I hadn’t flown through Chicago’s Midway Airport much until recently. Then Southwest Airlines started offering flights at my local airport and many of its connections passed through Midway. I always hated connecting flights, and flying in general, although I admitted a preference for Midway over O’Hare. I never thought about its name though.
Chicago, Illinois seemed to be a perfect spot for an airport named Midway, being placed just about midway across the continent (map). That’s where I thought the name would lead like the Definitely Halfway article. I’ve been wrong so many times before it shouldn’t surprise me anymore when something takes a strange turn. This one still caught me off guard. It began service as Municipal Airport in 1927. The named changed to Midway in 1949, not because of its geography but to honor the Battle of Midway.
In May 1942, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to draw the US Pacific Fleet into a battle where he could overwhelm and destroy it. To accomplish this he planned an invasion of Midway Island which would provide a base for attacking Hawaii. Using decrypted Japanese radio intercepts, Admiral Chester Nimitz was able to counter this offensive. On June 4, 1942, US aircraft flying from USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, and USS Yorktown attacked and sunk four Japanese carriers, forcing Yamamoto to withdrawal. The Battle of Midway marked the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.
Midway Atoll marked an approximate midway point between North America and Asia (map), thus the name.
Did the Battle of Midway inspire other names? Yes, of course.
A few months ago my transit through Midway Airport took me onward to San Diego, California. I’ve always enjoyed San Diego and its downtown waterfront. Visitors there can see lots of attractions including the USS Midway Museum. It’s a vintage aircraft carrier converted into a massive floating exhibit.
The Naval History and Heritage Command’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships noted three ships with the Midway name. The War Shipping Administration first pressed a private freighter into service in 1942, naming it the Midway (AG-41). It operated mainly along the Pacific coastline and later became the Panay because the Navy wanted to use Midway for a more important ship. That first Midway got its name from the atoll anyway, not the battle, so the battle needed to be commemorated. The second Midway (CVE-63), an escort carrier, got its name in 1943 and it definitely honored the battle. Its name changed in 1944, however, so an even larger aircraft carrier could become the Midway. The second Midway became the St. Lo to honor Saint-Lô, a town in France in the crosshairs of the Normandy Invasion A kamikaze attack sank the St. Lo at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The final Midway (CVE-63) eventually became the museum that graced the San Diego waterfront (map). Its commissioning came a few days too late for World War II. However it served valiantly for nearly a half-century thereafter. The Midway ended its service as the flagship of the Persian Gulf fleet during Operation Desert Storm before its 1992 decommissioning.
I couldn’t simply check every Midway Street to see if it traced back to the Battle of Midway. That would have involve thousands of data points. However, I did find a suburb of Adelaide, South Australia called Elizabeth East. The street names reflected the battle. Very quickly, I spotted Halsey Road, Nimitz Road, Hornet Crescent, Saratoga Road, and of course Midway Road. There were many others. These reflected the commanders and ships of the winners. I wondered how many of Elizabeth East’s four thousand residents understood the theme.
There must have been more. I couldn’t find them. They were lost amongst many more streets called Midway for other reasons.
However, I did find an interesting movie theater that opened in 1942. Thomas White Lamb designed this wonderful Art Moderne structure placed in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, New York (map).
[It] was named after the World War II battle, opened later that year as a single-screen 1,933-seat theater, but it was converted to a nine-screen multiplex when United Artists took control of the building in 1998.
Midway seemed as good a name for a theater as an airport.
I kept running into places that compared themselves to Venice as I uncovered canal superlatives. Literally dozens of places described themselves that way. It made things easy for Twelve Mile Circle too. I could select whatever examples I wanted today because I couldn’t possibly cover them all. That seemed like an excellent opportunity to create some push-pins in lower density areas of the 12MC Complete Index Map. Right, India?
Realizing all these claimants existed, of course only one true Venice prevailed amongst the poseurs, the deservedly famous one in Italy (map). It seemed like an odd location for a city, scattered along a string of islands in a marshy lagoon at the mouth of a couple of rivers. The founders selected this unlikely site intentionally. The marsh offered refuge to Christians fleeing southward away from Germanic tribes as the Roman Empire crumbled. Their city grew over the centuries. Eventually it became an important economic hub and a naval power. Venice only had so much land however, and an overabundance of water, leading to the beautiful canals that visitors treasure today.
I decided to completely side-step the ongoing geopolitical situation of the Kashmir conflict. The focus remained on a city with an alleged resemblance to Venice contained within its larger borders. Srinagar (map) came under Indian control and that seemed alright for my purposes. The city claimed to be a "Kashmiri Venice" or even more boldly the "Venice of the East." At least a dozen other places also proclaimed themselves to be the true Venice of the East. I didn’t know how to rank them although I felt secure that Srinagar should be considered at least the Kashmiri Venice. That felt safe.
Srinagar fell within the Jammu and Kashmir state at the very northern tip of India. Jammu and Kashmir itself included an interesting geo-oddity. It had both a summer and a winter capital. Srinagar served as the capital during the warmer months and then it jumped to Jammu for the winter. I couldn’t figure why or how that worked. It seemed strange to move the capital nearly 300 kilometres (180 miles) twice a year. And I’ve complained about moving the hands of a clock twice a year. That little tangent had nothing to do with canals in Srinagar so I supposed I need to get back on track.
The Jhelum River ran through Srinagar on its way to the Indus River. A series of canals, both current and historical, prevented flooding and regulated water levels. They also connected two large bodies of water, Dal Lake and Anchar Lake, as well as several smaller ones. The city became known for its majestic waterside Mughal architecture, its wonderful parks and its iconic houseboats. All of those conditions underlied its claim.
