I’ll display Elmo one final time, just like in Counterintuitive Saints, even though this article will have absolutely nothing to do with Sesame Street. Why? Because that’s what 12MC wants to do at the moment. How often does one get to feature Elmo?
Elmo, not St. Elmo
Own photo, taken at 2013 White House Easter Egg Roll
I should probably recap some other salient points from the earlier article while I’m at it. First, St. Elmo (St. Erasmus) was the patron saint of sailors and abdominal pain. However a different St. Elmo — a fictional title character for a wildly popular romance novel written by Augusta Jane Evans in 1866 — happened to inspire multiple places and geographic labels in the United States during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. I’m sure enthusiast of Victorian-era literature could draw uncountable comparisons and inferences between the book and its title character, the fictional St. Elmo Murray, and the historical saint of mariners and intestinal distress. I’ll ignore that entire perspective and stick with geography.
Seriously though, many different sources listed St. Elmo as one of the best selling U.S. novels of the Nineteenth Century, contending for popularity with Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur. My education must have been horribly deficient because I’d never heard of the book until last weekend. I wondered if my situation was a spectacular case of ignorance and forgetfulness, or if St. Elmo simply fell so far out of favor over the last century as to become completely obscure. It’s disconcerting.
Anyway, let’s go examine some objects named for the book.
St. Elmo Estate
St. Elmo Estate, Columbus, Georgia, USA
Evans finished writing St. Elmo at the home of her aunt, Mary Howard Jones, in Columbus, Georgia. Mary was the widow of Seaborn Jones, a former U.S. Congressman, who had passed away a few years earlier. Seaborn Jones commissioned this estate in 1833 and named it El Dorado.
Researchers familiar with St. Elmo and its author believed that its fictional estate, La Bocage, was based largely upon the Seaborn Jones property. A subsequent owner even changed the name from El Dorado to St. Elmo as a tribute.
While it must have been a grand estate during its heyday and while the vintage home remains quite impressive, the surrounding acreage succumbed to typical suburb. The only notice of the estate’s exalted place in American literature is an historical marker in front of the property and nearby St. Elmo Drive (map).
That was just one example, and a fairly logical one. Augusta Evans Wilson, 1835-1909: A Biography, By William Perry Fidler (1951) noted a near-frenzy of more unusual designations.
There were steamboats and railway coaches named "St. Elmo." Many southern towns had "St. Elmo Hotels," and at least two villages were named for the book. There was a "St. Elmo" punch, a very strong "St. Elmo" cigar, and several blue-ribboned dogs named "St. Elmo." Many country estates or city mansions were called "La Bocage" after the Murray estate in the novel. A remarkable number of children have been christened Edna Earl, for the heroine, or St. Elmo.
Readers can explore the various St. Elmo towns on their own using GNIS. I’ll focus on some other possibilities.
St. Elmo Historic District
St. Elmo Historic District, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
Chattanooga, Tennessee included a St. Elmo Historic District named for the book, "nestled in the valley of Lookout Mountain below the curling stretch of the Tennessee River known as Moccasin Bend." A page maintained by the District claimed that "Evans had spent several summers on Lookout Mountain and found the view similar to that of St. Elmo Castle in Naples, Italy." She apparently did visit Lookout Mountain at least once during the Civil War although I never could corroborate "several summers" or the Castle claim.
St. Elmo Cigar Company
Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California, USA
This location was much more difficult to finger. First I had to find the St. Elmo Cigar Company, which probably disappeared about a hundred years ago, and then follow it back to its exact location. Eventually I stumbled upon the Los Angeles Herald, 3 September 1905 courtesy of the California Digital Newspaper Collection.
… manufacturers of high grade clear Havana cigars and dealers in leaf tobacco, the plant of the company being located in the massive four story brick building at 216 Central avenue… brands of clear Havana cigars made by the company are "St. Elmo," "Senator White," "Sample Case" and "La Corona."
A "massive four story brick building" no longer existed anywhere along the 200 block of Central Avenue in Los Angeles (street view). Times changed. That area later became Little Tokyo.
