Connecting Through Midway

On September 22, 2016 · 2 Comments

I hadn’t flown through Chicago’s Midway Airport much until recently. Then Southwest Airlines started offering flights at my local airport and many of its connections passed through Midway. I always hated connecting flights, and flying in general, although I admitted a preference for Midway over O’Hare. I never thought about its name though.


Battle Of Midway Memorial Located In The Midway Airport Terminal
Battle Of Midway Memorial Located In The Midway Airport Terminal.
Photo by AmateurArtGuy on Flickr (cc)

Chicago, Illinois seemed to be a perfect spot for an airport named Midway, being placed just about midway across the continent (map). That’s where I thought the name would lead like the Definitely Halfway article. I’ve been wrong so many times before it shouldn’t surprise me anymore when something takes a strange turn. This one still caught me off guard. It began service as Municipal Airport in 1927. The named changed to Midway in 1949, not because of its geography but to honor the Battle of Midway.

In May 1942, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to draw the US Pacific Fleet into a battle where he could overwhelm and destroy it. To accomplish this he planned an invasion of Midway Island which would provide a base for attacking Hawaii. Using decrypted Japanese radio intercepts, Admiral Chester Nimitz was able to counter this offensive. On June 4, 1942, US aircraft flying from USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, and USS Yorktown attacked and sunk four Japanese carriers, forcing Yamamoto to withdrawal. The Battle of Midway marked the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.

Midway Atoll marked an approximate midway point between North America and Asia (map), thus the name.

Midway Ships

USS Midway / San Diego
USS Midway / San Diego. Photo by Michael Mayer on Flickr (cc)

Did the Battle of Midway inspire other names? Yes, of course.

A few months ago my transit through Midway Airport took me onward to San Diego, California. I’ve always enjoyed San Diego and its downtown waterfront. Visitors there can see lots of attractions including the USS Midway Museum. It’s a vintage aircraft carrier converted into a massive floating exhibit.

The Naval History and Heritage Command’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships noted three ships with the Midway name. The War Shipping Administration first pressed a private freighter into service in 1942, naming it the Midway (AG-41). It operated mainly along the Pacific coastline and later became the Panay because the Navy wanted to use Midway for a more important ship. That first Midway got its name from the atoll anyway, not the battle, so the battle needed to be commemorated. The second Midway (CVE-63), an escort carrier, got its name in 1943 and it definitely honored the battle. Its name changed in 1944, however, so an even larger aircraft carrier could become the Midway. The second Midway became the St. Lo to honor Saint-Lô, a town in France in the crosshairs of the Normandy Invasion A kamikaze attack sank the St. Lo at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

The final Midway (CVE-63) eventually became the museum that graced the San Diego waterfront (map). Its commissioning came a few days too late for World War II. However it served valiantly for nearly a half-century thereafter. The Midway ended its service as the flagship of the Persian Gulf fleet during Operation Desert Storm before its 1992 decommissioning.

Midway Streets

I couldn’t simply check every Midway Street to see if it traced back to the Battle of Midway. That would have involve thousands of data points. However, I did find a suburb of Adelaide, South Australia called Elizabeth East. The street names reflected the battle. Very quickly, I spotted Halsey Road, Nimitz Road, Hornet Crescent, Saratoga Road, and of course Midway Road. There were many others. These reflected the commanders and ships of the winners. I wondered how many of Elizabeth East’s four thousand residents understood the theme.

There must have been more. I couldn’t find them. They were lost amongst many more streets called Midway for other reasons.

Midway Theater

The Midway Theatre Forest Hills Queens NYC - IMGP0420
The Midway Theatre Forest Hills Queens NYC. Photo by BEVNorton on Flickr (cc)

However, I did find an interesting movie theater that opened in 1942. Thomas White Lamb designed this wonderful Art Moderne structure placed in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, New York (map).

[It] was named after the World War II battle, opened later that year as a single-screen 1,933-seat theater, but it was converted to a nine-screen multiplex when United Artists took control of the building in 1998.

Midway seemed as good a name for a theater as an airport.

Last Places in Commonwealth Countries

On July 6, 2016 · 0 Comments

The series of Last Places continued. One should feel free to consult the previous articles, Last Place in England and Last Places in Asia, to understand the premise. I found it more difficult to uncover examples this time so I broadened the base, extending my search to the entire set of the Commonwealth of Nations countries. Most failed to produce any results although a few offered nuggets of goodness.

