On March 12, 2017 · Comments Off on Regurgitated

Twelve Mile Circle goes back into its vault every once in awhile to offer little addenda to earlier articles. Sometimes it involves a flash of brilliance that I wish had come to mind during the creation of the original. Other times something new comes to light that didn’t exist beforehand. Still in others instances, it relates to trivial items that nobody cares about except for me. Guess which category prevailed today. Please feel free to indulge my personal whims or go ahead and skip to the next article that will appear in a few days. I won’t feel bad either way.


Duckpins Beer
Duckpin Pale Ale and Double Duckpin IPA

I mentioned an unusual variation of bowling found in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states not long ago called Duckpins. I said that it always seemed to be a "Baltimore" thing to me. Now I have more proof.

Look what I found sitting in my refrigerator when I came home from work a couple of days ago. Not one, but two beers with a duckpins theme. I guess my wife must have fixated on it after our recent journey to the duckpins lanes in Maryland. She explained that she got into a conversation with a brewery representative stocking the shelves at our local bottle shop, as she often does. He recommended Duckpin Pale Ale and Double Duckpin Double IPA, both made by Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore (map). I loved all of the duckpins that decorated the bottles, especially the Double.

The brewery certainly enjoyed this local connection, saying things like "the pins may be small but the flavor is huge" and "danker than a rental shoe and rolling with ten frames of juicy, resinous hops down a solid lane of malted barley and wheat." I couldn’t help feeling maybe they missed a marketing opportunity. Wouldn’t it be great to purchase bottles shaped like duckpins? Then I considered that nobody would collect and place them on a shelf like I would. Drinking and glass bowling pins might not be an ideal combination.

This wasn’t the first time a local beer made the pages of 12MC either, by the way (e.g., 12 Mile Circ… no wait, 16!)


Four Miler Elevation
Four Courts Four Miler Elevation
via Pacers Running

One time 12MC focused a series of pages on various natural forces including gravitation. I had my own experience with gravity yesterday. Seriously though, why would my wife sign me up for a 4-mile (6.4 km) running race with that awful hill in the elevation chart shown above (map)? Sure, running downhill would be great. However the uphill return began to haunt me in the days leading up to the event. Just to make things even more special, winter decided to return this weekend with a race-time temperature of 26° Fahrenheit (-3.3°C) and sustained winds of 14 miles per hour (23 k/hr). Guess which way the wind blew. Directly down the hill and into the faces of people climbing back up to the finish line.

Four Courts Four Miler
A Guinness at 10:00 a.m.? Sure. May I have another?

I didn’t have much of a plan although it went beyond my usual "Run Like Hell" strategy that wasn’t really a strategy. I did use Run Like Hell on the way down, then switched to "Catch Your Breath" on mile 3 because I knew I would have to revert to "Suck it Up" for the final mile. I wanted to break 30 minutes and I did manage to accomplish that, just barely, at 29:42 (a 7:26 min/mile pace).

That was good enough for first place in my age category although I didn’t have a lot of additional competitors in my bracket. We live in a very young area so it was me and a bunch of 20-somethings. Plus the really good runners skipped this little neighborhood jog for a large marathon taking place at the same time across the river in nearby Washington, DC. At least I scored a legitimate victory this time. My wife signed me up for the local Turkey Trot last Thanksgiving and I "won" my age category… because she accidentally signed me up as a woman.

The course actually involved a bit of geographic trivia. This hill — part of the Arlington Ridge — marked a transition between two of Virginia’s physiographic regions, the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont. That little nugget didn’t propel me uphill any faster although the free pint of Guinness waiting at the end did serve as decent motivation. After all, the race started and ended at a local Irish pub.


I explained my fear of the hill to a coworker a couple of days before the race. Nervous? Me? Really, it turned out to be a lot easier than the tricks it played on my mine beforehand. Don’t get me wrong — it was still dreadful — although I got through it mostly unscathed. He said it reminded him of a hill during his army training days. The soldiers wore heavy packs while they ran so that put things back into perspective for me. He couldn’t remember the nickname they gave the hill although it probably involved cursing. We decided a fine fictitious name would be something with a little play on words, like Damn it to Hill. That reminded me of the amusing Damfino Street in San Antonio, Texas.

Could there actually be a hill with that name, perhaps shortened to something like Damita Hill? Well no, and I checked the Geographic Names Information System carefully. The closest I got was The Dam Hill in Essex County, New York (map) and Dam Hill in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania (map). I similarly found Pull and Be Damned Point in Skagit County, Washington (map) and Give-A-Damn Canyon in Lincoln County, New Mexico (map).

I also learned that there were at least several people named Damita Hill.

