It’s a Mystery to Me

On July 27, 2017 · 0 Comments

I felt like a good mystery. People named a number of geographic features Mystery something-or-another. Most of them seemed to be Mystery Lake for some mysterious reason. Generally I couldn’t find much because they were often small, existed in abundance and fell across many different English speaking countries. I discarded them. Instead I found a few spots where I could actually unlock the mystery.

Mystery Bay, New South Wales


Mystery Bay
Mystery Bay. Photo by Tim Riley on Flickr (cc)

Mystery Bay sat on the Tasman Sea, near the southeastern corner of New South Wales. It also offered a double bonus from my perspective. Two things bore the Mystery Bay name, an actual bay and an adjacent town. Not a lot of people lived there, maybe a couple of hundred, although the seaside setting seemed nice.

The mystery traced back to 1880. Five men left Bermagui in a small boat, led by a geologist employed by the Mines Department. The government wanted him to inspect new goldfields a few kilometres farther north along the coast. Everyone on the expedition completely disappeared. A search party discovered the boat although the men vanished. A memorial at Mystery Bay offered additional details (map).

The boat… had been carefully steered through about 70 metres of jagged rocks… On the seats were bait, a pocket knife, pipe and tobacco, crumbs and other food. There was a bag of potatoes and a bag of mixed personal articles like clothing, bedding, tools and sundries.

The searchers found additional items on the beach, although nothing unusual or out of place. The ultimate fate of the men continues to baffle those who still try to unravel the secret.


Mystery Island, Vanuatu


Mystery Island - Vanuatu
Mystery Island – Vanuatu. Photo by Roderick Eime on Flickr (cc)

Cruise ships dock regularly at Vanuatu’s Mystery Island (map). People traveling to nearby Aneityum Island have to land at an airstrip on Mystery Island, too. The island is so well known that Vanuatu’s postal service issued commemorative stamps to highlight it in 2009. How could anyone consider it a mystery? It sat there as bright as day with abundant visitors next to a large populated island almost within touching distance. Sure, it didn’t cover much territory, just one kilometre by a few hundred metres. Nobody lived on it permanently either; Vanuatu wanted to keep the beaches pristine. Nonetheless, it got plenty of attention.

That Vanuatu Post page actually offered an explanation.

During World War II, this small, uninhabited island was used as a landing strip for the allied forces… The "mystery" is said to have derived from the fact that the air strip is impossible to see from the sea and therefore it took some time for the Japanese to determine where all the planes were coming from.

The island went by a different name officially, Inyeug.


Another Mystery Bay; This One in Washington State


Marrowstone
Marrowstone. Photo by Travis on Flickr (cc)

The U.S state of Washington also contained a Mystery Bay, just off of the northeastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The bay formed a hooked inlet on the western side of Marrowstone Island. The state created Mystery Bay State Park there (map) along its shoreline. Historically a band of Native Americans called the Chemakum lived on the island. They disappeared suddenly in the early 19th Century to be replaced by the Klallum. Nobody really knew what happened to them although the mystery actually referred to something else.

Canada sat tantalizingly close, just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A motorized boat could easily make a quick run to Victoria and back. From 1920 to 1933, the United States enforced alcohol prohibition. No such prohibition existed in Canada. See where this is heading? Smugglers would sneak alcohol from Canada into the US by boat and hide amongst all those tiny islands conveniently close to Seattle. Marrowstone Island seemed to be a particularly good choice, especially the little inlet on its western side. Bootleggers could practically vanish into the slot. Coast Guard crews trying to intercept smugglers referred to their regular disappearances as a mystery. This, supposedly, provided the bay its name.


Plenty of Mysteries in New Zealand, Too

New Zealand contained a number of Mystery places although none of them amounted to much in the way of a good story. I couldn’t find any useful information. However, I did learn a couple of new words. I’ve been on a streak lately so it seemed fine to continue it.

Mystery Tarn (map): I learned that Tarn meant pond. It derived from tjörn, the Old Norse word for pond. That made perfect sense once I saw it. When I visited Iceland in 1999 I remembered seeing the scenic pond in central Reykjavík, also called Tjörn.

Mystery Burn (map): Burn seemed a little more unusual although it referred to a stream. Some digging uncovered a Scottish Gaelic origin that meant something like "fresh water."

Neither of these New Zealand examples served as great revelations although I enjoyed the pursuit.

Duck

On July 20, 2017 · 1 Comments

Several years ago, and I don’t recall exactly when, I wrote an entire Twelve Mile Circle article without using a single Google tool. I found it incredibly frustrating, nearly impossible. The article got buried somewhere in the archive and I don’t remember the title. Just trust me. I didn’t enjoy it. Apparently I didn’t learn my lesson that first time so I decided to try it again.