St. Elmo Hotel
St. Elmo Hotel, Ouray, Colorado, USA
I found numerous historical references to multiple hotels named for St. Elmo in the decades immediately following publication. The only example that still seemed to be standing with its original name was the St. Elmo Hotel in Ouray, Colorado. As its website mentioned,
Construction started on the St. Elmo.. in the spring of 1897 and was completed the following spring… The hotel was the miner’s hotel… The St. Elmo Hotel is one of the few hotels in the region that has enjoyed almost continuous operation, and today operates as a small finely maintained nine room bed and breakfast inn.
This hotel would have been built, named and operated during the correct era. However I couldn’t find that one final piece of evidence to tie the name to the novel. Even so it probably remained the leading candidate for that possibility.
I really wish I could have found a recipe for St. Elmo punch, too.
I mentioned Colfax, Louisiana in "Just the -fax, Ma’am." Something rang in my mind with a sense familiarity. Where had I heard of the town’s namesake, Schuyler Colfax before? I combed through the 12MC archive and discovered he’d made an appearance in a different context, mentioned originally by reader John Deeth and then featured in First Name, Surname Symmetry. Mr. Deeth noted that there was a town of Schuyler that served as a seat of local government for Colfax County, Nebraska. This was intentional; both the town and the county were in fact named for Schuyler Colfax.
Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain
If I could be bold or perhaps exceedingly lazy, I think I’ll quote from myself as presented in that earlier article.
Schuyler Colfax isn’t exactly a household name, however he was quite accomplished during his lifetime. He rose to Speaker of the House of Representatives and then became Vice President when he was only 45 years old. There’s no telling how successful he may have become had he not been implicated in one of the many scandals of the Reconstruction era. His downfall came during the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal which involved gifts of stock to influential government officials from a construction company helping to build the transcontinental railroad.
I then went on to reference the irony of Schuyler, the town in Nebraska, having been situated along the Transcontinental Railroad so that the man and the scandal would be link forevermore. Actually the town was founded two years before the Crédit Mobilier scandal broke in 1872 so the irony didn’t come until later. However it served thereafter as a visible reminder of Colfax’s political demise, certainly visible to Colfax personally and to those who happened to possess knowledge of an obscure Nineteenth Century bribery scheme like the members of the 12MC audience.
That would become prescient. Railroads, as I noticed once I began to reacquaint myself with the life and times of Schuyler Colfax, would continue to trail him to his death and beyond.
Cold and Alone
Where Colfax Died, Mankato, Wisconsin, USA
I featured Mankato, Minnesota recently in the Blue Earth series. Little did I realize that I’d return to Mankato for its prominent role in the death of Schuyler Colfax. An historical marker sat in a public park although it wasn’t always a park. It was once an railroad depot. Waymarking.com recorded the Washington Park Historical Marker, including the key paragraph.
… On January 13, 1885, Schuyler Colfax, former U.S. Vice President and Speaker of the House, was traveling in Mankato, Minnesota. In order to get from the depot located along the Minnesota River to the depot on Fourth Street, he had to walk three quarters of a mile in 30 degrees below zero weather. After he arrived at the depot on Fourth Street, he collapsed and died…
His biography on the United States Senate website attributed his death to a heart attack and duly noted, "Unrecognized by those around him, the former Speaker and vice president was identified only by papers in his pocket."
Rest in Peace?
City Cemetery, South Bend, Indiana, USA
Schuyler Colfax, recently departed, was delivered to the place where he’d spent much of his adult life, and he was interred in the City Cemetery in South Bend, Indiana. Always a popular figure in Indiana, Colfax was further honored by town officials when they renamed a street Colfax Avenue adjacent to the cemetery.
Notice, however, the proximity of several nearby rail lines and railyards. They practically extend all the way to the cemetery gates, no doubt their warning whistles and clacking tracks taunting his gravesite.
Colfax Gets a Statue
Schuyler Colfax Statue by Jimmy Emerson on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Undoubtedly, Colfax would have been pleased by the statue of his likeness placed prominently in a town named for him in California. However, the location added to the irony. Take a look at a map in Street View. Colfax town officials placed the Colfax statue on Railroad Street at the Amtrak train station. This line also formed part of the original western route of the Transcontinental Railroad.
