Label Me Elmo

On March 11, 2014 · 1 Comments

I’ll display Elmo one final time, just like in Counterintuitive Saints, even though this article will have absolutely nothing to do with Sesame Street. Why? Because that’s what 12MC wants to do at the moment. How often does one get to feature Elmo?



Elmo, not St. Elmo
Own photo, taken at 2013 White House Easter Egg Roll

I should probably recap some other salient points from the earlier article while I’m at it. First, St. Elmo (St. Erasmus) was the patron saint of sailors and abdominal pain. However a different St. Elmo — a fictional title character for a wildly popular romance novel written by Augusta Jane Evans in 1866 — happened to inspire multiple places and geographic labels in the United States during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. I’m sure enthusiast of Victorian-era literature could draw uncountable comparisons and inferences between the book and its title character, the fictional St. Elmo Murray, and the historical saint of mariners and intestinal distress. I’ll ignore that entire perspective and stick with geography.

Seriously though, many different sources listed St. Elmo as one of the best selling U.S. novels of the Nineteenth Century, contending for popularity with Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur. My education must have been horribly deficient because I’d never heard of the book until last weekend. I wondered if my situation was a spectacular case of ignorance and forgetfulness, or if St. Elmo simply fell so far out of favor over the last century as to become completely obscure. It’s disconcerting.

Anyway, let’s go examine some objects named for the book.


St. Elmo Estate



St. Elmo Estate, Columbus, Georgia, USA

Evans finished writing St. Elmo at the home of her aunt, Mary Howard Jones, in Columbus, Georgia. Mary was the widow of Seaborn Jones, a former U.S. Congressman, who had passed away a few years earlier. Seaborn Jones commissioned this estate in 1833 and named it El Dorado.

Researchers familiar with St. Elmo and its author believed that its fictional estate, La Bocage, was based largely upon the Seaborn Jones property. A subsequent owner even changed the name from El Dorado to St. Elmo as a tribute.

While it must have been a grand estate during its heyday and while the vintage home remains quite impressive, the surrounding acreage succumbed to typical suburb. The only notice of the estate’s exalted place in American literature is an historical marker in front of the property and nearby St. Elmo Drive (map).

That was just one example, and a fairly logical one. Augusta Evans Wilson, 1835-1909: A Biography, By William Perry Fidler (1951) noted a near-frenzy of more unusual designations.

There were steamboats and railway coaches named "St. Elmo." Many southern towns had "St. Elmo Hotels," and at least two villages were named for the book. There was a "St. Elmo" punch, a very strong "St. Elmo" cigar, and several blue-ribboned dogs named "St. Elmo." Many country estates or city mansions were called "La Bocage" after the Murray estate in the novel. A remarkable number of children have been christened Edna Earl, for the heroine, or St. Elmo.

Readers can explore the various St. Elmo towns on their own using GNIS. I’ll focus on some other possibilities.


St. Elmo Historic District



St. Elmo Historic District, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

Chattanooga, Tennessee included a St. Elmo Historic District named for the book, "nestled in the valley of Lookout Mountain below the curling stretch of the Tennessee River known as Moccasin Bend." A page maintained by the District claimed that "Evans had spent several summers on Lookout Mountain and found the view similar to that of St. Elmo Castle in Naples, Italy." She apparently did visit Lookout Mountain at least once during the Civil War although I never could corroborate "several summers" or the Castle claim.


St. Elmo Cigar Company



Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California, USA

This location was much more difficult to finger. First I had to find the St. Elmo Cigar Company, which probably disappeared about a hundred years ago, and then follow it back to its exact location. Eventually I stumbled upon the Los Angeles Herald, 3 September 1905 courtesy of the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

… manufacturers of high grade clear Havana cigars and dealers in leaf tobacco, the plant of the company being located in the massive four story brick building at 216 Central avenue… brands of clear Havana cigars made by the company are "St. Elmo," "Senator White," "Sample Case" and "La Corona."

A "massive four story brick building" no longer existed anywhere along the 200 block of Central Avenue in Los Angeles (street view). Times changed. That area later became Little Tokyo.