I don’t mind Google in general and I’m not trying to bash it. However, my 12MC investigations do produce some rather mistargeted advertisements because of my unusual search patterns. As an example, I’m currently getting lots of ads for "Official Detroit Red Wings Apparel," no doubt because of King Boring and the Detroit Gems. I’ll never purchase any of that stuff. Those advertisements are completely wasted on me. Google’s all-knowing algorithm thinks differently.

Well, as I considered the situation further, the DuckDuckGo search engine seemed to be improving. It also famously didn’t track its users. Maybe I could repeat my "Google avoidance" experiment. Let’s give it a try, shall we?

Duck


Duck, North Carolina - 2010 - 09
Duck, North Carolina – 2010. Photo by sugargliding on Flickr (cc)

The Town of Duck in North Carolina sat at the northern end of the Outer Banks, snuggled up against Virginia (map). Lots of people I know owned vacation homes there. Middle class people could afford these homes by renting them out for most of the summer. They’d enjoyed their beach homes for a couple of weeks during prime season and then anytime at all during the off-season. That model didn’t really work for me though. I liked to wander and count counties. Even so I drove to the Outer Banks in 2012 and enjoyed it just fine. I could see why people might want a second home in Duck if they preferred to relax on a beach.

Duck didn’t have much of a history because it’s only existed as a town since 2002. Prior to that it wasn’t much more than a strand of houses along the ocean. The population ebbed and flowed in the predictable manner too. A few hundred people lived there year round, to be joined by twenty thousand other folks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Some of us living on the eastern side of the United States might have heard about Duck for another reason. A little shop called Duck Donuts began there and has been spreading regionally. It’s always funny to see a Duck Donuts shop when it’s disconnected from the geographic source of its name. I imagined a donut literally made from a duck. Nonetheless, the shop simply carried the name of its hometown on the Outer Banks as it expanded.


Duck


Duck, West Virginia 25063
Duck, West Virginia 25063. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

Duck also existed considerably inland, in the rugged interior of West Virginia (map). Wikipedia considered the origin of the name "obscure." Come on, someone saw a duck and named the town. Mystery solved.

Whoever founded the hamlet chose a scenic spot along the Elk River on the border between Clay and Braxton Counties. In this place, "rugged, laurel-covered hollows dart back from the narrow river valley, and level land is at a premium." It didn’t have much else in the way of significance although it qualified for its own post office. That counted for something. The Elk River continued onward past Duck on its way to the Kanawha River, then into the Ohio and Mississippi, towards the Gulf of Mexico. Elk and Duck. They liked animals and they kept it simple.

Duck had a better name than another community nearby called Booger Hole. On the other hand, Booger Hole had a better story, considering the murder spree that happened there about a hundred years ago.


Go



Go, Ghana

I found only a single Go, a small village in Ghana. GeoNames provided its exact location and offered multiple name variations: "Go, Gogo, Goo Abokobisi." The spot fell at the very northern extreme of Ghana, nearly all the way up to Burkina Faso. Other than that, Go seemed to leave behind few digital traces anywhere on the Intertubes. I ran it through DuckDuckGo and the first two recommendations involved the band Goo Goo Dolls. It also suggested its rival, Google. D’oh!

Vietnam provided some possibilities albeit not for Go as a standalone name. Go appeared frequently either as a prefix or as a suffix, with various accent marks above the letter "o." None of them seemed particularly remarkable.


Panaji, Goa , India
Panaji, Goa, India. Photo by Dan Searle on Flickr (cc)

Results improved dramatically with the addition of a single letter, creating Goa (map). Nearly 1.5 million people lived in this smallest and wealthiest of Indian states. The Portuguese ruled Goa for four and a half centuries. Then an independent India siezed Goa with force in 1961. Later Goa became its own Indian state in 1987. Its economy depended on tourism, especially for its Portuguese influences and its amazing beaches on the Arabian Sea.


The Verdict

I found it a lot easier to research a 12MC article without using Google this time. DuckDuckGo could probably substitute for Google’s search capabilities. It came surprisingly close to replicating its functionality. However I found it difficult to replace many of Google’s other services. There were parts of this article where I desperately wanted to turn to Google Maps, Books, and Translate. Google’s YouTube video capability would have come in handy too.

I guess I’ll live with Detroit Red Wing advertisements for awhile longer.

Heartland, Part 6 (Americana)

On June 25, 2017 · 1 Comments

All things must come to an end and eventually the Heartland adventure approached its natural conclusion. I enjoyed my brief sojourn through the American Midwest, captured some new counties, ran a few races, viewed some sand dunes and canyons, and drove through more miles of farmland than I could count. I still had a few things to talk about though. They didn’t fit neatly into my other categories so I collected them here at the end.

Mid-America Windmill Museum


Mid-America Windmill Museum

I mentioned the lack of attractions in northern Indiana that led me to the East LaPorte Street Footbridge in Plymouth. My search also uncovered the Mid-America Windmill Museum. This prompted a stop in Kendallville (map), which the docent at the museum pronounced as Kendaville. The first set of double-l’s seemed optional.