What does one call a thousand geo-oddities? Ultimately I decided to use the metric prefix "Kilo," although kilogeooddity and kilooddity both looked clunky with all of those extra vowels. Ultimately I coined the phrase kiloanomaly, equating to units of a thousand objects combining to form singular anomalies. It almost sounded like a Hawaiian word. I liked it!
There were numerous examples of kiloanomalies. I’ll highlight a few of my favorites.
Thousand Oaks, California, USA
The City of Thousand Oaks in California was probably the most well-known urban forest of a thousand oaks that I uncovered, with over 125 thousand residents. There were plenty of others of the same name too, even in California (neighborhoods in Berkeley and San Jose at the very least). I then found Thousand Oaks in Florida, Missouri, and Texas, and a Thousand Oaks golf course in Michigan.
That’s a lot of acorns!
Thousand Islands, USA and Canada
I noted in Just as Enigmatic that the area known as the Thousand Islands on the Saint Lawrence River between Canada and the United States didn’t actually have a thousand islands. Rather, those early explorers must have had a sense of modesty because there were actually 1,864 islands once they were all tallied.
What about Thousand Island (without an "s" after Island) salad dressing? Logically enough, "According to The Oxford Companion of Food and Drink, ‘the name presumably comes from the Thousand Islands between the United States and Canada in the St. Lawrence River.’"
Valley of a Thousand Falls
I learned of a Valley of a Thousand Falls in Mount Robson Provincial Park, in British Columbia, Canada. It’s the area between two small bodies of water, Berg Lake and Kinney Lake, on the map displayed above.
What do a thousand falls look like? I found a short YouTube video that provided a nice preview.
The valley can be accessed from the Berg Lake Trail:
… a world-renowned backcountry hiking trail. Gaining just under 800 metres in 23 kilometres, the trail traverses three biogeoclimatic zones. This trail takes hikers to some of the best scenery in the province. Beyond Kinney Lake, the trail enters the Valley of a Thousand Falls. Fed by the massive Mist, Berg and Robson glaciers, visitors often see huge sections of ice break off or “calve” into the blue/green, silt-laden waters of Berg Lake.
Biogeoclimatic is a great word that I need to add to my vocabulary although I still like kiloanomaly more.
Valley of a Thousand Hills
Valley of a Thousand Hills, South Africa
The second valley with a thousands objects I discovered online was the Valley of a Thousand Hills in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. I wanted to use a better map. Unfortunately, I found it hideously difficult to find a Terrain View option on the new Google Maps and apparently it’s impossible to embed an object in that mode. I’ll provide a link though: (map).
The Valley of a Thousand Hills is a major tourism destination.
The breathtaking Valley of a Thousand Hills is an exciting component of Durban and South Africa’s province of KwaZulu-Natal – the Kingdom of the Zulu… an hour’s drive from the centre of Durban. The area is named after the thousands of hills which tumble down to the mighty Umgeni River, which flows from the distant Drakensberg Mountains to the warm inviting Indian Ocean.
It’s centered on the confluence of the Umgeni and Msunduzi (Duzi) Rivers, halfway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg
Thousand Ships Bay
Thousand Ships Bay, Solomon Islands
I found very little on Thousand Ships Bay in the Solomon Islands. It’s located "on the south coast of Santa Isabel Island… between San Jorge Island and Santa Isabel Island." The story goes — and who knows if it’s true — that the label came from "Spanish explorer Mendaña who named the location ‘Thousand Ship Bay’ [because he] believed a thousand ships could fit into the bay." Álvaro de Mendaña y Neira was indeed the first European to see the Solomon Islands in 1568. He named a lot of its individual islands so maybe the story had a grain of truth. However, the explanation seemed pretty lame even if true.
Many centuries later,Thousand Ships Bay was "occasionally used by the Japanese as a seaplane base or temporary ship anchorage from May to August 1942."
A hearty thank you to everyone who read all the way to the end of this post. The very first Twelve Mile Circle entry appeared on November 6, 2007. This is article number 1,000. I hope I’m still motivated to write when it’s time to feature The Land of 10,000 Lakes.