Marking the Meridian

On February 2, 2017 · 1 Comments

A random one-time reader landed on Twelve Mile Circle recently. That unknown visitor sought information about the Prime Meridian, and I’ll get to the specific request in a moment. I knew I’d discussed this meridian before. However, in searching my archives and after examining the Complete Index I discovered that I’d never actually marked the place where it all started in Greenwich, England (map).

The Royal Observatory; Greenwich, England, UK


Prime meridian at Greenwich
Prime meridian at Greenwich. Photo by Duncan Stephen on Flickr (cc)

More than nine years writing 12MC and no photo? Really? We’ll fix that right now.

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about it because I think most of us already know the story. Greenwich appeared in a number of 12MC articles, for example from an American perspective. The agreed-upon line went through the Royal Observatory for a number of historical reasons. I’ll borrow some text directly from its website.

In 1884 the Prime Meridian was defined by the position of the large ‘Transit Circle’ telescope in the Observatory’s Meridian Observatory. The transit circle was built by Sir George Biddell Airy, the 7th Astronomer Royal, in 1850. The cross-hairs in the eyepiece of the Transit Circle precisely defined Longitude 0° for the world. As the Earth’s crust is moving very slightly all the time the exact position of the Prime Meridian is now moving very slightly too, but the original reference for the prime meridian of the world remains the Airy Transit Circle in the Royal Observatory, even if the exact location of the line may move to either side of Airy’s meridian.

Modern calculations placed the meridian about 100 metres east of the line where all the tourists commonly gather. The Daily Telegraph noted that a rubbish bin marked the actual line, not the fancy marker.


Meridiano de Greenwich; Candasnos, Spain


Meridiano de Greenwich
Meridiano de Greenwich; Candasnos, Spain
via Google Street View, July 2016

A wonderful arch crossed motorway Autopista del Nordeste (AP-2) at kilometre 82 outside of Candasnos, Spain (map). This was the object my random visitor hoped to find on the 12MC website. It very much marked the Prime Meridian and the search engine link landed on my Prime Meridian Through Spain. However I didn’t include anything about the arch on 12MC because I didn’t know it existed. Whoever it was left disappointed, probably never to return.

That troubling outcome, of course, led me to search for the arch and I found it without too much trouble. Unfortunately I never uncovered any information about its construction, who commissioned it, when it happened, or any other details. Precious little information even existed about the town of Candasnos itself. I consulted the Spanish version of Wikipedia to see what I could learn. It told me that the economy depended on agriculture and people exiting the Autopista for services as they drove along through the countryside.

That little exercise turned out to be a bit of a bust. I came across an interesting website however, devoted entirely to Prime Meridian markers. I could appreciate something like that, and I did, a kindred spirit who enjoyed a very specific geographic peculiarity. Why not use that as a source for finding a couple more fascinating Prime Meridian markers? That sounded like a great idea. Let’s do it.


Rue du Méridien; Neuvillalais, Pays de la Loire, France


Neuvillalais-72240-eglise
Eglise de Neuvillalais on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

The meridian went through France so that seemed like a good place to hunt for more markers. I found a particularly nice one in the village of Neuvillalais (map) in the Pays de la Loire region. According to French Wikipedia, the name traced back to Latin, nova villa, meaning new town. Its residents did not have a demonym until 2016 when the municipal council declared they were all "les Neuvillalois." That shouldn’t have fascinated me, yet somehow it did.

They named the primary road through town Rue du Méridien. Only one business existed within the village boundaries, a bar-restaurant-grocery store called Le Méridien. A line made of cobblestones marked the Prime Meridian as it traversed a roadway intersection near the center of town. A giant globe marked its passage where it crossed the front yard of a church. More recent photos suggested that the globe might have disappeared sometime in the last couple of years. What a pity.


Meridian Rock; Tema, Ghana



I always try to feature content from Africa because I don’t think the continent gets enough attention. However, many times I find it difficult to find any good material on the Intertubes. I struck pay dirt down in Ghana though. The line passed all the way through there, a fact I once recognized in Prime Meridian Capital Cities.

The notion seemed daunting when I heard about Meridian Rock (map) in the city of Tema, just east of Accra. Literally, it was a rock, and it sat just offshore of a local beach. Like I could find Street View coverage or a Creative Commons photo of a rock in the water? That’s why I practically did a cartwheel when I found a YouTube video of this obscure object. The same gentleman also posted a video of another meridian marker in Tema, on the grounds of the "Presbyterian Church of Ghana on the Greenwich Meridian." That was the actual name of the church. Awesome.