Natural Forces: Gravitation

On May 6, 2012 · Comments Off on Natural Forces: Gravitation

Let’s talk about gravity. No, not the physical property whereby objects attract with forces proportional to their masses, but instead the little town in Iowa. I stumbled upon Gravity, Iowa figuratively as I researched the recent Gravity Hills article. Gravity doesn’t have a gravity hill as far as I know so it didn’t elicit a mention in that earlier post. Still, I loved the name and I wondered how tiny Gravity came to be known that way. Let me spoil the surprise: Nobody is completely sure how the original Gravity for which Gravity was named, first became Gravity. However it’s a fun ride and I have a couple of theories.

If Gravity Goes . . .
SOURCE: Flickr; via Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’d love to show a few Google Street View images of Gravity but they don’t exist. The cameras escaped Gravity and its 200-or-so residents on the last pass through southern Iowa. Fortunately I’m able to reproduce their welcome sign thanks to Flickr and a Creative Commons license. I have to love their spirit. "We’re Down to Earth — If Gravity Goes, We All Go."

View Larger Map

Gravity claims to be the only town bearing this unusual name. I’m unable to confirm that assertion with 100% authority. I did check the official online geographic names databases of the largest English-speaking nations. This was the only populated place identified in that manner that I could find. It’s possible there might be another Gravity out there somewhere so please let me know if you discover one.

The Iowa GenWeb site has an oral history of Gravity based upon remembrances Celesta Smith, an early resident, published originally in 1934. Founders platted Gravity in 1881 and incorporated the town two years later. It fit a typical Midwestern farming community pattern, placed intentionally along a railroad line and prospering within an agrarian-focused world at the turn of the last Century. "The new town was named after the Old Gravity Post Office situated 1 1/2 miles west. It being an old landmark, having stood there for many years…" Thanks Celesta, big help there. Way to leave us hanging on the etymology.

I tugged on the string a little harder. I consulted A dictionary of Iowa place-names which speculated that the post office "was possibly named because it was the ‘center of gravity’ for the township." Gravity falls within Washington Township of Taylor County, Iowa (see 1910 Map and 1910 Detail), so I decided to take a closer look.

View Washington Twp., Taylor Co., Iowa in a larger map

If the Iowa dictionary is correct then the town fathers must not have meant "center of gravity" in any literal sense. I did my best to recreate Washington Township and Old Gravity based upon notes provided on the 1910 Detail map. Old Gravity wasn’t the center of anything geographically as far as I could tell. It was more than two miles away from the township center and more than five miles away from the county center. The current Gravity is actually closer to the township center, about a mile southeast of it. Celesta Smith was an adolescent at the time of Gravity’s founding. I looked her up in the Census records and founds she was born around 1868, probably in Keokuk County, Iowa (a little further east), then moved to Washington Township in Taylor County by the time of the 1880 Census. She would have witnessed the redesignation of Gravity but she would not have known much of Old Gravity from any first-hand experiences. She was probably wise to stay noncommittal and sidestep the issue entirely.

I can’t envision the citizens of Washington Township being so geography impaired. Certainly they knew their township grid. This leads me to a couple of theories on Old Gravity, which transfer by extension to current Gravity:

  • There weren’t a lot of people in Washington Township initially. More settlers arrived as the latter half of the 19th Century progressed, as farmlands of the Midwest attracted increasing number of easterners and new immigrants. Old Gravity, even with very few residents, would function as a center of social and economic activity; or
  • This is an example of people with a wonderful sense of humor proclaiming Gravity as an ironic Center of the Universe.

I tend to believe the former although I’d prefer the latter. Regardless, the town today provides all sorts of opportunities for amusing names, like Gravity Cemetery. Is that the only place where zombies can’t escape?

Totally Unrelated

One of the followers on the 12MC Google+ Site let me in on Google’s Zerg Rush Easter Egg. Follow that link if you want to waste about an hour of your life like I did on Friday.

Gravity Hills

On April 29, 2012 · 5 Comments

Many years ago I had an acquaintance who was an accomplished magician. I got to see him practice various magic ticks as he perfected his craft and of course I learned the secrets behind many of the illusions as a result. The human brain likes to believe what it thinks it sees. The trick often reveals itself as one moves to an angle not normally available to the audience. I never tired of the illusions even when I understood the mechanics. If anything, I became more enthralled with the amount of practice, skill and timing necessary to make all of the moving parts come together in a convincing manner.

I think of "gravity hills" much the same way, with Mother Nature substituting as the magician. Gravity hills go by many names — magnetic hills, mystery spots, ghost roads, electric hills and so on — and they all describe the same basic phenomenon. It’s an optical illusion where a slight downhill appears to be an uphill. The topography, horizon, road cut, floral growth, and angle of pathway all conspire to fool the eye.

