Bogus

On January 21, 2015 · 0 Comments

The word "bogus" had a murky history. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it may have dated back as far as 1827, used in Ohio as a slang term for a counterfeiter’s apparatus. It was the name of a machine used to manufacture fake coins. Bogus came to mean counterfeit or fake in a more general sense, and alternately disappointing or unfair.

Some trace this to tantrabobus, also tantrabogus, a late 18c. colloquial Vermont word for any odd-looking object, in later 19c. use; "the devil," which might be connected to tantarabobs, recorded as a Devonshire name for the devil.

Supposing that, it might share a common origin with bogey which is known more familiarly as the root of bogeyman. A bogus bogeyman would be a strange contradiction, however.



It will reveal both my relative age and my level of maturity (or lack thereof) if I mention that bogus appeared prominently in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). As in,

Evil Duke: Put them in the iron maiden.
Ted: Iron Maiden?
Bill, Ted: Excellent!
[air guitar]
Evil Duke: Execute them.
Bill, Ted: Bogus!

Apparently there was also a sequel called Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991). I never watched that one. Not every sequel can be like The Godfather Part II and the original Bill & Ted’s certainly wasn’t The Godfather. Keanu Reeves (Ted) of course went on to bigger and better roles. Alex Winter (Bill), well, hopefully he invested wisely and is leading a nice life somewhere.

That was quite a roundabout tangent even for 12MC. Hopefully it provided the necessary context to appreciate the absurdity of places named Bogus.


Bogus Basin, Idaho


Bogus Basin Panorama
Bogus Basin Panorama by Jim Larson, on Flickr (cc)

Bogus spots were confined almost entirely to the United States. I’m not surprised given the origin of the word. I first came across such a Bogus place when I traveled to Boise, Idaho a number of years and noticed references to the Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area. It was founded by a nonprofit organization "established by the Boise community in 1942." Its a ski resort operated by local interests, with 53 runs and a vertical rise of 1800 feet (550 metres).

Bogus Basin (map) came by the name honestly. It actually referred to fakery. The hills gleamed with gold, or more accurately gold-colored pyrite or "fools gold." There were tales of people who believed they’d found gold only to be disappointed after investing in mines. There were other stories of nefarious swindlers and their dirty tricks designed to defraud people. The Boise City Department of Arts and History mentioned,

Bogus Basin got its name from a group of con-artists in the late 1800s who created fake gold dust in the same area as the Bogus Basin recreation area. These con-artists would melt silver, sand and a small amount of gold and sell it for $14 an ounce.

Bogus Basin was a strange name for a ski resort albeit one with genuine historical roots.


Bogus Brook Township, Minnesota



Bogus Brook, Mille Lacs Co., Minnesota, USA

Bogus Brook Township in Mille Lacs (thousand lakes) County in Minnesota sounded promising. Indeed, a stream named Bogus Brook (map) ran directly through the township. It seemed strange that the township selected Bogus Brook for its name when the Rum River, a much larger body of water also ran through it. Maybe residents didn’t want to live in a place named for demon rum.

Actually the Rum River became rather controversial in recent years, leading to an organized name-change movement. The Lakota named the river Wahkon originally, the Great Spirit River, and it was considered a sacred body of water. Settlers of European descent thought it might be clever to create a pun by using spirit in the sense of alcohol and renamed it Rum River. Native inhabitants considered that usage insulting and profane.

Bogus Brook was probably a better choice for the township.


Bogus Elementary School, Montague, California



Imagine attending Bogus Elementary School in California (map). It seemed like the name might be a liability although the school sounded pretty interesting:

Is your child lost in a large class size? Bogus Elementary School has one classroom, one teacher, and 12 students… All children get to participate in our winter ski/snow board program for free.

There were a number of Bogus features nearby including Bogus Mountain, Bogus Creek and Bogus Burn. Any one of those could have inspired the Bogus name for a school. I also noticed it was located near one of those checkerboard patterns, which wasn’t particularly germane to this article, just an interesting fact I noticed along the way.

I found only three Bogus places outside of the United States, all in Canada: Lac Bogus in Québec (map); Bogus Lake in Ontario (map); and Bogus Hole in Nova Scotia (map). Information was scarce. The most prominent mention of a Bogus lake in Ontario led to "Lake Ontario Shark Video Is Just As Fake As It Looks." It reminded me of I Call Bull Shark.

I think it’s time to revive the word tantrabogus.

Undignified Floods

On January 18, 2015 · 0 Comments

Floods are awful in any form and I don’t wish to diminish or make light of that one overriding consideration. However there are floods of a "normal" variety — if an event so awful can be referred to so cavalierly — and then there are truly bizarre floods. Either way, lives are lost, property is damaged, and communities are disrupted. Things seem to be a little different and particularly undignified in certain circumstances though, for example when the flood is a raging torrent of molasses.