Last Place in Australia to Hunt Whales

Albany Whale World
Albany Whale World by denisbin on Flickr (cc)

This one surprised me. I knew that many nations hunted wales from the Eighteenth Century until well into the Twentieth Century, and a small handful never gave it up. It made sense to me that Australia, with all that seacoast, pursued whaling commercially too. What surprised me was the Australia didn’t stop hunting whales until 1978. I would have guessed a much earlier date given its fierce opposition to whaling today. The Cheynes Beach Whaling Company shut its doors in that fateful year, closing an Australian tradition that dated back to its earliest colonial days. That new direction marked a different tradition though, and one much better for the whales.

Cheynes got into the whaling game late from its base near Albany, Western Australia (map) in the 1950’s. Blood flowed in the waters for the next quarter century.

In 1952, the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company in Frenchman Bay commenced operations with advice and equipment supplied by the Norwegians. Using the whale catcher boats, the Cheynes II, III and IV, the whalers took an average of 86 humpbacks a year until a ban on hunting that species came into effect in 1963. In 1955, they had begun to take sperm whales, which now became the focus of the whale chasers, and catches steadily began to rise. When whales were plentiful, work went on at the station around the clock, seven days a week.

The old whaling station didn’t simply disappear after it closed. Just two years later it reopened as a tourist attraction, Whale World, now called the Discovery Bay Tourism Experience. The site offered an exact rendition of the station. Workers simply walked away in 1978 and left everything behind, almost as if they expected to return the next day. The site remained perfectly preserved.

Last Place in New Zealand to Cart Wool out on Packhorses

Around New Zealand
Around New Zealand by Coss and Johanna on Flickr (cc)

I wanted to find superlatives truly describing a nation’s fabric whenever possible. Sheep farming seemed sufficiently stereotypical of New Zealand. It delighted me to see Hore Hore Station mentioned as the last place in New Zealand to cart wool out on packhorses, listed in a family history. That didn’t appear to be a particularly reliable source although a 1957 photo series called Life on a Sheep-Station made similar claims.

Probably the only sheep station left in New Zealand where the wool must be carried out on horseback is the Hore Hore Station, 30 miles in from Ruatoria, in the shadow of Mount Hikurangi. The station’s only link with the road is by a tortuous track leading five miles up the Mata River through a precipitous gorge. All supplies are brought in by packhorses, and the wool is brought out in the same way.

Finding the exact spot proved more difficult. Hore Hore came from a Maori phrase meaning "nowhere place" and it described the situation perfectly. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally I turned to the New Zealand Gazetteer — I probably should have started there — and located the exact spot (map).

Last Place in Canada to Publicly Execute a Criminal

Ottawa Jail Hostel
Ottawa Jail Hostel by Bonnie Dean on Flickr (cc)

I discovered gibbeting in the England article and now I pondered public execution in Canada. I hadn’t formed a sudden fascination with death so the 12MC audience shouldn’t worry about my mental condition. As I searched for "last" things around the world, invariably the selections fell into common themes; electricity/telephones and capital punishment. Don’t blame me, blame the Intertubes.

The Carleton County Gaol in Ottawa, Ontario (map) offered only three public executions in its 150 year life span, although its final one made history for being the last time the public could watch a man hang in Canada. The condemned man, Eugène Larment killed Ottawa policeman Thomas Stoneman in 1945, the first Ottawa policeman to die in the line of duty.

Detective Stoneman was working on a special assignment attempting to locate a stolen vehicle. The vehicle had been used in a daring theft of automatic weapons from the Canadian War Museum. On October 24, 1945, at 0102 hours Detective Stoneman and a fellow officer approached three youths who were suspected of having just broken into cars. Unknown to the officers, the youths were armed with handguns stolen in a previous break and enter. One of the suspects shot Detective Stoneman… Eugene Larment was charged with murder, convicted and hung for his crime.

The execution took place at the Carleton County Gaol (also known as the Nicholas Street Gaol or Ottawa Jail) in 1946. It closed in 1972. Hostelling International bought the property and converted it into the Ottawa Jail Hostel. Those staying overnight could sleep in a converted cell complete with iron doors and bars. It offered tours each day including the third floor "death row."

I’ll add one small footnote. The last public execution in Canada indeed took place at Carleton. The last execution, not held publicly, happened in 1962 at the Don Jail in Toronto.

Last Place in Kenya Stuffing Animals for Big Game Hunters

King of Beasts
King of Beasts by Thomas Hawk on Flickr (cc)

Another nation, another surprise. I didn’t realize Kenya banned big game hunting in 1977. I thought they still allowed it. An American dentist killed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe in 2015 so I figured it was still a thing everywhere. Rich European and Americans used to flock to Kenya to collect all sorts of safari trophies, stuffing their victims for display. Now they don’t.