In 2014, the Ghana Tourism Authority launched an effort to mark the meridian in various parts of the country. They hoped to turn them into "a hot tourism spot."

…we are looking at erecting signages to indicate the imaginary line… we are also looking at developing special places within the settlements where people can visit, and we are also looking at erecting a ‘Wall of Fame,’ where people can say that ‘I have crossed the Greenwich Meridian’ in, say Salaga, for instance, so that he can pay something small and have his name inscribed on the wall.

I don’t know where the project stands today. I don’t think I’d go to Ghana solely to visit the line although I’d certainly seek it out if I happened to be there for some other purpose. Maybe the GTA could sponsor me?

Mr. Walker’s Island Adventure

On January 22, 2017 · 3 Comments

It didn’t take much to get me started on another obsessive-compulsive exercise. Longtime reader Rhodent commented on my observations about a stalker on St. Martin’s Island (map) in Bangladesh. That made me even more curious about the underlying situation. I knew I needed to check every image in painstaking detail to see if I could untangle the story. Fortunately the island didn’t cover a lot of ground so this actually seemed like a reasonable task, if a bit ill-advised.

Google Street View Comes to St. Martin’s Island


Antarctica: New Years Day Castle Rock Hike
Trekker: Google Street View Backpack Camera
Photo by Eli Duke on Flickr (cc)

Google Street View arrived on St. Martin’s Island in October 2015 in an unusual way. The government of Bangladesh didn’t allow motorized vehicles there. It’s too small and it doesn’t have much in the way of infrastructure anyway. People followed footpaths. Therefore Google brought its Trekker, a backpack device used more commonly to photograph mountain trails or glaciers in Antarctica or inaccessible places like that. The Trekker weighed 42 Pounds (19kg) including a vertical staff topped by 15 cameras. Google loans the Trekker to qualified individuals and organizations for those who want to add a favorite out-of-the way place to the Street View portfolio. Apparently someone wished to do that for southernmost Bangladesh.


The Main Characters

Two men dominated the narrative. One man carried the Trekker. I called him Street View Guy (or SVG). The other man accompanied him every step of the way.


Street View Shadow
Street View Guy

Evidence of SVG rarely appeared because he carried the backpack and stood beneath the photo sphere. At certain times, however, his shadowy image emerged from beneath the camera. This happened primarily as the sun began to set on a long day, when shadows extended far enough that they fell into camera range. Those were exceptions. Most of the time SVG stayed behind the scenes as he should, recording the story instead of contributing to it.


Street View Follower
Mr. Walker Reveals Himself

In the earlier article I named the other guy The Stalker. That didn’t seem appropriate anymore so I renamed him Mr. Walker because, well, he walked every corner of St. Martin’s Island. I viewed literally hundreds of distinct frames, tracking his every move. Only one showed his unobstructed face, the one that I found previously that Google forgot to blur. Who was he? I knew he wore a uniform although I didn’t know what it represented.


G4S Security
Mr. Walker’s Epaulet

Every once in awhile Mr. Walker moved next to SVG. One of those close-up images let me see his epaulet and the matching logo on his shirt in detail. It said G4S. That offered the clue I needed. G4S is a company that provides security services worldwide including Bangladesh. That solved the mystery. Mr. Walker wasn’t a policeman or a tour guide. He belonged to a private international security firm. He was hired to keep SVG safe, or maybe just Google’s expensive hardware.


Maps That Guide the Story



I needed to create a couple of maps to help me make sense of the island trek. The first one showed various points of interest that I noticed as I sorted through the multitude of images available. More than fifty shots made the cut, which I think clearly demonstrated the daunting size of the larger set. Fifty images barely made a dent. However that tiny sample provided a number of useful vignettes, little points in time. The did not provide, either singly or collectively, any fluidity of motion. I needed to create something else.


Island Path
Direction of Routes Walked

Presumably SVG and Mr. Walker moved forward, not backward. That let me determine the direction of all paths they took that day. I marked them with arrows. It revealed the two-phase strategy followed by the mapping team. They focused on the interior of the island in the morning and early afternoon, which I determined by examining the angle of the sun. Then they shifted course in the late afternoon. They walked the circumference of the island beach in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the ferry pier and continuing all the way around.