St. Elmo Hotel



St. Elmo Hotel, Ouray, Colorado, USA

I found numerous historical references to multiple hotels named for St. Elmo in the decades immediately following publication. The only example that still seemed to be standing with its original name was the St. Elmo Hotel in Ouray, Colorado. As its website mentioned,

Con­struc­tion started on the St. Elmo.. in the spring of 1897 and was com­pleted the fol­low­ing spring… The hotel was the miner’s hotel… The St. Elmo Hotel is one of the few hotels in the region that has enjoyed almost con­tin­u­ous oper­a­tion, and today oper­ates as a small finely main­tained nine room bed and break­fast inn.

This hotel would have been built, named and operated during the correct era. However I couldn’t find that one final piece of evidence to tie the name to the novel. Even so it probably remained the leading candidate for that possibility.

I really wish I could have found a recipe for St. Elmo punch, too.

United States of Colors

On February 20, 2014 · 2 Comments

I began to think about counties with colors in their names as I investigated the etymology and history of Blue Earth County, Minnesota in further detail. My mind began to wander down this completely unrelated tangent. Soon enough I found myself hunting through a list of US counties for examples and plotting them on a map.


US Counties With Colors in Their Names

Feel free to open this image within another tab or window if you’d like to take a closer look. I’ve shrunk the map down to match size limitations of the blog template even though the underlying graphics file is considerably larger. I’ve also provided a public spreadsheet of my selections if you’re wondering what I discovered or if you’d like to check what I might have overlooked and offer any suggestions.

I made arbitrary decisions in some instances. Obviously something like Frederick County didn’t quality as red even if the letters r-e-d appeared sequentially within its name. How about Greenwood and Greenlee qualifying as Green? I decided to count Greenwood because green wood exists, while Greenlee, well some sources said it may have meant green field or green meadow once long ago. Nonetheless it didn’t resonate with me so I dropped it. I know! Completely unjustified. The arbitrator is a capricious jerk.

I bent protocols in the other direction, too. How about Cherry? That’s red. Vermilion? Also red. At that point I enjoyed my reacquaintance with the two counties bordering each other in adjacent states, one in Illinois (Vermilion with one "l") and one in Indiana (Vermillion with double "ll").

Finally, a big tip of the keyboard had to go to American patriot Nathanael Greene. He began the American Revolutionary War as a private and worked his way up to Major General, responsible for all Continental Army troops in the southern campaign. Historians credited him with wearing down British general Cornwallis in the Carolinas, driving the fight into Virginia where Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

What does that have to do with anything? A grateful new nation named an astounding number of places for the famous patriot. Every one of the 14 Greene Counties in the United States honored Nathanael Greene, as did the Green Counties (inexplicably dropping the final "e") established in Kentucky and Wisconsin. The collective Green/e counties greened the map rather nicely, don’t you think?

Enjoy!


Colorful Sequence



View Colorful Roadtrip in Minnesota in a larger map

It still seemed I couldn’t dodge the specialness of Blue Earth County. I noticed that Blue Earth formed a solid anchor for an amazing sequence of colorful counties. Extending along the southern bank of the Minnesota River, physically attached like a string of precious jewels pulled upriver: Blue Earth, Brown, Redwood and Yellow Medicine. I thought that would be a fantastic premise for any prospective county counter, traveling from blue to brown to red to yellow. I’ve not captured any of them yet. I see a trip to southern Minnesota in my future.

I had to know the etymology of this colorful coincidental progression:

  • Blue Earth: Named for the Blue Earth river, discussed previously.
  • Brown: Named for Joseph Renshaw Brown, and early Minnesota legislator.
  • Redwood: Named for a variety of juniper found locally, Juniperus virginiana, also known as Red Cedar.
  • Yellow Medicine: Named for a plant, reputedly Menispermum canadense (Common Moonseed or Yellow Parilla), used by the Dakota tribe for medicinal purposes

There is one additional colorful county in Minnesota worth mentioning although it’s located in a completely different part of the state than the magnificent contiguous four: it’s called Red Lake. That county was featured in one of the very first 12MC articles (article #7! November 2007!). As far as I can tell, it’s the only landlocked county with only two neighboring counties, cradled by Polk County on three sides and Pennington County on the remaining side.

