Eric Henn Murals

On November 8, 2015 · 3 Comments

A couple of articles featured Circleville, Ohio earlier this year, Square the Circle and Circleville Survived. I’d honed in on this otherwise nondescript town because anything with a circle was fair game for Twelve Mile Circle, and I actually discovered a few fascinating tidbits, confirming once again that geo-oddities existed everywhere. One such item included a remarkable trompe l’oeil mural of a nostalgic old-timey scene of what the town may have looked like a century ago. It had been commissioned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Circleville’s Pumpkin Show

Circleville  Ohio downtown Mural
Circleville Ohio downtown Mural by excelglen, on Flickr (cc)

The artist was Eric Henn of Eric Henn Murals, and a Circleville native. I’d wanted to post an article about other Eric Henn artworks right away. That wouldn’t have been unprecedented, either. I’ve featured other artists of outdoor wonders such as The Visual Genius of Dave Oswald. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn’t find enough photographs with the proper Creative Commons licensing to display them here. An article about artwork without images would have been a problem so I set the idea aside, revisited it from time-to-time, and just recently found enough examples to continue.

The Eric Henn portfolio focused on outdoor structures including buildings, petroleum storage tanks and water towers. I managed to find a representative sample and some additional background information for a few that piqued my interests.


Brick Arches Mural - Franklin, Ohio
Brick Arches Mural – Franklin, Ohio by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

About 90 miles west of Circleville, in Franklin, Ohio, stood a great concentration of Eric Henn murals. Local residents were justifiably proud of them too, as noted by the local Convention & Visitors Bureau:

City of Murals Tour. Take a self-guided walking tour around the city of Franklin, Ohio for a day and you’ll understand why it’s called the "City of Murals." Ten beautiful murals depicting different scenes throughout the history of the city can be found all around town. The murals, most found on the exterior of buildings, were painted by nationally known local muralist Eric Henn, and include the only Ohio Bicentennial mural in the state that is not on a barn.

Apparently Mr. Henn relocated from Circleville to Franklin at some point in his life and went about creating murals in his new home town. The image I selected on the Huntington Bank Building (map and Street View) won some type of National Municipal Mural Award although I couldn’t find further information about it. Nontraditional outdoor artwork like this had an issue, however. Harsh weather will take a toll eventually and some of the Franklin murals were a little worse for wear although restoration efforts were underway.

Petroleum Tanks

Savannah Globe
Savannah Globe by Dizzy Girl on Flickr (cc)

It would probably be obvious to most 12MC readers that a globe mural would fascinate me the most. This portrait of earth applied to an old natural gas holding station in Savannah, Georgia replaced an earlier and less realistic version created by another artist that had fallen into disrepair (map).

Once dubbed the largest world in the world — 60 feet in diameter — the globe was operable until the 1970s. By then, a well-known part of Savannah’s geography, the globe was maintained by the gas company until the early 90s. When A to Z Coating bought the rusting structure, it asked businesses to help it get the planet back in shape. More than a year later, the time has finally come…

Eric Henn Murals was commissioned to paint the globe in its new form in 1999. A minor controversy ensued when the image included a hurricane just off of the coast of Savannah. I would have thought the controversy might have been related to the application of a potentially catastrophic storm about to slam into the city. No, apparently that wasn’t a problem. Rather the hurricane had been painted as rotating in the wrong direction, as if it were moving out to sea. A quick touch-up resolved the situation and the storm charted a course to Savannah. The storm, incidentally, can be seen quite clearly on Street View.

Water Towers

Mt. Jackson, Virginia has an apple basket water tower #latergram
Mt. Jackson, Virginia has an apple basket water tower by Andrew Wiseman on Flickr (cc)

I hate driving on Interstate 81 in Virginia — HATE it — with frequent hills that bunch up intense truck traffic. It’s probably second only to Interstate 95 on my list of evil roads to avoid unless absolutely necessary. However, I know I’m just about done with the horrible experience when I pass the apple basket water tower in Mount Jackson (map and Street View). The design made perfect sense. Apples have long been a fixture of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, with an annual Apple Blossom Festival and everything.

