A Prisoner to Geo-Oddities

On September 17, 2014 · 0 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?

Hardly Tropic

On September 14, 2014 · 1 Comments

Technically, the tropics would be an area hugging the equator between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, between approximately 23°26′-or-so north and south. The two latitudes marked the extent the sun might appear directly overhead if only briefly on a single day, the summer solstice. Tropics also had a more widespread definition that included mild, lush areas in general. I could understand placenames in South Florida incorporating Tropic, Tropical or Tropicana, for example, because the Tropic of Cancer almost clipped it. Utah? Not so much.

Tropic, Utah


View near Tropic, Utah
View near Tropic, Utah by Texas Dreaming, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Yet, that’s what I noticed in the Twelve Mile Circle reader logs. The visitor arrived on the site from Tropic, Utah (map). I’m sure it was a fine town full of lovely people in a wonderful setting. I had no quarrel with the town although its name surprised me.

Tropic was a gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park. I’ve been to Bryce and it’s great, albeit not what most observers might consider tropical, geographically or stereotypically. It snows in Bryce Canyon. Roads close. Rangers lead snowshoe hikes. The park holds a winter carnival. That didn’t sound like The Tropics to me.(¹)

The Town of Tropic did its best to put a happy face on its inherent contradiction.

It was suggested by Andrew J. Hansen to call it "Tropic". To support the suggestion, he stated that people would come to their little valley where peaches, apples, grapes and other semi-tropical fruits would be found. The name Tropic was adopted; with the population of about 15 families.

The name appeared to be a late 19th Century marketing ploy. Town founders focused optimistically on the warmer months and ignored the rest of the year. That didn’t make it tropical though. For Tropic, Utah to be genuinely tropic it would need to be relocated to a latitude at the southern tip of México’s Baja Peninsula.

Let’s go ahead a flog that dead horse a bit longer because, honestly, I don’t have anything better to do this morning.


Tropic of Cancer Beach, The Bahamas



There were precious few places named for the magical lines that marked a tropical transition. One was Tropic of Cancer Beach on Little Exuma in The Bahamas (map). It was truth in advertising too. The Tropic of Cancer did indeed cross through the beach. A line marking the approximate location could be seen in the first few frames of the YouTube video I borrowed.

It might be ill-advised to draw a comparison between the name of the beach and the harmful effects of long-term overexposure to sunlight. Nonetheless I shall note that it was probably a better option than Melanoma Beach. Ignoring that inconvenient fact, its shimmering blue waters, white sand, and light breeze certainly seemed stereotypically tropical!


Hualien, Taiwan


Tropic of Cancer - Valley_01
Tropic of Cancer – Valley_01 by Vincent's Album, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Of course the world wasn’t filled solely with sandy beaches and there were plenty of tropical places that one didn’t necessary think of as meeting the palm tree and umbrella drink stereotype. For instance, the Tropic of Cancer cut through Taiwan, placing half of the island nation within the tropics. Taiwan recognized the line with several markers spread geographically across its landmass including a remarkable specimen in Hualien (map).

The most amusing notion of tropical latitude would be that the boundaries drift over time. Currently the lines are moving slightly towards the equator by a few feet each year as part of a complicated cycle. Any monument marking the actual Tropic of Cancer would become noticeably incorrect almost immediately unless it could be moved. That won’t work for the Taiwanese monument. It’s already on the wrong spot by definition.

However, it’s been done correctly along a highway in Mexico, Carretera 83, near Victoria (map) in the state of Tamaulipas.


America’s Most Spurious



Tropic, OHIO?!?

Utah may not be the tropics although it was still better than a considerably more confounding occurrence I discovered in the Geographic Names Information System: Tropic, Ohio. That was quite the oxymoron. A little additional research traced its name to a nearby coal mine. I guess they ran out of suitable names.


(¹) That’s not to say it never snows in the tropics as defined geographically. There are exceptions. If all these years of writing 12MC have taught me one thing, it’s that very few statements are absolutes.

Kotsiubynske

On September 10, 2014 · 0 Comments

I’ve been examining maps of Ukraine closely over the last several months as I’m sure many in the 12MC audience have been doing likewise. In the course of that effort I noticed a little anomaly far removed from the action and completely unrelated to the conflict. It pertained to the Kyiv (Kiev) Oblast surrounding the self-governing City of Kyiv. The arrangement was convoluted. Kyiv, the city, was an enclave within the Oblast of the same name. In turn, the city was the administrative center of the Oblast even though not a physical part of it, as well as serving as the national capital.

That wasn’t a completely unique situation. I’ve seen similar things occur in other places including near where I live in a handful of Virginia’s independent cities that contain the seat of government for the surrounding county. I wouldn’t have bothered mentioning Kyiv if that had been the extent of the arrangement. However, I noticed a little dot on the northwest corner of the city of Kyiv and I thought it must have been a smudge or an error. It wasn’t. The tiny spec was a small bubble of the Oblast completely surrounded by the city which in turn was completely surrounded by the Oblast; an enclave within an enclave.



View Kotsiubynske in a larger map

It also had a name, Kotsiubynske or Kotsubynske or variations on that theme, although in its native Ukrainian it was something akin to Коцюбинське (assuming I managed to code all of those Cyrillic characters correctly). Kotsiubynske, an exclave of Kyiv Oblast subordinate to the city of Irpin, and an enclave enclosed with the city of Kyiv, had about fifteen thousand residents living within its unusual arrangement.

I attempted to discern the origins of this geographic oddity. Translation software pointed on the village website and the corresponding Ukrainian Wikipedia page only went so far. I did my best.

From what I could tell, it began as a small hamlet named Berkovets in 1900. A railway came through the area around that same time and the hamlet became a railroad stop. Berkovets may have been named after a wooden vessel used to hold honey, or it may have been named after an early settler. Accounts differed.

Another station was built nearby and named Squirrel. I thought that must have been a translation error except the websites kept mentioning Squirrel repeatedly. I felt some relief when I noticed a squirrel incorporated within the Kotsiubynske town logo. Okay, it really was a squirrel. The "squirrel village" portion dated back to the 12th Century, apparently.

Somehow the location of the railroad and the station conveyed some sort of special status upon the surrounding land. Later the name Kotsiubynske was applied to the area. Kotsiubynske became subordinate to Irpen in 1962, making it part of Kyiv Oblast rather than the city of Kyiv. I could probably come up with a better explanation if I understood Ukrainian, which I can’t, so hopefully I didn’t mangle the story too much. Anyone read Ukrainian? The whole squirrel thing threw me for awhile.



Undoubtedly 12MC readers would love to see Kotsiubynske in greater detail. We’re in luck! It’s one of the very few areas of Ukraine with Google Street View coverage (for example). Better yet, the village website included an embedded YouTube video which I’ve lifted and posted above. The entire premise involved someone driving around with a dashboard camera to a soundtrack best put on mute. Things I learned about driving in Kotsiubynske:

  • Stop signs were apparently optional
  • Drivers ran through intersections without looking
  • It would be dangerous to be a pedestrian
  • There were lots of pedestrians
  • Many of them were women pushing baby carriages
  • And Kotsiubynske must be pretty small because I think I saw the same street three times

If anyone ever doubted, I do watch every frame of every video I place on 12MC. Believe me, I was ready to get out of that virtual car after twelve minutes of back-and-forth. I started feeling carsick from all the motion.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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