World’s Fair Towers

On January 14, 2015 · 5 Comments

I suppose this is something of a Part 3 addendum to the recent Southern Swing articles although maybe it’s not truly the case. Perhaps it would be better to call it "inspired" by those earlier articles. We broke the return trip into a two-day event with an overnight stay in Knoxville, Tennessee. The hotel happened to be located near the Sunsphere, a tower designed for the 1982 World’s Fair. That was a happy coincidence although unintentional. We never saw the tower during daylight because there’s a lot of darkness near the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice. That’s why I couldn’t get a decent photograph although I still gave it a shot. The sight also made me wonder about towers that have been built for World Fairs in general. Some of them became iconic structures while others fell into relative obscurity.

Sunsphere (1982) – Knoxville, Tennessee, USA


Sunsphere
Sunsphere (my own photo)

The Sunsphere that we saw in Knoxville seemed to fall amongst those that didn’t quite capture public imagination (map); "It represents the sun, source of energy, and reflected the energy theme of the fair." I guess that wasn’t inspirational enough. It looked like a giant Van der Graaf generator. I guarantee it would have become iconic if it actually shot giant bolts of lightning. Sadly, it did not.

During the fair the Sunsphere featured five primary levels, an observation deck, a kitchen, two dining levels, and a cocktail lounge. It had a hard life once the fair ended, standing either vacant or underused for three decades and counting. However, it’s available for rent should someone want to use it for a wedding reception, a corporate event, or a 12MC reader happy hour.

As an aside, I wasn’t aware that the World’s Fair was still a thing. Apparently those events still exist and one will be held in Milan in 2015. None have occurred in the United States since 1984 and that’s probably why I though EPCOT or something must have replaced them by now.


La Tour Eiffel (1889) – Paris, France


La Tour Eiffel
La Tour Eiffel by Christopher Chan, on Flickr (cc)

I had no idea that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was a remnant of a World’s Fair (map). It served as the centerpiece of the Exposition Universelle of 1889 which also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The tower that Gustave Eiffel erected brought strong negative reactions from critics at the time and became a beloved symbol despite their pronouncements. Twelve Mile Circle doesn’t need to mention anything else about the Eiffel Tower, right?

It would be many years before another World’s Fair would attempt to feature a tower. How could any other city top such an iconic structure?


Atomium (1958) – Brussels, Belgium


Atomium landscape
Atomium landscape by Vase Petrovski, on Flickr (cc)

Neighboring Belgium made an honest attempt in 1958 with its Atomium for the Brussels World’s Fair (Brusselse Wereldtentoonstelling / Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles) (map). This was the height of the atomic age. An oddly shiny building with 9 interconnected spheres climbing 102 metres and fashioned in the form of an iron atom enlarged 165 billion times seemed to be an optimal choice for the times. The Atomium can still be visited today and its website describes it as,

A seminal totem in the Brussels skyline; neither tower, nor pyramid, a little bit cubic, a little bit spherical, half-way between sculpture and architecture, a relic of the past with a determinedly futuristic look, museum and exhibition centre; the Atomium is, at once, an object, a place, a space, a Utopia and the only symbol of its kind in the world, which eludes any kind of classification.

I agree.

Readers can also use Google Street View to go inside of the Atomium. It’s quite a structure.


Space Needle (1962) – Seattle, Washington, USA


Space Needle and Pacific Science Center
Space Needle and Pacific Science Center by Terence T.S. Tam, on Flickr (cc)

Seattle’s Space Needle (map) didn’t quite hit the same iconic status as the Eiffel Tower although it probably came closer than any of the other examples. Certainly, it would be recognized instantly by many people far beyond the Pacific Northwest. Fashions had begun to transition from the atomic age into the space age and the Seattle World’s Fair reflected those changing times.


Tower of the Americas (1968) – San Antonio, Texas, USA


Tower of the Americas
Tower of the Americas (my own photo)

I’ve been to the top of the Tower of the Americas. San Antonio’s convention center is located next to HemisFair Park where the tower was built (map). I went to San Antonio a few years ago for a conference and I had a little extra time so I rode to the top.

This World’s Fair featured "The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas" as its theme. I’m not sure how the tower reflected that concept although it’s still impressive. The fair commemorated the 250th anniversary of San Antonio and supposedly the theme also referenced several nations that held sway of Texas territory. Some might say 6 Flags Over Texas, other might claim 7 Flags, or whatever.