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919


Fire House no. 31 damaged, Molasses Disaster. 1:00pm
Fire House no. 31 damaged, Molasses Disaster. 1:00pm by Boston Public Library, on Flickr (cc)

A large storage tank of molasses filled by the Purity Distilling Company burst in Boston’s North End in January 1919. An official inquiry failed to establish a definitive reason, ascribing it to an "Act of God." Several theories were offered over the years including a buildup of carbon dioxide that may have been caused by an unusually warm winter day. Very recently the Boston Globe reported another possibility:

Now, a study has shed new light on the cause of the collapse, finding that the tank was stressed well beyond capacity and made from a steel susceptible to fracture — the same type used on the Titanic… The steel was too thin to withstand the enormous stress of 2.3 million gallons of molasses, a weakness builders should have known at the time… What builders at the time could not have known was that the type of steel used for the tank was brittle because it contained a low amount of the chemical element manganese, making it more likely to crack.

The bursting tank sent a huge wave of molasses into the neighborhood. Different sources pegged the wave at between 25 and 40 feet (8-12 metres) high. It slammed into homes, twisted an elevated railroad track, knocked a firehouse off of its foundation, and killed 21 people in its sticky wake. Another 150 people were injured. Local residents swore they could still smell a hint of molasses on particularly hot summer days for years afterwards.

The Commercial Street location where the tank once stood eventually became the infield of a baseball diamond at Langone Park (map). A small plaque reminds Little Leaguers® of the molasses tragedy.


The London Beer Flood of 1814


Dominion Theatre, London West End
Dominion Theatre, London West End by Ian Nichol, on Flickr (cc)

How did I miss the 200th anniversary of London’s beer flood? The Independent knew about it and commemorated it though:

An unlimited, free supply of beer – it sounds wonderful doesn’t it? But when it is over one million litres in volume and in a tidal wave at least 15 feet high, as it was in the London Beer Flood on 17 October 1814, the prospect seems less appealing… a broken vat at the Horse Shoe Brewery on Tottenham Court Road flooded the local area with porter, a dark beer native to the capital, killing eight people and demolishing a pair of homes.

The brewery had been set in an underprivileged neighborhood, a slum called St. Giles Rookery. The flimsy buildings couldn’t withstand the onslaught of beer. People were crammed into the tenements all the way down to the cellars, and that’s where much of the tragedy occurred. Those in cellars were trapped as beer poured in and filled to ground level.

This accident was also ascribed to an Act of God even though witnesses had reported signs of an impending rupture earlier in the day. The owner, Henry Meux, even managed to get a favorable ruling that allowed him to get a refund on the taxes he’d paid on the beer. Negligence had much different standards back in those days.

The Horse Shoe Brewery (image) had been founded in 1764. One might think that perhaps this tragedy would have closed the brewery. It didn’t. Horse Shoe hummed along for another century and more, all the way until 1921. Upon closing, the land was put to a completely different use. It became the site of the Dominion Theatre, built in 1928-29 (map).


The Swine Sewage Flood of 1999


The Swine Ballet
The Swine Ballet by Kiesha Jean, on Flickr (cc)

Conditions in tidal North Carolina were favorable for hog farming. However, this industry also had a dirty underside, the bodily wastes of millions of pigs:

North Carolina’s 10 million hogs produce 40 million gallons of manure each day — that’s more than the number of people in the state. In Duplin County alone, 2.2 million hogs produce twice as much untreated manure as the sewage from the New York City metro area.

These wastes were stored in manure lagoons, essentially open pits "operated to encourage anaerobic digestion of organic material while it is being stored." They can be susceptible to spills if not constructed and maintained properly.

Hurricanes do hit North Carolina periodically and that’s what happened with Hurricane Floyd in September 1999. The same area had already been hit by the much weaker Hurricane Dennis less than two weeks earlier so the water table was up and the ground saturated. Floyd slammed into the coast right at North Carolina’s Cape Fear region before moving into the Mid-Atlantic and up into New England. It doused eastern North Carolina with tremendous rainfall as it passed, leading to widespread flooding throughout the area. According to the North Carolina Riverkeepers and Waterkeeper Alliance:

Waterkeepers and other environmental leaders in this state had been warning the Governor and members of the NC legislature for years about the destruction that would accompany a storm like Floyd. Thousands of huge cesspools, called "lagoons," filled with feces, urine and other toxins, blanketed the flood prone area. Many were located in the worst possible area, the floodplain itself.

The noxious sewage deluge polluted many of the local rivers and estuaries, spreading fecal coliform bacteria, polluting wells and creating dead zones were much aquatic life could not survive. The New River (map) was hit especially hard all along its fifty mile course that took it directly past US Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune before flushing into the Atlantic Ocean.

The one thing all of these undignified floods had in common was that they could have been prevented.

Going Postal, Part 2

On December 17, 2014 · 1 Comments

As I mentioned in Part 1, the first installment dealt with physical post offices and this one will focus on methods of postal delivery. Both featured examples drawn primarily from the United States Postal Service’s "fun facts" page.

