My Smallest Park

On August 17, 2014 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle published a very rare guest post in March 2011 discussing Geo-Oddities of Portland, Oregon. It featured several unusual items including the famous Mill Ends Park (map). Readers might have been familiar with the spot because it garnered a lot of attention from mainstream sources over the years and has become a stopping point for tourists interested in such things. It might be the world’s smallest municipal park although naysayers questioned whether something the size of a flowerpot could truly qualify as a "park."


Mill Ends Park
Mill Ends Park by Adam Lederer, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Regardless, the city of Portland considered Mill Ends a park:

In 1946, Dick Fagan returned from World War II to resume his journalistic career with the Oregon Journal. His office, on the second floor above Front Street (now Naito Parkway), gave him a view of not only the busy street, but also an unused hole in the median where a light pole was to be placed. When no pole arrived to fill in this hole, weeds took over the space. Fagan decided to take matters into his own hands and to plant flowers. Fagan wrote a popular column called Mill Ends (rough, irregular pieces of lumber left over at lumber mills). He used this column to describe the park and the various "events" that occurred there. Fagan billed the space as the "World’s Smallest Park."

That was good enough for me. It was a park.


My Quest

I thought about Mill Ends park from time-to-time for no obvious reason other than this type of minutiae sticks in my mind. I wondered what the smallest park in my community might be, the most diminutive public space in the smallest self-governing county of the United States, Arlington County, Virginia. This overall quest also connected with one of the very earliest concepts discussed on 12MC, Unusual Goes Very Local from June 2008, the simple notion that geo-oddities existed everywhere.

This park idea remained on my notoriously every-growing spreadsheet of potential 12MC topics for several years and I never did anything with it, and never had the heart to delete it either. Then I stumbled upon a sliver of land a couple of weeks ago as I pursued my quixotic Bike Every Street in Arlington project.



Arlington County actually considered this triangle bound by residential streets (map) a park, then covered the mound with attractive landscaping and declared it Nauck Garden. I’d discovered my smallest park, or so I thought, although I didn’t want to celebrate too quickly until I could confirm it. Going online, I learned the county published a Public Spaces Inventory with associated acreage. Unfortunately the file lacked a certain precision for my purpose although it helped me define the possibilities. It listed several sites including Nauck Garden as 0.1 acres.

This narrowed the candidates to:

  • 18th Street North and North Lincoln Street Park
  • 23rd Street South and South Eads Street Park
  • Arlington View Park
  • Belvedere Park
  • Cleveland Park
  • Nauck Garden
  • Oakland Street Park

Arlington provided great real estate maps with precise parcel sizes for every privately-owned piece of property. It did not do the same, however, for public lands. Then I turned to the Arlington Parks maps and I did my best to transfer approximations of the seven candidate park boundaries to a mapping application that measured acreage within a polygon. I would have preferred greater precision. That wasn’t available so I made do with what I had at hand. Nonetheless this crude approximation was good enough to demonstrate that Nauck Garden was in fact not the smallest park in Arlington. My renderings pointed to the rectangle known as 23rd Street South and South Eads Street Park (map), roughly calculated to ~0.069 acres (e.g., ~3,000 square feet or ~280 square metres).


23rd and Eads Arlington Virginia
Screenprint from Arlington County maps gallery, Parks Map

I used to drive straight down 23rd Street twice each workday for nearly six years when I worked in Crystal City, and yet I had no memory of ever seeing that park. Naturally it became a great excuse to hop on my bike this morning and check it out.



My photo didn’t differ materially from what was available on Street View although now I could say I’d visited Arlington’s smallest park and that was important too. Go ahead and push the arrows on the image to see other pictures I took.

The tiny public space featured a couple of trees, a weird multicolor swirly design on concrete, a trashcan, two metallic tables with matching toadstool chairs complete with evidence that vagrants had been drinking there recently, and an inexplicable mailbox with graffiti. After visiting in person and comparing the space to the Arlington Parks Map, I believe it probably also included the sidewalk plus the landscaping behind the mailbox in order for it to equal 3,000 square feet.

Second place went to Oakland Street Park which was a blocked segment of roadway neatly landscaped and designed to prevent cut-through traffic (map).

Excluding 12MC readers from Portland, Oregon, does anyone have a bona fide public park any smaller than mine?

Geography

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.


Shortest


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.


Median


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.


Longest



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.