The Skyneedle (1988) – Brisbane, Australia


Entire Skyneedle
Entire Skyneedle by Mervin, on Flickr (cc)

The weirdest World’s Fair tower might have been the Skyneedle in Brisbane (map). It reached 88 metres and appropriately matched World Expo 88. However the tower did not accommodate visitors. It was too small. Instead it shot a beam of light around the city. The Skyneedle was supposed to be relocated to Tokyo Disneyland once the fair closed. Instead, it became the possession of a local hairdresser entrepreneur, Stefan, who moved it to his headquarters nearby. Yelp had a number of amusing reviews:

Standing tall, proud and pointless Brisbane’s Skyneedle is capable of the occasional light show and little else. Even its powerful beam is only allowed to be used on special occasions as it is a potential risk to plane’s coming in to land at Brisbane airport. But despite its inherent absurdity, or more correctly, because of its inherent absurdity Stefan’s Needle has become a much loved part of the city skyline.

Pity the Skyneedle.

Seriously Broken

On October 29, 2014 · 5 Comments

I was amazed to find so many broken place names. I didn’t know what led people to memorialize broken objects, just noted that they they did and it amused me. Broken Lakes, Broken Ridges, Broken Points, Broken Valleys and on and on. The list was so exhaustive that I had a terrible time limiting my selection to the largest of such populated places, a couple of themes and some oddballs.

Native Americans Broke Stuff


Priorities
Priorities by Barry Lenard, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

That’s what I felt anyway after identifying several names related to the original inhabitants of the Americas. The largest location I found was Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a major suburb of about a hundred thousand residents on the eastern side of Tulsa (map). The image I selected didn’t have all that much to do with Broken Arrow per se except that it was taken there and it seemed to serve as a poignant commentary of one sort or another. It could have been taken anywhere, I suppose.

According to the City of Broken Arrow

When a group of Creek Indians established a settlement near what is now our city, they called it "Broken Arrow." Broken Arrow is the name of the place where many of those same Creeks had lived when they were in Alabama – before moving west on the Trail of Tears. While many Americans think of the term "broken arrow" as meaning an act of peace by Native Americans a few hundred years ago, the Creeks who got that name did so because they broke branches of trees to make their arrows, rather than cutting them.


Broken Bow, Nebraska
Broken Bow, Nebraska by BitHead, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A broken arrow in Oklahoma could be paired with a Broken Bow in Nebraska (map) although it was considerably smaller with about 3,500 residents. Broken Bow was the seat of local government in Custer County and one could be forgiven for thinking that the name referred to Custer’s demise at the Battle of Little Bighorn somehow. The explanation provided in the History of Custer County, Nebraska was rather more mundane.

Mr. Hewitt was a blacksmith and a hunter, and while out hunting one day he found, on an old Indian camping ground, a broken bow and arrow, which he carried home with him… some time afterwards he received notice that the third name [for the town] he had sent to Washington had been rejected, and going to the box after a piece of iron he picked up the broken bow, and the name "Broken Bow" came to his mind quickly.

I also discovered a similarly-sized Broken Bow in Oklahoma about a three hour drive from Broken Arrow. It was named for the Broken Bow in Nebraska, strangely enough.


Miners Broke Stuff



There was once a broken hill in a distant western corner of New South Wales, Australia, deep in the outback. Actually it was a string of hills "that appeared to have a break in them." Then a ranch hand discovered silver ore there in the late 19th Century and the broken hill became Broken Hill (map), a large mine and a settlement.

Miners extracted silver, zinc and lead from "a boomerang-shaped line of lode." It was a dirty, dangerous job and more than 700 people died on the site. A memorial served as "a stark reminder of the fact that more people have died working the mine’s in Broken Hill than Australian soldiers died in the Vietnam War."

Ironically, the broken hill that served as the town’s namesake no longer exists. It was mined completely away.


mine de cuivre - Zambie (around Kabwe)
mine de cuivre – Zambie (around Kabwe) by Amis de la Terre, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Another broken hill, this one in Zambia, resembled the broken hill in Australia. Foreign prospectors noticed the similarities and named it Broken Hill after the Australian location: "the mine became one of the biggest mines before the advent of copper mines on the Copperbelt." The town was later renamed Kabwe (map) in the post-colonial era, an indigenous word meaning "ore or smelting."

In 1921, a miner working at Broken Hill noticed a skull in the debris and he retrieved it. This came to be known appropriately enough as the Broken Hill skull. It belonged to a distant human ancestor known as Homo heidelbergensis that lived more than a half million years ago. The skull can be seen today at the Natural History Museum in London.


Some Other Broken Stuff


BR day lodge
BR day lodge by Jason Blair, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

New Zealand had a Broken River, and near there a Broken River Ski Field (map).