Mule


The Postman
The Postman by Eric Gelinas, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Pack animals would seem to be an antiquated method of mail delivery. Certainly horses, mules or donkeys had their heyday up until about a century ago before being replaced unceremoniously by an upstart horseless carriage. A modern semi-truck might have around 400-450 horsepower. A draft horse would have, um, one. It didn’t take much convincing for the postal authorities to ditch their animals long ago and transport mail by mechanical means. That became a universal standard nationwide except for one incredibly inconvenient location — Arizona’s Grand Canyon, or more specifically the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Supai, Arizona (map) would be an excellent candidate for the most remote settlement in the Lower 48 states. No roads lead there. That would be impossible. Access required a helicopter or a strenuous hike down an 8 mile (13 kilometre) trail. Nonetheless two hundred people lived in Supai, the primary town of the Havasupai Tribe as they have for at least a thousand years. They required postal services just like everyone else. Mule trains continued to be the most cost-effective method. The USPS estimated each mule hauled about 130 pounds (59 kg) of postcards, letters or packages.

This same method was also used to deliver mail to the National Park Service’s Phantom Ranch, elsewhere at the bottom of the canyon.


Boat


JW Westcott II
JW Westcott II by Lauren, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Large freighters traveled regularly throughout the Great Lakes hauling grains, coal, iron ore and other commodities, as I learned from my visit to the Great Lakes Floating Maritime Museum. Mariners spent a lot of time away from home although not too far away from land. The Postal Service devised a way to get mail to these sailors as they passed through a narrow slot near the midpoint (map). The J. W. Westcott Co., established in 1874, won the contract to deliver mail to the freighters using its 45-foot boat.

Along the Detroit River, on any given day, a well-known diesel motorship brushes up against a much larger, passing vessel. A rope and bucket are lowered from the ship to the smaller boat, where messages, mail and other items are placed and raised back up. It’s the tradition called "mail in the pail" …and a legacy known as J.W. Westcott, the most reliable and dependable marine delivery service on the Great Lakes.

The boat even received its own ZIP Code, 48222.


Missile


Growler Submarine and Regulus Missile
Growler Submarine and Regulus Missile by Neil R, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

It was one of those things that sounded good at the time.

On June 8, 1959… the Navy submarine USS Barbero fired a guided missile carrying 3,000 letters towards the naval auxiliary air station in Mayport, Florida. Racing along at about 600 miles per hour, the guided missile traveled the more than 100 miles from the deck of the submarine off the coast of Florida to the air station in about 22 minutes… [Postmaster General] Summerfield was quoted as saying, "mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to England, to India or to Australia by guided missiles." History proved differently.

Mail in this experiment traveled as the payload within a Regulus guided missile, with the letters replacing a nuclear warhead. An example of such an imposing missile can be seen today at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, in New York City as presented above (and map). What could possibly go wrong with a missile-based postal delivery service during the height of the Cold War? The test worked perfectly, other than the possibility of sparking an accidental nuclear Armageddon. It wasn’t particularly cost effective either in an era when jet-powered airmail was already feasible.


Longest Postal Delivery Route


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The longest rural delivery route caught my attention. According to the USPS that honor went to Route 081 based out of Mangum, Oklahoma (map). I had a hard time finding more information about the service because I was an idiot and my brain converted Mangum to Magnum. I’m not sure if I had guns, big bottles of wine or a cheezy television show from the 1980’s starring Tom Selleck on my mind at the time. I had no trouble finishing my research once I put that little issue behind me though: MAN-gum.

Apparently the subject captured popular imagination as well. The story of septuagenarian Jim Ed Bull and his 187.6 mi (302 km) route that served only 240 customers appeared prominently in both Bloomberg and the NBC Nightly News in 2013. There’s no sense in me repeating it though so feel free to watch the video.


Longest Main Street



Island Park, Idaho, USA

This one might have been a little bogus although I enjoyed the story. Main Street was and has been the most common street name in the United States, no argument there. Of all of the Main Streets though, one of them had to be the longest. The USPS noted that it was Main Street in Island Park, Idaho at 33 mi (53 km). However I couldn’t find an actual "Main Street" in Island Park. The entire length seemed to be signed and addressed as US Route 20 (for example). Nonetheless, Island Park claimed it had the longest occurrence (see the banner on the city’s website) and various local business repeated the mantra. It appeared to a marketing gimmick.

As the story went,

The city of Island Park, for all other descriptive words, is "unique" in its entirety. It was incorporated in May 1947 to meet a state law requiring businesses that serve or sell alcoholic beverages to be within incorporated towns. The city’s government at the time drew up the city’s boundaries to include all the businesses from the Last Chance area north to the Montana border that desired licenses to serve and sell alcoholic beverages. All other areas of what is now known as the Island Park Recreational area remained in Fremont County.

It was about booze. Local lodge owners cobbled together a town 33 miles long and only 500 feet (150 m) wide astride US Route 20 so their patrons could drink. For that, they deserved to remain on the superlatives list forevermore.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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