Bowls

On January 30, 2014 · 0 Comments

All that talk of bowling greens in the previous article increased my curiosity about the sport of bowls (or lawn bowls) in general. It’s similar to a family of Continental lawn bowling games including Bocce and Pétanque and it spread wherever the British Empire extended. I’m not sure why I didn’t discover Bowls a couple of years ago when I tracked down Sports Facilities I Never Imagined because it would have fit in perfectly with that theme.

The Hong Kong Lawn Bowls Association provided a good concise explanation of the sport.

The game of Bowls is played on a 34 to 40M square of closely cut grass called the green. The green is divided into playing areas called rinks. The green is surrounded by a small ditch to catch bowls which leave the green, and a bank upon which markers indicate the corners and centrelines of each rink. Players deliver their bowls alternately from a mat at one end of the rink, towards a small white ball called the jack at the other end. The bowls are shaped so that they do not run in a straight line, but take a curved path towards the jack… the objective of the game is to get one or more bowls closer to the jack than those of the opposition – one point is scored for each counting bowl.


Governance

The World Bowls Board oversees the sport, setting laws and regulations for "55 member National Authorities in 51 Member Nations." The Board governs Bowls from its location in Rutland Square, Edinburgh, Scotland. I drilled-in to the address using satellite view and noticed a verdant lawn at the square. I thought that would be a wonderfully appropriate spot for a bowling green. Apparently the managers of the World Bowls Board thought the same because…


No Ball Games!
World Bowls Headquarters, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
via Google Street View, March 2010

… someone had to erect a "No Ball Games" sign in the square. That was amusing. Imagine those hellions at the World Bowls Board running amok on Rutland Square during their lunchtime, with unsanctioned pickup matches, unruly ball rolling and bothering the pigeons and such. I bet they still sneak-in matches when the authorities look the other way.


Commonwealth Games

Bowls is a significant sport in several nations, and World Bowls is justifiably proud that Bowls is "a core sport in the Commonwealth Games." At the upcoming 2014 Games in Glasgow,

Athletes will compete for eight Gold medals across the men’s and women’s singles, pairs, triples and fours, beginning with a round robin format before knockout finals determine the medal winners. Set in one of Glasgow’s most famous parks, the Lawn Bowls competition will take place at the picturesque Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre, adjacent to the renowned Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.



Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

The Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre has six, count them SIX, bowling greens, with at least five of them upgraded to international standard.


The Oldest Bowling Green


Southampton (Old) Bowling Green
Southampton (Old) Bowling Green, Southampton, England, UK
via Google Street View, June 2012

The oldest surviving bowling green is believed to be the Southampton (Old) Bowling Green in England. This green has been in continuous use since 1299. I guess I’ll have to take that on faith because "everybody" in the sport said it was true and the history page on the club’s website was down. Nonetheless I was more fortunate with I drilled down to Lower Canal Walk in Southampton using Google Street View. There I observed and captured an image of club members in action. It may not be possible for me to confirm that anyone played at Southampton in 1299, however Google proved that matches took place in June 2012.


Bowls in the United States

Bowls certainly had devoted fans in the United States even if it didn’t have quite the same recognition as found in the UK. Bowls USA governs the sport across an extensive list of Divisions and Clubs.



Leisure World, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

I found the club closest to my residence. It turned out to be located at Leisure World of Maryland, "a private, age-restricted community." I guess I’ll have to defer my dreams of Bowls glory awhile longer. That seemed to be a recurring theme in the United States. Twelve clubs existed in Florida while none existed in huge swaths of the Midwest. Bowls seemed to skew towards an older demographic.


Most Isolated Green?



Murray Barracks Bowling Green, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

I examined the list of international member countries recognized by World Bowls to locate the most isolated bowling green. I probably could have selected any one of several South Pacific islands. Instead I chose to focus on Papua New Guinea for no particular reason other than it seemed improbable. Instead, I discovered that Bowls was apparently quite popular and worthy of television coverage.



Port Moresby has an international standard bowling green at Murray Barracks, the headquarters of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.

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