Seriously Broken

On October 29, 2014 · 4 Comments

I was amazed to find so many broken place names. I didn’t know what led people to memorialize broken objects, just noted that they they did and it amused me. Broken Lakes, Broken Ridges, Broken Points, Broken Valleys and on and on. The list was so exhaustive that I had a terrible time limiting my selection to the largest of such populated places, a couple of themes and some oddballs.

Native Americans Broke Stuff


Priorities
Priorities by Barry Lenard, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

That’s what I felt anyway after identifying several names related to the original inhabitants of the Americas. The largest location I found was Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a major suburb of about a hundred thousand residents on the eastern side of Tulsa (map). The image I selected didn’t have all that much to do with Broken Arrow per se except that it was taken there and it seemed to serve as a poignant commentary of one sort or another. It could have been taken anywhere, I suppose.

According to the City of Broken Arrow

When a group of Creek Indians established a settlement near what is now our city, they called it "Broken Arrow." Broken Arrow is the name of the place where many of those same Creeks had lived when they were in Alabama – before moving west on the Trail of Tears. While many Americans think of the term "broken arrow" as meaning an act of peace by Native Americans a few hundred years ago, the Creeks who got that name did so because they broke branches of trees to make their arrows, rather than cutting them.


Broken Bow, Nebraska
Broken Bow, Nebraska by BitHead, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A broken arrow in Oklahoma could be paired with a Broken Bow in Nebraska (map) although it was considerably smaller with about 3,500 residents. Broken Bow was the seat of local government in Custer County and one could be forgiven for thinking that the name referred to Custer’s demise at the Battle of Little Bighorn somehow. The explanation provided in the History of Custer County, Nebraska was rather more mundane.

Mr. Hewitt was a blacksmith and a hunter, and while out hunting one day he found, on an old Indian camping ground, a broken bow and arrow, which he carried home with him… some time afterwards he received notice that the third name [for the town] he had sent to Washington had been rejected, and going to the box after a piece of iron he picked up the broken bow, and the name "Broken Bow" came to his mind quickly.

I also discovered a similarly-sized Broken Bow in Oklahoma about a three hour drive from Broken Arrow. It was named for the Broken Bow in Nebraska, strangely enough.


Miners Broke Stuff



There was once a broken hill in a distant western corner of New South Wales, Australia, deep in the outback. Actually it was a string of hills "that appeared to have a break in them." Then a ranch hand discovered silver ore there in the late 19th Century and the broken hill became Broken Hill (map), a large mine and a settlement.

Miners extracted silver, zinc and lead from "a boomerang-shaped line of lode." It was a dirty, dangerous job and more than 700 people died on the site. A memorial served as "a stark reminder of the fact that more people have died working the mine’s in Broken Hill than Australian soldiers died in the Vietnam War."

Ironically, the broken hill that served as the town’s namesake no longer exists. It was mined completely away.


mine de cuivre - Zambie (around Kabwe)
mine de cuivre – Zambie (around Kabwe) by Amis de la Terre, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Another broken hill, this one in Zambia, resembled the broken hill in Australia. Foreign prospectors noticed the similarities and named it Broken Hill after the Australian location: "the mine became one of the biggest mines before the advent of copper mines on the Copperbelt." The town was later renamed Kabwe (map) in the post-colonial era, an indigenous word meaning "ore or smelting."

In 1921, a miner working at Broken Hill noticed a skull in the debris and he retrieved it. This came to be known appropriately enough as the Broken Hill skull. It belonged to a distant human ancestor known as Homo heidelbergensis that lived more than a half million years ago. The skull can be seen today at the Natural History Museum in London.


Some Other Broken Stuff


BR day lodge
BR day lodge by Jason Blair, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

New Zealand had a Broken River, and near there a Broken River Ski Field (map).



Broken Island, Falkland Islands

Finally, I noticed Broken Island in the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas if one prefers, although I don’t really want to get into the geo-politics of the situation). Google misspelled the name. Every other source I consulted agreed that it was Broken Island.

I included that last one because I didn’t have a 12MC push-pin on the Falklands in my Complete Index Map. Now I do. I’m still waiting for my first website visitor from the Falklands by the way. Its Internet country code top-level domain is .fk. We could have a lot of fun with that one.

Brewerytown

On October 26, 2014 · 0 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle reflects my personal interests including those that transcend geo-oddities such as my fascination with zymurgy and breweriana. Recent examples included Geo-BREWities and More Geo-BREWities that examined breweries referencing geography within their names. I do try to tie these themes back to geography in some manner since that’s the notional objective of 12MC, although sometimes I’m more successful at that than others.