Originally the tower had been decorated with large vinyl stickers that started to decay after many years of exposure to the elements. Mt. Jackson hired Eric Henn Murals to replace the design with paint applied freestyle. The special paint cost $400 a gallon and was expected to last 30 years. He completed the effort in January 2015 after about three months of work. One of the local television stations had a nice video describing his efforts. Henn was also commissioned recently to restore the famous Gaffney Peachoid along Interstate 85 in South Carolina, perhaps the most iconic roadside water tower anywhere.

Comparison Nicknames

On November 4, 2015 · 3 Comments

I enjoyed reading Wikipedia’s List of U.S. State Nicknames recently. My amusement didn’t come from the familiar nicknames I already knew, rather it derived from the nicknames I never knew existed. Alabama was the Lizard State? Really? Did anyone else know that? Then I noticed that several of the states featured nicknames that compared them to other geographic locations.

I went ahead and researched all of them because that’s what happens on a geo-oddity blog and apparently I didn’t have anything better to do. I have issues.

A few of the geographic nicknames seemed relatively plausible. Others seemed strange. Still others were so ancient and obscure that I’d guessed they hadn’t been uttered seriously in at least a century. Wikipedia should be embarrassed to print that last batch. They should be stricken.

Arizona: Italy of America

The Grand Canyon State would resonate as a valid nickname for Arizona for many readers while the Italy of America seemed to be a vastly inferior option. I didn’t really understand the comparison and neither did the major Intertubes search engines. I did find links to the Italian Association of Arizona and the Arizona American Italian Club although I didn’t think either of those would explain the nickname. I dug deeper and went into Google’s book search — a recurring theme for this article — and finally found an obscure reference. It came from a Report of the Governor of Arizona (1879):

These considerations of the sensible and shade temperature will account for the absence of any detrimental effect from the extreme heat of Arizona. It is the long period of hot days that becomes tiresome, but this is balanced by the delightful cool nights and enjoyable season from October to May, inclusive, during which no better climate can be found, and may be termed a veritable Italy of America.

Verdict: Retire the nickname.

Colorado: Switzerland of America

U.S. 550, Ouray, Colorado
U.S. 550, Ouray, Colorado by Ken Lund via Flickr (cc)

Colorado was the Switzerland of America during the same basic era although the nickname found a little more traction. The expression faded over the years even though some sources still cited it, albeit as an anachronism. Smithsonian Magazine even published When Colorado Was (And in Many Ways Still Is) the Switzerland of America

Back in the 1870s, when American travelers imagined the West, they didn’t picture the desolate plains and cactus-strewn mesas so beloved by John Ford. They thought of somewhere far more sedate and manicured — a place, in fact, that looked surprisingly like Switzerland. For the restless city slickers of the Gilded Age, the dream destination was Colorado, where the high valleys of the Rocky Mountains, adorned with glacial lakes, meadows and forests as if by an artist’s hand, were reported to be the New World’s answer to the Alps. This unlikely connection with Europe’s most romantic landscape was first conjured in 1869 by a PR-savvy journalist named Samuel Bowles, whose guidebook to Colorado, The Switzerland of America extolled the natural delights of the territory…

The town of Ouray, Colorado (map) adopted the nickname and continues to use it.

Verdict: Ouray can continue to use it; retire it for the rest of the state.

Delaware: New Sweden

View New Sweden (Nya Sverige) in a larger map

I knew why this one existed. Twelve Mile Circle featured Delaware’s Swedish connection in an article called "New Sweden." I even created a map, reproduced above. The New Sweden colony functioned for decades during the Seventeen Century in northern parts of future Delaware and beyond.

Verdict: Accurate although I’m not sure anyone would commonly use the nickname today. I’ll defer to the opinion of 12MC’s Delaware readers.

Georgia: Empire State of the South

There were plenty of references that tied Georgia to the Empire State of the South, as exemplified by the New Georgia Encyclopedia Georgia History Overview: "By 1860 the "Empire State of the South," as an increasingly industrialized Georgia had come to be known, was the second-largest state in area east of the Mississippi River." The reference generally applied to the mid-Nineteenth Century. I can’t imagine anyone in Georgia or any other Southern state wanting to be compared to Yankees from the Empire State (New York) today.

Verdict: Retire the nickname.

