo di Torre Argentina by Rodney, on Flickr (cc)

The Roman leader Julius Caesar met his demise on a set of steps at the Theatre of Pompey in Rome in 44 BCE, now at the Largo di Torre Argentina (map).

Caesar attempted to get away, but, blinded by blood, he tripped and fell; the men continued stabbing him as he lay defenseless on the lower steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, around 60 or more men participated in the assassination. Caesar was stabbed 23 times.

This was considered a triggering event. Afterwards the Roman Republic (with consuls elected by citizens) that had lasted for five hundred years transitioned into the Roman Empire (led by emperors).

Other noteworthy events

  • On the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building (map): Congressman William Taulbee was shot to death in 1890; and Congressman John Jenrette and his wife Rita consummated an adult relationship in the early 1980’s (although she now denies it), a sideshow to his bribery convictions.(²)
  • On the steps of the Versace Mansion in Miami Beach(map): A serial killer murdered famed fashion designer Gianni Versace on the steps of his South Beach mansion in 1997.
  • On the steps of the Avon Theater in Stratford, Ontario (map): Last prize goes to a set of stairs in Canada where Justin Bieber often sat busking for tips before he became famous.

I could probably find some more examples although that Justin Bieber thing discouraged me. I can hardly wait for all of the Bieber-related Google Ads that will now start popping onto my screen for the next month.

(¹) Otherwise I’d nominate the Exorcist Steps in Georgetown, Washington, DC (Street View).
(²) Inspiring the name of a local comedy troupe, The Capitol Steps.

Circleville Survived

On February 8, 2015 · 0 Comments

The squared circle wasn’t the only fascinating story hiding in Circleville, Ohio. The town survived and grew in spite of its early experiment with urban renewal.

I’d wondered how a town so named could have escaped my attention for the last several years. In the meantime I’d felt a weird sense of déjà vu that perhaps I’d crossed paths with it before. A quick search of the 12MC archives revealed two minor references to Circleville. Previously it garnered a mention in Chillicothe, an article about the leadership villages of the Chalahgawtha group of Native Americans, the political band of the Shawnee. It referenced a place "on the Scioto River south of Circleville at, or near, modern-day Westfall." The town also made a brief appearance way back in 2009 in Weird Ohio Explorations because of its water tower shaped like a pumpkin.

I’ve explored the Native American aspects. Let’s take a closer look at this pumpkin thing.

Circleville Pumpkin Show

Circleville Pumpkin Show
Circleville Pumpkin Show by elstudio, on Flickr (cc)

Pumpkins, a type of squash, were native to North America. It made sense that a number of festivals devoted to their cultivation and harvest existed in various locations across the continent. There were even events focused on their destruction such as the World Championship Punkin’ Chunkin’ in Delaware that got so big it has to move to the Dover International Speedway (map) in 2015. Circleville was no exception and it got in on the action early, more than a century ago with the Circleville Pumpkin Show.

This far famed and unique agricultural exhibit and street fair had its humble origin in October, 1903, when George R. Haswell, then Mayor of Circleville, and superintendent of the water works, conceived the idea of holding a small exhibit in front of his place on West Main Street. Corn fodder and pumpkins (many of them cut into Jack-O-Lanterns) formed the principal decorations, and were responsible for it being dubbed "the pumpkin show". On the following year Mr. Haswell was joined by some enterprising neighborhood merchants and the exhibition grew steadily in its scope, interest and attendance.

This event continued to grow in popularity over the years, now attracting several hundred thousand people over multiple days beginning on the third Wednesday each October, just in time for Halloween. Its signature element might be the pumpkin weighing contest. A local optometrist and his wife, Bob and Jo Liggett, became the most prolific winners in the modern era. Their current winner and world-record pumpkin hit the scales at 1,964 lbs. (891 kg.) in the 2014 competition. That’s a pumpkin weighing nearly a ton! The photo above showed them in an earlier year with smaller pumpkins.

Circleville Mural

Circleville  Ohio downtown Mural
Circleville Ohio downtown Mural by excelglen, on Flickr (cc)

Circleville commissioned a mural along the entire side of the Johnson Building (Street View) to spotlight its Pumpkin Show and its agrarian past. It was painted by Eric Henn Murals: "Working off high lifts, he has created murals up to 150′ high, covering 49,000 sq. ft." I enjoyed visiting his website and checking out his portfolio. He crafts his murals in a trompe-l’œil manner that can make it difficult to distinguish painting from reality especially in photographs. Unfortunately a couple of miscreants decided to vandalize the mural with graffiti in 2014, causing $5,500 damage.

I noticed the Circleville mural commemorated the 100th Anniversary of its Pumpkin Show, 1903-2006. It seemed unusual for the dates to reflect more than a hundred years. The people of Circleville weren’t math deficient, however. They canceled the show for brief periods during the World Wars.

The Hitlers

The strangest Circleville artifact I stumbled upon had nothing to do with circles or pumpkins and everything to do with abundant Hitler references. One could take a Hitler roadtrip on Hitler Roads 1 and 2 to Huber-Hitler Road, then stop at Hitler-Ludwig Cemetery and visit the eighteen Hitlers buried there. One could also take a slight detour to Hitler Pond (map) or to Martha Hitler Park (map).

Of course the Führer hadn’t been transported secretly from Nazi Germany into the middle of Ohio, nor was it a hotbed for neo-Nazi sympathizers. Original references near Circleville all predated Adolph by more than a century. In fact, the Hitlers were early pioneers in Ohio:

Our Pickaway Hitlers were fine, upstanding citizens, the first of whom arrived in Pickaway Township in 1799. George Hitler was born May 15, 1763, in Maryland. He married Susannah Gay in Pennsylvania and they came to Pickaway with four of their children, John, Catharine, Jacob and George… Dr. Gay Hitler, son of George Washington Hitler, was a local dentist, serving our community from 1922 through 1946 from his office on West Main Street… These families were established here long before Adolf Hitler was born. They settled and served our county well.

Circleville citizens took the bold approach. Their Hitlers came first, they were pillars of the community, and they weren’t going to let the atrocities of that other Hitler far, far away destroy their legacy. Nonetheless, references to George Washington Hitler and Gay Hitler seemed a bit surprising to the untrained eye.

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