The current effort flipped the script. Rather than breweries named for geography, were there places named for breweries? Once again I turned to my trusty friend, the Geographic Names Information System. There were surprisingly few place called Brewery anything. I noticed minor occurrences with Brewery Gulch, Hill, Creek, Spring, Hollow and the like, plus a few historic properties. The list contained only a single populated place, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania named Brewerytown.



Brewerytown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

"Brewerytown runs approximately between the Schuylkill River’s eastern bank and 25th Street, bounded by Cecil B. Moore Avenue to the north and Parrish Street to the south."

The name derived from an earlier industrial past as noted in That’s Why They Call it Brewerytown

Brewers were attracted to the area ponded by the dam at the Fairmount Water Works for the ice they could harvest from the [Schuylkill] river. Then, in vaults carved along its banks, brewers would pack wooden hogsheads of lager beer with ice for six to eight months for the beer to ‘ripen.’ Brewerytown evolved into a neighborhood that accounted for about half the city’s beer production and included some of the largest brewers in the nation, who shipped their beer throughout the world.

PhillyHistory.org added,

By the turn of the century, eleven large breweries had made Brewerytown their home. Immigrants eager to find jobs and to support such industries as malt houses, equipment suppliers, and saloons followed close behind and turned the area into one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

What happened? The usual story. Prohibition: "In 1933 prohibition was repealed, but there wasn’t much left of Brewerytown but idle, hulking industrial carcasses with broken windows."

Nonetheless, the current incarnation of Brewerytown showed Signs of revitalization although it still had a ways to go.

… the people in this neighborhood range from cold-cash professionals to college students to families trying to make ends meet. Its proximity to both I-76 and the infamous loop down Kelly Drive makes it hugely desirable for just about everyone–but be warned that when real-estate marketers refer to part of it as "up-and-coming," a lot of the area hasn’t quite, er, come "up" yet.

Two historic properties on the western edge of Brewerytown fascinated me in particular, neither having anything to do with breweries and both about as far apart on the spectrum of culture, social hierarchy and era as imaginable.


Lemon Hill


Lemon Hill Mansion
Lemon Hill Mansion by Gary Reed, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Henry Pratt, a wealthy Philadelphia merchant, constructed a large Federal-style mansion on a 43-acre site along the Schuylkill River in 1800 (map). He named it Lemon Hill for the abundant lemon trees he grew in his private greenhouse located elsewhere on his property. This wasn’t his primary residence either. Pratt used it as a "summer retreat" to escape the confines of the city during the ferociously hot and humid months, as did many of his peers of similar wealth and privilege.

Lemon Hill, now part of Fairmount Park, was licensed by the city to the Colonial Dames of America ("an international society of women members whose direct ancestors held positions of leadership in the Thirteen Colonies.") as their Philadelphia headquarters. In return, the society must preserve the property and make it available to the public in a variety of ways.


John Coltrane House



John Coltrane (1926 – 1967), the pioneering and highly influential postwar Jazz saxophonist, lived at 1511 N 33rd Street (Street View) from 1952 to 1958. That might make it slightly outside of Brewerytown, although close enough for this article.

Those were formative years of his career when he began to establish himself and also started playing with legendary figures such as Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Even after he moved to New York he continued to "use the house as an alternate residence" for the remainder of his life.

The John Coltrane House was named a National Historic Landmark in 1999. Efforts are underway to preserve the property.

Nest of Spies

On October 22, 2014 · 1 Comments

I’ve mentioned several times before that geo-oddities can be extremely localized, and I’ve used my own hometown of Arlington County, Virginia as an ongoing example. I created a bicycle ride over the weekend that highlighted a specific theme that I’ve not discussed before. Being located so close to the nation’s capital, Arlington County has been a hotbed of spies, espionage, and various cat-and-mouse games between the United States and the former Soviet Union (and now Russia).

A little Interubes sleuthing uncovered a few of the more noteworthy events and places in Arlington. I was amazed at the amount of activity that took place behind the scenes and I’m sure only a small portion ever made it into public view. Naturally I had to visit some of the known locations in person, and readers can too. I produced a map that begins and ends at the Ballston Metro Station. The complete route is about 10 miles (16 km).

All photos are my own unless otherwise labeled.


The Early Cold War


Arlington Hall
Arlington Hall as it Now Appears

Arlington Hall began as a girls’ school in the 1920’s. However, a ready-made facility with easy access to the Pentagon sounded really attractive to the government. The military seized and closed the school during the Second World War as vital to the American war effort. It became Arlington Hall Station, a headquarters of the US Army’s Signal Intelligence Service, where cryptologists focused on cracking Japanese codes. The Army decided to retain the property after the war because of an emerging new threat, the Cold War. Eventually the operation became part of the newly-formed National Security Agency.