Paul Carl Zimmerman opened his taxidermy studio in Nairobi in 1929, after first arriving as part of "a zoology research team sent by a German university." His studio grew to become the largest taxidermy factory in Kenya, and one of the largest in the world. By 1973, Zimmermann Ltd. mounted trophies for 400 safaris a year, primarily lions, wildebeests and buffaloes. The business shuttered after the hunting ban. Only the name remained, adopted by the Zimmerman Estate housing complex on the site of the old taxidermy studio (map).

Rock Cut, Part 2

On May 11, 2016 · 2 Comments

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I stumbled across the existence of an entire genre of structural design known as Rock Cut Architecture, described in the previous article. I could hardly contain my glee although there was still a lot of work to be done. There were so many examples from widely varied parts of the world that I couldn’t fit them all into a single article. That made this follow-on post necessary, with additional illustrations from several more nations.

Ellora Caves, India

Great Kailasa From Above
Great Kailasa From Above by Craig Moe on Flickr (cc)

India became such an epicenter for buildings and rooms carved from stone that it had its own distinct subcategory, Indian Rock Cut Architecture. It wasn’t just one culture or religion either. Followers of several beliefs and faiths practiced and perfected this art. These structures rose in numerous places. One of the best was the Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

These 34 monasteries and temples, extending over more than 2 km, were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff, not far from Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. Ellora, with its uninterrupted sequence of monuments dating from A.D. 600 to 1000, brings the civilization of ancient India to life. Not only is the Ellora complex a unique artistic creation and a technological exploit but, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.

A Hindu Structure known as Cave 16 or the Kailasa temple (map) was particularly impressive. This massive structure unfolded on multiple levels, so large and complex that it had to be carved from the top down. It dated to the reign of Krishna I in the Eight Century.

Yungang Grottoes, China

Yungang Grottoes
Yungang Grottoes by Olga on Flickr (cc)

Sites featuring rock cut architecture in India were often called Caves by English speakers, and in China they were Grottoes. I didn’t know why. I simply observed that China placed a close second to India in terms of rock cut prevalence and impressiveness. There were several expansive sites, notably the Yungang Grottoes near Datong in Shanxi Province (map). These were Buddhist structures from the Fifth and Sixth Centuries. Buddhism moved north from India as did a penchant for rock cut architecture. At Yungang, devotees carved more than 250 openings and 50,000 statues into the Wuzhou Shan mountains, "a classical masterpiece of the first peak of Chinese Buddhist art."

Vardzia Monastery, Georgia

Vardzia by Tony Bowden on Flickr (cc)

Vardzia in Georgia (map) represented an instance of carving into stone for protection as much using it as a convenient building material.

In desperate circumstances people are often driven to perform feats of mythical proportions. In the late 1100s the medieval kingdom of Georgia was resisting the onslaught of the Mongol hordes, the most devastating force Europe had ever seen. Queen Tamar ordered the construction of this underground sanctuary in 1185, and the digging began, carving into the side of the Erusheli mountain, located in the south of the country near the town of Aspindza.

Once completed, the Vardzia Monastery contained multiple levels and thousands of rooms, stretching over a half kilometre of mountainside. Invaders weren’t a problem although natural forces took a heavy toll. An earthquake caused many of the cells to collapse after only a century.

Coober Pedy, Australia

Underground House at Coober Pedy
Underground House at Coober Pedy by Matthew Klein on Flickr (cc)

The popularity of rock-cut architecture faded many centuries ago. The technique was incredibly labor intensive. In the meantime, other building techniques and materials continued to improve. Nonetheless, this distinctive style survive into the modern era although generally during unusual circumstances such as those found at Coober Pedy in South Australia (map).

Coober Pedy was one of those places that probably had no reason to exist except that it happened to sit atop enough gemstones to crown itself "Opal Capital of the World." Otherwise it was a harsh desert climate not particularly conducive to civilization. For one, there weren’t any local material available to build anything to shelter those who mined for opals. However, the surrounding bedrock was perfect for digging into so local inhabitants did just that and created what were known as dugouts. People simply carved into hillsides.

The early Coober Pedy dugouts were indeed the holes that had been dug in search for opal. Today opal mining in the town area of Coober Pedy is not allowed any more. But hey, you can always renovate or expand, Need another shelf? Dig a hole in the wall. Shelf not big enough for the new stereo? Dig a bit deeper. A walk in robe? Dig a big hole. Another bed room? Not a problem! And always the off chance of finding some opal… In reality nobody digs by hand any more. Any new building work is done by modern tunneling machines.

Many homes and businesses in the area were created as dugouts, as were two churches, one Catholic and the other Serbian Orthodox. Residents of these structures also benefited from a constant comfortable temperature. Whether the desert at the surface hit scorching hot or freezing cold, it always remained nice underground. Rock cut architecture might not be an optimal choice in most places today although it seemed to be a great solution for Coober Pedy.

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