Louisiana: Holland of America

I found plenty of information on the Holland America Cruise Line and precious little on Louisiana as a supposed Holland of America. It made some sense though. Both had extensive canals, dikes and levies designed to keep water from flooding their low-lying terrain. Finally I discovered an obscure reference from 1905, an article from the Meridional newspaper based in Abbeville, Louisiana that had been cataloged by the Library of Congress. I also found a few old books with similar references. The trail led back to the first quarter of the Twentieth Century.

Verdict: Retire the nickname.

Maryland: America in Miniature

I don’t live in Maryland although I’ve lived near Maryland’s border with Virginia for most of my life. I’d never heard anyone call it America in Miniature. Yet, I found numerous contemporary references to the nickname. This even included Maryland’s tourism website, Visit Maryland, on its Maryland Facts page: "Maryland has been called "America in Miniature" because so much is packed into its 10,460 square miles of land and water. You can find just about any kind of natural feature here, except a desert."

Verdict: I guess people still use it.

Minnesota: New England of the West

Numerous references existed, both outdated and contemporary. However, uniformly, they all pointed to a single period of Minnesota history circa 1850-1870. For example, the Library of Congress referenced Pioneering the Upper Midwest:

Early migration to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from the east came disproportionately from New England and New York. That pattern was mightily reinforced by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which funneled Yankees and ex-Yankees from New York into the southern portions of the Upper Midwest. Each state in turn for a time dubbed itself "the New England of the West."

I had ancestors who made that same journey, traveling from Maine to Wisconsin initially and then onward to Minnesota during its so-called New England of the West period. I found it interesting that the phrase also contained a double geographic reference, first to the New England region of the United States, and then farther back to England. That was a curious aside although it did nothing to legitimize the nickname for current usage.

Verdict: Retire the nickname.

New Mexico: New Andalusia

Andalusia Court

Using New Andalusia as a nickname for New Mexico held little water. I found a vague reference to New Andalusia being used an early name for New Mexico. That was back in 1583. Yes, 1583. There was a tiny Andalusia Court in Cloudcroft, New Mexico although I doubted there was any connection to the so-called nickname.

Verdict: Retire the nickname.

Jasper and Newton

On September 21, 2014 · 2 Comments

I got an inquiry recently from reader "Aaron O." I took immediate interest because he sparked my Wolf Island visit during the Riverboat Adventure the last time we corresponded. He was a county counter like many of us on 12MC including myself, and he’d encountered a curious coincidence during his collections.

Jasper County bordered Newton County in Texas. Fine, nothing special there. This year he concentrated on Mississippi though, and once again he noticed a Jasper County bordered on a Newton County. Consulting a map, he observed that Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Indiana and Missouri each had a Jasper County and a Newton County that shared a common border. Building on Aaron’s efforts, I began my research and saw that two states, Illinois and Iowa, also had a Jasper County (with no corresponding Newton County) that located their local seat of government in a town named Newton. What was going on?

I’d never noticed the pattern before and I didn’t understand the connection although it happened too frequently to be left to chance. However, the nexus would have been obvious to someone living in the United States two centuries ago. Jasper and Newton referred to Sergeants William Jasper and John Newton, as I found through additional Internet sleuthing, historical figures from the American Revolutionary War.(¹) Jasper was genuinely valiant. Newton was a nobody, elevated in stature through creative fiction that included the alleged connection between the two men.

William Jasper

Fort Moultrie. A poor quality video I took a few years ago

It was still early during the American Revolution when Colonel William Moultrie hastily constructed and never quite completed an earthen fort reinforced with palmetto logs on Sullivan’s Island to protect the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina (map). British warships attacked his positions in June 1776. Palmetto, as it occurred, served as an excellent defensive material. The spongy wood and sandy soil absorbed the impact of incoming cannonballs and deflected them harmlessly with minimal effect on the fortification walls. Meanwhile American artillery returned fire, pounding and damaging the British fleet. British forces retreated after a full day of futile bombardment and wouldn’t return to Charleston for another four years.

On the official flag of South Carolina, "The palmetto tree symbolized Colonel Moultrie’s heroic defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island against the attack of the British fleet…"

The Palmetto State
The Palmetto State by Wendy, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

William Jasper served under Col. Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island as part of the defensive forces preventing a British invasion. The Americans raised their flag, the "Moultrie Flag" — essentially the current South Carolina flag minus the palmetto tree — above a parapet and the battle commenced. A British shell shattered the flagstaff during the fight, knocking the Moultrie Flag to the ground. Jasper grabbed the flag, attached it to a makeshift flagstaff, climbed atop a parapet and held it in place. His actions became a rallying point for American defenders during the siege and his bravery became well-known afterwards.