Wandering the Interior

Theoretically, I supposed, one could figure out the exact sequence of steps taken by SVG and Mr. Walker as they covered the island interior. However, even though my efforts demonstrated irrational signs of compulsion, I didn’t go far enough overboard to calculate the angle of the sun in minute detail. Nor did I attempt to calculate exact timing based upon the images that the Trekker captured once every 2.5 seconds. I’ll leave that for someone even more obsessed if so inclined. Nonetheless, I observed all sorts of interesting encounters as the team followed its journey.


Boy in Green
The Boy in Green

Many of the locals seemed amazed or amused by the site of a man hauling Trekker machinery through jungle, fields and down the narrow corridors of the marketplace. Children especially enjoyed the spectacle and expressed the most interest. Some kids, like the Boy in Green, showed even more curiousity than others. He joined Mr. Walker has he escorted SVG from the eastern beach into the deep island interior.

Mr. Walker didn’t provide much actual "security" during his walk. He seemed to get distracted regularly and fell back. Other times it looked like he needed the kindness of strangers to help him get back on the right track. Once he fell so far behind that he had to hitch a ride on a pedal-powered rickshaw. He carried a white plastic bag stuffed with goodies that whole time; I even caught him eating a snack. Mr. Walker amused me. SVG walked the whole island with a 42 pound backpack, and yet, Mr. Walker couldn’t keep up, got sidetracked by locals, glanced at his mobile phone, and seemed generally disinterested much of the time. He probably wondered what he did wrong to get stuck with this assignment.


Mysterious Mr. Bald

Say hello to Mr. Bald, first noticed by reader Rhodent in the previous comments.


Mr. Bald
Mr. Bald

Mr. Walker met-up with Mr. Bald late in the afternoon on a walk from the marketplace to the ferry pier. Mr. Bald also wore a uniform, although a different one than Mr. Walker. I drilled down on an image where he moved near the camera to see if I could find some clues about his identity.


Mr. Bald's Epaulet
Mr. Bald’s Epaulet

His epaulet seemed to have an anchor on it. I think he might have been part of the ferry crew. The image didn’t quite have enough resolution for me to read his name tag although I think it may have been in Bangali anyway. The ferryboat had a name, Keari Sindbad, that I traced to a tour company based on the mainland in Cox’s Bazar. The route took about two hours. It was quite a bargain at 800 Bangladeshi Taka (about $10 U.S.) for the best seats on the boat, on the bridge deck.

Although I found many photographs of the ship, I couldn’t find any images of the actual crew. Nonetheless, I still thought Mr. Bald probably belonged with the ship. Also I thought his appearance was coincidental. He seemed too surprised by the spectacle, taking photos with his mobile phone along the way. Several other people followed the exact same track back to the ferry. Mr. Bald stood out from the rest of them because he wore a uniform.

Then, as Mr. Walker approached the ferry, he put his tie back on. I guess he wanted to look more official.


Circling the Island

SVG and Mr. Walker began their counterclockwise loop of the island once they returned to the ferry dock. Mr. Walker forged way ahead as they walked the beach on the northwestern side of the island. Maybe he got tired of SVG’s company or maybe he wanted to get away from the ever-prying Street View camera. Mr. Walker returned soon enough when a bunch of kids surrounded SVG. Mr. Walker had to shoo them away. Finally he was able to provide some actual "security."


Mr. Local
Mr. Local

Mr. Local then approached. Like the earlier Boy in Green, Mr. Local seemed rather curious and he followed along for quite awhile on the western side of the island. Mr. Walker got sidetracked a couple more times by people selling stuff, and by a woman who caught his eye. Then he fell back once again trying to walk across the mostly barren rocky western side of the island. After proceeding a bit further, the heat of the day began to wear on Mr. Walker. He removed his tie, and reached not once but twice into his red translucent bag for a swig of water. He got really sweaty too. The heat must have been brutal. It was a long day.


An Arm in the Sand
Arm Reaches out of Sand for Water

Even SVG needed a drink. This created one of the more memorable Street View glitches I’ve seen in awhile. It looked like a zombie arm reaching out from the sand trying grab a plastic bottle instead of brains.

Mr. Walker continued to chat with the locals as they rounded the southern edge of the island and walked towards the eastern side. I’m not certain although he may have relieved himself in some bushes by the side of the beach. Eventually the duo made it back to the ferry pier safely just as the sun began to set on a long day of Google Street view trekking.