Venice of the Netherlands
Giethoorn in the Overijssel province of the Netherlands also featured a network of interlaced canals and an abundance of water.
It is so peaceful, so different and has such simple beauty that it hardly seems real – gently gliding along small canals past old but pretty thatched-roof farmhouses… Giethoorn is at the centre of Overijssel’s canal system. Indeed, the little village is so dependent on its waterways, many of the houses cannot be reached by road. When the postman delivers the mail he travels by punt.
Giethoorn made some pretty bold claims too. Some called Giethoorn (map) the "Venice of the Netherlands" and others extended it even farther to "Venice of the North." I think the fine folks in Amsterdam might question either claim although that hardly seemed to stop little Giethoorn from drawing its line in the sand.
It looked like something out of a fairy tale. Were there any trolls under those bridges?
Florida featured an entire city of Venice although nobody called it the "Venice of America," or even the "Venice of Florida." It got its name in the 1880’s and even the city itself admitted that a couple of early settlers simply picked the name. Venice didn’t have any more or any fewer canals than other coastal cities in Florida. A completely different Florida location claimed to be the Venice of America; Fort Lauderdale (map). The city featured "65 miles of interconnected canals" spanned by 52 separate bridges. Cruises and water taxis delighted many tourists who flocked there.
A Special Note
The nation of Venezuela might be the most significant Venetian namesake. Most sources agreed that Amerigo Vespucci, navigator for the Alonso de Ojeda expedition of 1499 bestowed the name. Supposedly he noticed stilt houses built upon Lake Maracaibo that reminded him of the Italian City so he named it Veneziola ("Little Venice"). This became Venezuela when filtered through Spanish. Amerigo fared even better however, with a little corner of the world known as America named in his honor.
It wasn’t always easy finding sites that appealed to every member of the family during our Michigan trip. I searched high and low, from way up in the sky to deep undersea, for our little day trips during our week away from home. Local roads took us to three different places in three distinct directions all within close range of our temporary base in Grand Rapids. Each of the sites featured a connection to the Second World War, coincidentally enough.
Kalamazoo Air Zoo
An hour drive due south brought us to Kalamazoo and its wonderfully named Kalamazoo Air Zoo. I hoped my frequent visits to Washington DC’s Air and Space Museum wouldn’t taint my perception so I tried to keep an open mind. I needn’t worry. The Air Zoo held its own. Incredibly, a government did not operate or fund this museum. It sprang from the collection of private citizens, Sue and Pete Parish. They started small with just a few planes in the 1960’s.
It was becoming clear that Sue and Pete wanted to share their enthusiasm about World War II airplanes with people who enjoyed these historic flying machines. Then a friend made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: start a museum, and he would give them his Grumman Bearcat.
The building on the edge of Kalamazoo’s airport eventually filled with exhibits, leading to another building and then an annex (map). It took most of a day for us to tour everything in depth. This would also be a great $100 hamburger for people into such things. The Air Zoo website included fly-in directions.
An easy half-hour drive southwest of Grand Rapids brought us to the city of Holland. The name reflected the expected immigrant story.
Persuaded by religious oppression and economic depression, a group of 60 men, women, and children, led by Albertus C. VanRaalte, prepared for their 47-day trip from Rotterdam to New York. VanRaalte intended to purchase land in Wisconsin, but travel delays and an early winter caused the group to layover in Detroit. After hearing about available lands in west Michigan, VanRaalte decided to scout the territory. They reached their destination on February 9, 1847 on the banks of Black Lake — today’s Lake Macatawa.
One couldn’t blame the town for capitalizing on on its heritage by creating Windmill Island Gardens. This well-manicured park featured a 1761 windmill called De Zwaan (the Swan), moved from the Netherlands to Michigan in 1964 (map). Many Dutch windmills fell into disrepair especially during World War 2 when they often served as signal towers, drawing enemy fire. The town acquired a particularly dilapidated specimen from Vinkel in Noord Brabant and restored it to its original condition. The Netherlands would never allow such a valuable cultural icon like this to escape its territory today.
De Zwaan functioned perfectly on a wind-swept plain along the Macatawa River, on the edge of town. A local resident, Alisa Crawford, then learned how to operate the windmill. She finished her training in the Netherlands and "is the only female member of the Dutch milling guild, Ambachtelijk Korenmolenaars Gilde." She grinds white winter wheat grown in western Michigan and offers it for sale at Windmill Island.
Visitors also get an opportunity to walk to the top of the Windmill with great views in all directions.
Another day we drove to Muskegon, also nearby heading northwest this time for about forty minutes (map). Here we found the Silversides Museum. It seemed like a strange name for a submarine until I saw that it came from a certain type of fish resembling a smelt. Then it made perfect sense. The USS Silversides served with distinction during World War 2. She launched and received her commission just a few days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and served through the entire war. Her crew earned numerous distinctions,
Silversides received twelve battle stars for World War II service and was awarded one Presidential Unit Citation for cumulative action over four patrols. She is credited with sinking 23 ships, the third-most of any allied World War II submarine, behind only the USS Tang and USS Tautog.
It seemed incomprehensible for me to imagine that sixty people lived aboard this vessel. I pushed my way through its length into increasingly claustrophobic quarters, through tiny hatches between watertight compartments. Bunks stacked atop bunks in ever corner and crevice. Privacy simply did not exist aboard a Gato-Class submarine. Submariners also faced horrific survival rates throughout the war although only a single crew member died in combat on the Silversides. She earned a nickname, the Lucky Boat.
The museum included more than just the submarine. It also featured a US Coast Guard Cutter, the McLane plus an entire museum building filled with exhibits.