Jasper Monument
Jasper Monument by Dizzy Girl, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Jasper tried a similar feat at the siege of Savannah, Georgia in 1779. Once more he found himself in a position to race to the top of a parapet and affix a flag. This time, however, he was shot and killed although not before he finish his task. This cemented his legacy, he became a revered hero with numerous posthumous honors, a statue was erected in Savannah, and all eight Jasper Counties in the United States were named for him.

John Newton and the William Jasper Connection

John Newton benefited from a largely-fictionalized revisionist history courtesy of Parson Mason Locke Weems. Parson Weems wrote highly romanticized accounts of early American history at the beginning of 19th Century. Modern standards would probably characterize this genre as "historical fiction" although back then it was simply history and presented as such. He’d listened to or concocted fanciful tales and presented them as fact. Most famously, it included the allegorical account of George Washington and the cherry tree which he claimed he’d heard from an elderly woman who said she was a distant Washington cousin.(²)

Weems wrote immensely popular and influential "biographies" of Washington and other leading historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, William Penn, and more importantly to this account, Francis Marion. General Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" served originally under Moultrie at Sullivan’s Island, then at the Siege of Savannah and later as the leader of an unconventional force that bedeviled British troops throughout South Carolina. He is often credited with being instrumental to the development of modern guerrilla warfare.

What Weems did for Washington, he also did for Marion. Chapter VI of "The life of General Francis Marion, a celebrated partisan officer" presented an account of Jasper and Newton.

Jasper and Newton Rescue
Sergeants Jasper and Newton Rescuing American Prisoners from the British
by John Blake White (1781 – 1859)
United States Senate Collection

In this story, William Jasper had a loyalist brother who served in the British army at the Ebenezer garrison (map), near Savannah. Jasper would secretly visit his brother undetected for days at a time then report his findings back to the Americans. He brought John Newton along on his final trip behind enemy lines. While at the British garrison, they spotted the arrival a group of American prisoners captured in Savannah who were destined for execution, included a young woman and her child. British troops later marched the group away from the garrison presumably to be hanged. Jasper and Newton waited at a nearby spring where they supposed the group would relax before completing their march. They caught the resting guards by surprise, overpowered them, and released the prisoners, which they then led back across the Savannah River to freedom.

The heroic story struck a chord with American audiences.

Go ahead and read the original story. It won’t take more than a few minutes and it will provide an good indication of Weems’ fanciful, over-the-top style. I dare you to read it without rolling your eyes.

Too bad it wasn’t true. No similar account ever made it into written records on either side of the conflict at the time. Jasper was already revered for his bravery so it seemed unlikely that his peers wouldn’t have noticed him slipping behind enemy lines and returning with freed prisoners. Weems either heard an after-the-fact friend-of-a-friend tale like the Washington cherry tree story or he made it up on his own.

Nonetheless, the story linked Jasper to Newton inextricably in the American psyche during the first half of the 19th Century. Weems’ publications were so influential that fiction became fact. This coincided with a rapid expansion of the U.S. population and ongoing formation of county structures. Although Weems is largely forgotten today, his sway was great enough that it influenced several states to create both a Jasper County and a Newton County adjacent to each other.

(¹) Newton County, Mississippi claimed that it was named for Sir Isaac Newton. While I don’t have evidence, I suspect it was named originally for John Newton like all of the others and it was changed at a later date. This would be similar to King County, Washington named originally for William Rufus King and later changed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
(²) This tale is widely known to anyone raised in the United States. I doubt the same folklore applies elsewhere so I’ll briefly summarize. George Washington as a small child, according to Weems, received a hatchet as a gift and started chopping on various objects like any small child would want to do. This included his father’s prized cherry tree. When confronted he was alleged to respond, "I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet." Weems used this as an object lesson to convey Washington’s moral fiber, that even when wrong he would confess his mistakes and deal with the consequences rather than deceive or hide the truth. My father, the king of bad puns used to tell a joke that I’ll presume was popular in the 1940’s, with the punchline "I cannot tell a lie. Popeye did it."

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