Broken Island, Falkland Islands

Finally, I noticed Broken Island in the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas if one prefers, although I don’t really want to get into the geo-politics of the situation). Google misspelled the name. Every other source I consulted agreed that it was Broken Island.

I included that last one because I didn’t have a 12MC push-pin on the Falklands in my Complete Index Map. Now I do. I’m still waiting for my first website visitor from the Falklands by the way. Its Internet country code top-level domain is .fk. We could have a lot of fun with that one.

Cactus

On August 14, 2014 · 3 Comments

The previous article about Spanish punctuation embedded in various place names in the United States made my mind wander to the desert southwest, which led me down a mental tangent related to cacti for some unknown reason. As I daydreamed, I considered, perhaps I should examine places named cactus. There weren’t many, and even the larger ones seemed rather obscure and perhaps even a tad unusual just as we like it here on Twelve Mile Circle.

Cactus, Texas



How many towns had their own signature song? Large cities often attracted musical attention although the level of interest generally waned proportionally farther down the population tally. Yet, Waylon Jennings recorded "Cactus Texas" in 1996. Why Cactus? Maybe for the same reason the name attracted me; I thought of tumbleweeds and dust. Only an overlooked community on an arid plain could ever do justice to the Cactus name. Feel free to turn the music on in the background as I take a look around town.

The Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association included an entry on this particular Cactus (map).

It began as a company town to produce ammunition for World War II. The Cactus Ordnance Works, one of the largest plants in the county, was established there as a government project by the Chemical Construction Company in May 1942… the cactus and other prickly plants were cleared, and huge dormitories were hastily erected to house construction workers.

Cactus fared worse after the war although various companies continued to produce a range of chemicals at the old ordnance works until the early 1980’s. The population shrank to a few hundred people for a time although it rebounded to about 3,200 residents — larger than ever — by the 2010 Census.


Cactus Springs, Nevada


The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet
The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet by Chris M Morris, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license

Cactus Springs (map) could be considered just another isolated settlement in an otherwise empty desert except for The Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet. It sprang from the creativity of a single individual, Genevieve Vaughn,

Highway 95 runs down the middle of the flat Mojave Desert valley in Nevada. Driving east from Beatty, the tiny oasis of Cactus Springs is the first inhabitable spot for sixty miles. It was at this site in 1993 that I dedicated a temple to the Goddess Sekhmet. I feel blessed to be able to give a gift to a goddess who for centuries has not had temples built in her honor.

The full account can be found at Herstory of Sekhmet Temple in Nevada.


Cactus Flat, South Dakota


Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD
Giant prairie dog, Ranch Store Gift Shop, Badlands, SD by Brian Butko, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Cactus Flat, spelled F-L-A-T according to the Geographic Names Information System, although frequently rendered in its plural form, clung to the edge of South Dakota’s Badlands. Places that survived out there often sustained themselves by finding a gimmick to attract tourists heading into the nearby park in the hallowed tradition of Wall Drug. Cactus Flat had its own scaled-down Wall Drug knock-off, The Ranch Store of the Badlands.

The feature event at The Ranch Store is the same as it was fifty years ago – a large prairie dog colony to the north of the store, where one can walk among the dogs and toss them a snack of unsalted peanuts. Standing fortress to the entire colony is, of course, the six-ton Prairie Dog.

Thus a giant prairie dog (map) came to define diminutive Cactus Flat.


Cactus Beach, South Australia



Cacti may be native to the Americas(¹) although an inconvenient geography couldn’t prevent the name from appearing in unexpected corners elsewhere. I found Cactus Beach (map) in South Australia. It was reputed to be one of the best surfing destinations available.

Cactus itself was actually called Point Sinclair and was given its current name by the first guys who drove up there, looking for surf. Well, when they first saw it, the surf was pretty poor and someone said, ‘this place is cactus!’ meaning no good and boy, how wrong they were, as Cactus is now regarded as one of the best breaks in Oz!

I’m almost afraid to mention Cactus Beach and let people know it exists. A recent news report said,

The waves at Cactus Beach were only discovered in the 1960s, but it has been a prickly issue ever since. Some locals have been trying to keep the secret to themselves. Directions are difficult to find, with signs pointing to the beach being scrubbed off and the more recently torn down.

So don’t go there to surf. Just note the succulents and move on.


(¹) Cacti are native to the Americas with the exception of a single species, Rhipsalis baccifera, more commonly called the Mistletoe Cactus. That’s your trivia for the day.

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12 Mile Circle:
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