I didn’t know quite what to expect. How fascinating could a bunch of antique water-pumping windmills be? Actually I rather enjoyed it. Premium models filled a restored barn. Others stood sentinel in a field behind the barn, whirling in the wind as they’d done on farms decades ago. It was both hypnotic and wonderful. Windmills manufactured by the Flint and Walling company dominated the collection. In fact, the museum preserved an example of every Flint and Walling model ever produced. This company started making its windmills in Kendallville in 1866 and sold them for nearly a century. Amazingly, the company still existed and celebrated its 150th anniversary recently. It anticipated the drop in demand for windmills and switched to electric pumps.


Speaking of Windmills


Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

Two days later we came across another windmill, a more traditional version like ones seen in the Netherlands. I saw a different windmill called De Zwaan last year in Holland, Michigan — which made sense — after all, they called the city Holland. It seemed rather out of place in Fulton, Illinois. However, I learned afterwards that a lot of Dutch settlers came to Fulton in the latter half of the 19th Century. A windmill fit within that cultural heritage. By the way, just because I’ve seen a few windmills lately doesn’t mean I’ve found another object to count compulsively. I don’t need any more lists.

This one had a name too, De Immigrant. It differed from the windmill in Michigan because of its contemporary nature. While authentic, it wasn’t old at all, having been dedicated in 2000. Artisans crafted the windmill in the Netherlands and shipped it in pieces to Fulton. Then they assembled the windmill on-site, atop a levee overlooking the Mississippi River (map). De Immigrant ran exactly like a vintage windmill. Visitors could purchase flour ground by the windmill in a nearby visitors center.


Thriller!


Michael Jackson House

I try to visit at least one place mentioned in Twelve Mile Circle during every trip I take. One article, Where They Lived as Children, featured the home where Michael Jackson grew up. It fell directly along our route. I had to stop there.

Gary, Indiana might lag only behind Detroit for urban decay. The United States Steel Corporation founded Gary in 1906 as a home for its workers. Gary thrived for decades until the steel factories started closing in the 1960’s. Nearly 200,000 people lived there then. Only 75,000 people live there now. We drove into Gary and it looked like a disaster site, with abandoned buildings collapsed upon themselves, empty lots filled with weeds and trash, and car-rattling potholes on terribly rutted roads. Even so, it seemed perfectly safe to stop at Michael Jackson childhood home and pay my respects. I couldn’t imagine how the Jackson parents and their ten children fit into that tiny house (map).


Presidential



I noticed the Jackson house sat on Jackson Street. That seemed to be a fitting tribute, however it turned out to be just a coincidence. The Gary street grid aligned to Presidents of the United States in order of their administrations. This particular Jackson got its name from Andrew Jackson, not from Michael or any of the other musical Jacksons. Right around this same time I got an email from reader "Steve" curious about presidential street names so I took it as a good omen. He also wondered if any street had been named for Donald Trump yet. Oddly, I’d encountered a Trump Avenue in Canton, Ohio only a few days earlier even though I doubted it correlated directly to The Donald’s time as president. It seemed to predated his nascent Administration.


American Pickers


American Pickers

Do any 12MC readers watch American Pickers on the History Channel? The premise is pretty simple. Two guys drove around rural America from their home base in Le Claire, Iowa in search of antiques. They hunted through basements, barns, abandoned buildings, and any other place where valuables might be hiding within junk and debris. Gary, Indiana might be a good place to try. They haggled with owners over a price and hopefully got a few treasures to sell through their company, Antique Archaeology. I noticed we could get to Le Claire in about a half hour from Clinton, Iowa where we’d raced earlier that morning.

Those of you familiar with the show probably recognized the derelict Nash Statesman automobile and the shop behind it. Those appeared on the show fairly regularly. Of course we stopped for awhile (map); that’s how I got the photo. One thing surprised me. The magic of television made it seem like the shop must be located way outside of town all by itself, maybe surrounded by cornfields or something. That wasn’t the case. It sat right in the middle of Le Claire just a short block away from the main road. I could walk to a brewery, a distillery and at least a dozen shops in about two minutes from there.


Buffalo Bill


Buffalo Bill Cody

Le Claire included other surprises such as the Buffalo Bill Museum. I didn’t know that Buffalo Bill Cody hailed from Iowa. I figured he must have come from somewhere much further west. No, indeed, he came from Iowa. The museum included an exhibit on Buffalo Bill, as one would expect, although the largest space featured a ship called the Lone Star. This paddle-wheeled towboat operated under steam power on the Mississippi River for a century. The Coast Guard finally forced it out of service in 1968 when it couldn’t meet safety standards anymore. Fortunately preservationists managed to save the Lone Star and constructed an entire building to show it off.

Le Claire and surrounding Scott County thought highly of its most famous son. In addition to the museum, we visited the Buffalo Bill Homestead a few miles outside of town (map). He grew up there from the time of his birth in 1846 until about the age of seven.


Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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