Soviet efforts to penetrate Arlington Hall began almost immediately, and succeeded.

The secrets were held from everyone except the Russians… the first decrypt of Soviet KGB messages sent from New York was witnessed by Bill Weiband, the NKVD agent. The secrets were later officially shared with Kim Philby, the phlegmatic British MI-6 liaison officer to the new CIA in 1949, when he visited Arlington Hall.

Many of the Arlington Hall workers lived in the adjacent garden apartments of Buckingham and the single family homes of the Arlington Forest neighborhood, and Soviet spies flocked there too. An off-premise Officers Club existed at the old Henderson Estate (now the site of the Lubber Run Community Center, map). Officials feared inebriated officers might say things that should remain silent so the club was moved onto campus. That didn’t halt the flow of sensitive information from deeply-embedded moles though.

Cryptology operations moved to more secure facilities in the 1980’s. One part of the Arlington Hall campus now hosts the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute and the other holds the US Army National Guard Readiness Center. That was the official word, anyway.

There were also rumors of Soviet and/or East German operations coordinated from a condominium building at 1515 S. Arlington Ridge Road (Street View). I had no idea whether that was true or not, although Arlington Ridge Road did make an appearance on Twelve Mile Circle in a completely different context a few years ago.


Aldrich Ames


Aldrich Ames House
The Aldrich Ames Residence

Aldrich Ames serves a lifelong prison sentence at the Allenwood high security prison in Pennsylvania, as he has done for the last two decades. He had been a counterintelligence officer in the Central Intelligence Agency for more than 30 years when he was finally exposed and arrested in 1994. His job focused on targeting people who worked at the Soviet Embassy to see if they could be converted into moles. Behind the scenes, he sold information about the identity of Soviet spies who then promptly faced death or simply disappeared.

The CIA and FBI learned that Russian officials who had been recruited by them were being arrested and executed. These human sources had provided critical intelligence information about the USSR, which was used by U.S. policy makers in determining U.S. foreign policy. Following analytical reviews and receipt of information about Ames’s unexplained wealth, the FBI opened an investigation in May 1993.

Ames was arrested at his Arlington home, at 2512 N Randolph Street.

The Arlington County property records noted ownership by Aldrich H. & Rosario C. Ames. The property was seized by the Federal government and sold in 1995.


Robert Hanssen



A Dead Drop Used by Robert Hanssen

Robert Hanssen worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation until his 2001 arrest, and now serves a life sentence at Florence ADMAX prison in South Carolina. Like Ames, Hanssen sold secrets primarily for greed, and he exposed informants buried deep within the Soviet military system. Hanssen used a number of "dead drops," or inconspicuous places where he could leave documents and receive payments. At least one of those secret hiding spots was located in Arlington.

I used to take my children to the Long Branch Nature Center when they were younger (map). Little did I suspect that it had a hidden historical past. There, under the edge of a wooden outdoor amphitheater (photo), Russian agents left a paper bag filled with $50,000 in cash for Hanssen. The FBI was already on Hanssen’s tail at that point and watched the location for several days. Hanssen never showed-up although he was captured at another dead drop a little later. Upon arrest he reportedly exclaimed, "What took you so long?"


Operation Ghost Stories



FBI Video of a Dead Drop in Arlington

Just when everyone thought the Cold War was relegated to the distant past it reemerged from the underground in 2010, surfaced by the FBI’s Operation Ghost Stories. As the FBI stated,

Our agents and analysts watched the deep-cover operatives as they established themselves in the U.S. (some by using stolen identities) and went about leading seemingly normal lives—getting married, buying homes, raising children, and assimilating into American society… The SVR was in it for the long haul. The illegals were content to wait decades to obtain their objective, which was to develop sources of information in U.S. policymaking circles.

The ten Russian deep undercover agents that were arrested — including two who lived in Arlington — were not convicted of any crime. They were allowed to return to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange; of spies traded for spies. Both sides continued the cloak-and-dagger.

The FBI released a large compendium of documents from their investigation in 2011 including a video of an actual drop taking place in an unnamed Arlington park, a bag containing $5,000. There was speculation about the actual location at the time. It could have been one of several Arlington locations because of the lack of visual clues in the video, although most signs pointed to Glencarlyn Park (map). Fittingly, that would be less than a mile from Hanssen’s dead drop. I looked around and couldn’t find an exact match although the bridges there were constructed in a similar manner (photo). I’ll keep looking.

Maybe I’ll find a bag of cash.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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