A Prisoner to Geo-Oddities

On September 17, 2014 · 2 Comments

I noticed a reference to a prison in Alaska that turned out to be located not too distant from where I roamed around the Kenai Peninsula during my journeys a few summers ago. It was a prison with a view, in fact it was located somewhere (map) in the background of this photo I took from Seward’s Waterfront Park.



View from Seward, Alaska. My own photo.

This was the Spring Creek Correctional Center, the state’s maximum security prison for its most hardened criminals. One would never want to spend time there except perhaps as an employee, and none of us will likely ever find ourselves there as permanent guests unless county counting, state highpointing or extended road tripping suddenly become illegal. Nonetheless, from a purely geographical placement, the inmates have something pleasant to ponder through the slots of their tiny cell block windows during their lengthy incarcerations.

That got me to wonder what other prisons might be advantageous should, you know, one suddenly fall into an alternate universe where the laws are completely different. What correctional institutions would a criminal geo-geek mastermind appreciate?


Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, Louisiana, USA


Offenders Artwork at Angola Prison Rodeo
Offenders Artwork at Angola Prison Rodeo by crawford orthodontics, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

One the surface, the Louisiana State Penitentiary might seem to have a lot to offer with its annual Angola Rodeo and art show. Seriously, the prison started a rodeo in 1965 and spectators flocked to the site in droves each year ever since.

That would be a nice diversion from toiling in the fields although a true geo-geek would crave more. Knowing that Turnbull Island (map) — a disconnected piece of West Feliciana Parish separated from the rest of the parish by Concordia Parish — was visible on the other side of the Mississippi River, well that would be priceless.


Alexander Maconochie Centre, Australian Capital Territory, Australia



Alexander Maconochie Centre

Geographically savvy Australian prisoners might appreciate being being locked-up at the Alexander Maconochie Centre assuming anyone could truly appreciate such a loss of freedom (map). It was constructed within the borders of the diminutive Australian Capital Territory.

Why would this tiny dot upon the Australian continent require its own prison? Primarily for a single reason: "prisoners were transferred into the New South Wales prison system and the ACT reimbursed NSW for the cost of holding those prisoners." ACT believed it would be cheaper to handle its own prison population instead of paying NSW. Also prisoners would be closer to their families for visitation purposes.

I couldn’t find any photos of the Alexander Maconochie Centre with the proper licenses to share. The centre was new, accepting prisoners only since 2009, so there wasn’t much available. The Canberra Times offered a a representative slideshow though.


San Marino


San Marino
San Marino by fdecomite, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

On the subject of small, I imagined geo-criminals might commit felonies in various microscopic nations simply for the novelty. San Marino appeared to be a decent possibility (map). The European press seemed enamored of San Marino’s prison population, too. The Telegraph featured The ‘world’s most pampered – and bored – prisoner’ in 2011.

The 30-year-old man has his meals brought to him from a local restaurant because it is not economical to lay on a canteen service for him alone. He enjoys the exclusive use of a gym, library and television room and occupies one of six cells which make up San Marino’s only jail, which is tucked into a wing of a former Capuchin monastery… But his lonely penance is about to come to an end – a second inmate is expected to be incarcerated in the next few days.

Der Spiegel followed up in 2014 with "San Marino: Tiny State, Big Baggage." It focused on inmate Piero Berti, a former national head of state who’s holiday meal "consisted of risotto with parmesan, followed by roasted turkey with seasonal vegetables, and fruit for dessert. It was accompanied by wine."


Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York, USA



Sing Sing Correctional Facility

On the other hand, Sing Sing was a much more notorious place in spite of it’s charming Hudson River views and its 4-star rating on Yelp. This was a dismal place designed for hardened criminals since the 1820’s, with several hundred people executed onsite using the legendary electric chair Old Sparky.

Sing Sing didn’t make the list because of its accommodations. I added it because the Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line commuter train ran directly through the facility! Walkways crossed above the tracks connecting both sides of the prison (for guards I’d suppose, not prisoners). Imagine hanging out in the prison yard and watching the trains pass through all day long. Better yet, imagine commuters riding through a prison, hearing a thunk and wondering if an inmate had jumped onto the roof of the car in an escape attempt like in the movies.

Surely there must be better geo-oddity prisons. How about the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland? It’s surrounded by West Virginia on three side. Are there other candidates?

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.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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