Presidential Death Locations

On July 6, 2014 · 3 Comments

After examining birthplaces for the Presidents of the United States, I shifted gears and did the same for the places where they died. This proved to be a little more problematic because greater attention had been focused on their exact places of birth, undoubtedly because it’s a more cheerful subject. I began with the shared spreadsheet compiled in the prior article and added columns for all of the presidential death locations, including as many exact latitude/longitude coordinates as I could find and links to appropriate websites for more information.



View Presidential Birthplaces & Death Locations in a larger map

I then overlaid presidential death locations onto the earlier birthplaces map. Some sites might be worth visiting. They included palatial estates later converted to museums and often co-located with presidential libraries. Others, well, I’m not convinced I need to visit the hospital room where Richard Nixon died of a cerebral edema.


Died in Office



Garfield Memorial, Long Branch, New Jersey

I could imagine a subset of macabre presidential trivia aficionados focused on the eight Chief Executives who died in office. That would be a bit morbid for my tastes, and yet I’ve trudged over to Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House to see where Abraham Lincoln was shot and died. James Garfield, William McKinley and John Kennedy were also felled by assassins. The other four, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt died of natural causes.

Garfield barely served as President, elected just a few months before he was shot by a delusional office-seeker in the waiting room of a Washington, DC train station in 1881. He may have been killed as much by the inept medical attention he received after his injury as by the bullet itself.

Had Garfield been left where he lay, he might well have survived; the bullet failed to hit his spine or penetrate any vital organs. Instead, he was given over to the care of doctors, who basically tortured him to death over the next 11 weeks. Two of them repeatedly probed his wound with their unsterilized fingers and instruments before having him carted back to the White House on a hay-and-horsehair mattress.

Doctors eventually brought the suffering Garfield to a summer cottage on the New Jersey shore in a last-ditch hope that fresh air and cooler temperatures might revive him. Nothing remains of the original cottage and only a granite marker records the place where Garfield spent his final few days.


Clusters


DSCF1881
Woodrow Wilson’s House by JB, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Presidents died in a more dispersed pattern than where they were born. Nonetheless two clusters demonstrated the opposite extreme and offered much tighter groupings than any of the birthplace clusters. Neither location surprised me, nor will they likely surprise the 12MC audience.

Many former presidents remained politically active as they grew older and retained their ties to Washington, DC. One might expect that some of them died there. I counted seven. Three died in office within the physical boundaries of District: Lincoln, W.H. Harrison and Taylor (the last two passed away in the White House). John Quincy Adams died in the Speaker’s Room of the US Capitol Building. Dwight Eisenhower died at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Woodrow Wilson and William Taft died at their post-administration mansions. Wilson’s home included 39,200 square feet of livable space. Taft’s home became the Syrian Embassy (until ordered closed in March 2014). Maybe I’ll undertake a Presidential Death Location tour for an upcoming 12MC Bicycle Ride.

If not politics, then financial power would seem to be attractive to people of this elevated stature. Four of the former presidents ended their days in Manhattan: James Monroe; Chester Arthur; Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon.


Counterintuitive


Ulysees S. Grant Cottage
Ulysees S. Grant Cottage by Selbe & Lily, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

I scratched my head in bewilderment at some of the places where presidents died. I never would have guessed that Garfield died at the Jersey Shore. Monroe in Manhattan seemed odd too. He’d spent the bulk of his retirement in Virginia and moved-in with his daughter Maria only after his wife passed away. Maria had married Samuel L. Gouverneur, a New York City attorney and politician.

The placement of Ulysses Grant’s death also seemed out of context, a cottage in the woods north of Saratoga Springs, New York. Grant spent the final six weeks of his life at the cottage rushing to complete his memoirs. He died of throat cancer three days after finishing his task. The book provided financial comfort for his family after his death and remains in print.


Sweet Retirement



Gerald Ford Home, Rancho Mirage, California

Some former presidents managed to escape office and retired to lifestyles with less pressure. Many of them resided on sprawling estates and lived well as they grew older and eventually passed away there: Thomas Jefferson at Monticello; Andrew Jackson at The Hermitage; Rutherford Hayes at Spiegel Grove; Theodore Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill; Lyndon Johnson at his Johnson Ranch. Even later presidents like Gerald Ford seemed to live in style, with Ford’s home situated conveniently along a golf course in Rancho Mirage, California.

There were other gems. I’ll leave the rest of the spreadsheet to the 12MC audience to explore.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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