I guess the hours I spent on this exercise showed that I need to get a life. Maybe I should take a trip to St. Martin’s Island and relax for awhile.

Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair

On January 12, 2017 · 0 Comments

During deep winter I focus a lot of efforts on my genealogy hobby. I think it’s because the holidays offer big blocks of time where I’m stuck indoors. I can concentrate on intricate details as I piece together my family puzzle. Recently a line of research brought my attention to a small town in East Texas called Timpson. My Great Grandmother’s aunt and cousin lived there in the early 20th Century. They ran a milliner shop, selling women’s hats. That last part actually had nothing to do with the article, I just liked the term milliner.

The Song



An interesting bit of musical history emerged as I checked into the records of Timpson. It featured prominently in a popular song performed by cowboy singer Tex Ritter in the 1940’s. He called it "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair." Go ahead and give it a listen if you like. I’ll wait.

Those places were all towns in Shelby County, Texas. Tenaha and Timpson continue to exist today without about a thousand residents each. Bobo and Blair practically disappeared. No more than a few scattered houses, and maybe a church or a cemetery existed at either place to mark that they once existed. Nonetheless they all lived on in a way, permanently connected by this one old song at least until the generation that remembered it fades away. That day probably isn’t too far away, unfortunately. It’s a good thing I found out about it when I did.


Ritter’s Explanation


Welcome to Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo & Blair
Welcome to Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo & Blair.
Photo by Steve Snodgrass
on Flickr (cc)

Ritter’s song described a train ride through the Texas countryside, of a man waiting for the conductor to call out stops for Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair, where a girl waited. As described in the Houston Chronicle,

It seems that by the time he got through calling out each name, the train had already passed through all four towns. So the conductors started calling out all four before the train arrived at the first… thus "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo and Blair."

It became a common expression in East Texas and came to be applied to the rolling of dice in craps games, as players tried to make 10. Generally players pronounced Tenaha in an unusual way, calling it Tennyhaw. They would yell out something like “come on Tennyhaw, Timpson, Bobo and Blair” as they threw the dice. The gambling gods answered their prayers when the dice rolled ten. The expression became popular with American troops during World War II thanks to soldiers from Texas, and then became even more well known because of the Tex Ritter song.

The old Houston East and West Texas (HE&WT) Railway served those four towns. According to the Handbook of Texas, the HE&WT got its charter in 1875 with great aspirations, as noted by the railroad’s name. Those lofty goals never happened. Only the eastern portion — and only partially — ever saw a train, running as a narrow gauge from Houston to Shreveport. That took the railroad straight through Shelby County and past the settlements of Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair. Local residents claimed that HE&WT actually stood for "Hell Either Way Taken."


A Competing Explanation



It made a nice story, however a different explanation emerged later. The order of villages listed in the popular expression didn’t make sense. A conductor would ordinarily call out the stations sequentially. If that were truly the case the conductor would be expected to call out "Tenaha, Bobo, Timpson and Blair" instead. According to the competing theory,

… stringing the town names together began during World War I when soldiers in a National Guard Unit composed of men from Shelby County discarded the familiar cadence of "hup, two, three, four" for "Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair," their home towns.

In reality, the true explanation may never be known. Honestly, it didn’t really matter.


The Ritter Connection


Tex Ritter Museum
Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and Tex Ritter Museum
via Google Street View, June 2016

Tex Ritter spent his early years in Murvaul, Texas, a few miles up the road in neighboring Panola County, Texas (my direct ancestors also lived in Panola County). He would have been very familiar with the expression from his childhood. He probably thought it sounded nice and simply crafted a set of song lyrics around it based on legends that had been passed down through the area.

Nobody more famous than Tex Ritter ever came from Panola. In Carthage, the county seat, there now stands the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and Tex Ritter Museum (map). A statue of Ritter with his guitar and horse stands out front in honor of its famous son.

A lot of people in the Twelve Mile Circle audience probably never heard of Tex Ritter. I’ll bet more readers probably knew about his son, though. It’s hard to believe that John Ritter so well-known for his role in the sitcom Three’s Company as well as well as many others, had an East Texas cowboy singer for a father.

Tex’s real name was Woodward Maurice Ritter. In the 1910 and 1920 Census he had a brother named Booty. Mom and dad weren’t great at names, apparently. Tex sounded so much better.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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