I used the Zero Milestone marker in Washington, DC as the center of my circle a few weeks ago in Odds and Ends 6. It occurred to me that maybe I’d not talked about the marker before. That seemed odd in itself as I include the marker on my DC tours for friends and family when they come to town. Forget the museums, we’re gonna see the Zero Milestone marker and the American Meridian Marker! Strangely enough, they don’t seem to mind or at least they don’t express any disappointment, or maybe they save their complaints for a time when I’m not within earshot.
Let’s focus a little love on the Zero Milestone marker.
SOURCE: Flickr by By theAVclub via Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
It’s so impressive because nobody pays much attention to it unless it’s pointed out to them, even though it’s front-and-center on the Ellipse with the Washington Monument in the distance and directly in front of the White House (map). It looks like just another bollard to the uninitiated eye in a land of concrete security barriers.
The ultimate source of information for this marker is the Federal Highway Administration’s Zero milestone page. The site contains more detail than one could ever imaging including a full set of vintage photographs and even a song. That’s right, the marker has it’s own song. "Welcome we this knightly host; in such grandeur of thought is freedoms spirit wrought; June Twenty Three marks history!" Catchy, huh? I hope Virginia Monro and Wilmuth Gary didn’t quit their day jobs after the dedication of the permanent milestone marker on June 4, 1923.
The placement was outgrowth of the Good Roads Movement. It was supposed to serve as the starting point for all road measurements in the United States like ancient Rome’s Milliarium Aureum, although it never quite caught-on like that. The marker is indeed used for local measurements closer to Washington, DC even today, just not for the entire U.S. Still, it has it’s own song, lame as it may be, and that should count for something. Does anyone read sheet music and want to take a stab at recording it? All kidding aside, I’d love to hear it.
Zero Mile Marker Route 1
Zero at Zero
I also enjoyed my stop at Route 1’s Zero Mile Marker when I visited Key West a few years ago. It’s one of those obligatory Key West oddities that tourists feel compelled to pose against and snap a photo. Oftentimes, as far as I could tell, alcohol was involved. I was completely sober but I’m a geo-geek so that was my excuse. One can find the marker across from the Monroe County Courthouse (a place very difficult to reach for some Monroe County residents).
Route 1 stretches 2,369 miles (3,813 km) along the eastern coastline of the United States from Maine to Florida, generally following the fall line where the Atlantic coastal plain meets the Piedmont. My favorite section is the scenic Overseas Highway running 100 miles atop and amongst the Florida Keys although traffic can be miserable at peak times on holidays and weekends.
Honestly, it’s probably not any more impressive than any other zero mile or zero kilometre marker found elsewhere except that the number of the highway is 1 and Key West probably has better weather and wilder times than the others.
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Zero Milestones aren’t a new concept that some silly modern road builder dreamed up one day. I mentioned the Milliarium Aureum — Latin for Golden Milestone — so I guess I should devote a few words to it. This was the point in ancient Rome referenced by the maxim "All Roads Lead to Rome." Caesar Augustus was responsible for designating the location and all lands near and far throughout his impressive empire were measured from that single point. Nobody is completely sure where it sat precisely although "many scholars think that it was located at the southeast corner of the podium of the Rostra Augusti on a symmetrical axis with the Umbilicus Urbis Romae." Maybe that’s helpful to 12MC readers who are familiar with Rome. It sounds like gibberish to me.
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The Byzantine Empire did the same thing a few centuries later with the Milion marker erected in Constantinople in the 4th Century. I wonder if our ancient geo-oddity forebears paraded their visiting friends and family past the Milion instead of showing them the temples?
There are so many other examples, ancient and modern, that I better stop now. There’s no sense replicating the list (although I will note for the record that it doesn’t contain the Center of the Universe marker). I’d enjoy hearing about 12MC reader visits to these or similar points, though.