Many people ascribe gravity hills to supernatural explanations. Why they jump reflexively to an ethereal cause as their first resort is for someone else to determine. I’m simply an observer who notes that a quick Internet search will reveal countless gullible people willing to take the phenomenon too literally. There’s some weird magnetic or electrical force at work in their opinion, or a disgruntled ghost associated with some improbably legend, an alien or extraterrestrial vortex to to a different dimension, or any number of strange, devious or evil explanations. The truth is rather more mundane.

One often sees individual gravity hills described as rare or even unique. Actually, there are many such places identified worldwide. Some of them are easier to perceive than others, and of course those are the ones that become word-of-mouth or even literal tourist attractions. There are any number of lists and collections one can consult to experience a gravity hill nearby. Minor ones exist everywhere, though. I often experience the feeling of driving slightly uphill even when I know the road is completely flat as I move through long, open stretches of lightly-traveled highway. I’m not sure if I have a propensity for spotting such things or whether this is common to everyone.

Let’s take a look at a few examples, bearing in mind that Google may or may not capture the phenomenon adequately. I’ll limit myself to one instance per country so please don’t take offense if I don’t happen to mention your personal favorite. Feel free to post a link or Street View image in the comments if you like.

Electric Brae, Ayrshire, Scotland

View Larger Map

"Brae" is a Scottish term for a hillside. "Electric" comes from a time when people didn’t quite understand electrical forces and considered that to be a possible explanation. This gravity hill became somewhat of a local attraction. Authorities posted a stone marker to help people locate the brae and better understand the phenomenon: "Whilest there is this slope of 1 in 86 upwards from the bend at the Glen, the configuration of the land on either side of the road provides an optical illusion making it look as if the slope is going the other way. Therefore, a stationary car on the road with the brakes off will appear to move slowly uphill."

The marker can be observed on the left side of this Street View image.

Gravity Hill, Moonbi, New South Wales, Australia

View Larger Map

Does a gravity hills operate in the opposite direction Down Under? No, that’s my poor attempt at humor. The phenomenon appears exactly the same way as it would in the Northern Hemisphere.

The International Directory of Magnetic Hills, Gravity Hills, Mystery Hills and Magnetic Mountains says, that for the gravity hill outside of Moonbi: "With caution, position your car at a point nearest the southbound lane and put your car in neutral, take your foot off the brake and you will experience the thrill of your car not only climbing the hill by itself, but gaining speed as it goes. Look out for other traffic and make sure you stop before your car rolls on to the northbound lane."

Australia’s New England Highway splits into northbound and southbound lanes in a mountainous area about five kilometres north of Moonbi. The phenomenon occurs on an access road that connects the two sides of the split highway and allows traffic from both directions to divert to an observation deck at Moonbi Lookout.

The Street View image does appear to go slightly uphill. I guess.

Magnetic Hill, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

View Larger Map

One needs to travel to North America to realize the true potential of a local geographic oddity: roadside attraction as money-making opportunity. I say that lovingly. I’ll alter my path in a heartbeat when I know something unusual can be found nearby, and Magnetic Hill in Moncton is but a stone’s throw from the Trans-Canada Highway. Oh yes, I’ll be stopping here if I’m ever in the area.

Those crafty citizens of Moncton purchased Magnetic Hill and diverted the highway around it. The city owns it. They’ve used it as an anchor for an ever-expanding universe of tourist attractions: zoo, water park, golf course, replica fishing village, shops and restaurants that practically overshadow the phenomenon itself.

Spook Hill, Lake Wales, Florida, USA

View Larger Map

However it’s hard to beat the Canadian’s neighbors to the south when it comes to cheezy over-the-top tourist traps. New Brunswick’s Magnetic Hill seems positively high-class compared to some of its counterparts in the United States, to wit:

Again, don’t get me wrong, I define cheezy as "good."

Nonetheless, I’ll focus on a free, easily-accessible gravity hill. I could have chosen literally hundreds of examples in the U.S. but I’ve chosen Spook Hill because it has a level of local government recognition and support. They’re proud enough of their gravity hill that they’ve named the local school accordingly. Check out Spook Hill Elementary School with its Casper the Friendly Ghost logo.

Spook Hill received a flurry of coverage after the Wall Street Journal featured it in a 1990 article (often referenced, unfortunately I couldn’t find an online link to it). It also has nice coverage in Roadside Americana. One simply needs to park a car at the sign on the right side of the Street View image, put it into neutral, and let gravity take its natural course. It’s dispelled the same way any gravity hill can be debunked. As SunCam explained, "We took a carpenter’s level to Spook Hill and discovered that what was ‘up’ was really ‘down.’ The lay of the terrain around Spook Hill is responsible for the illusion. If you approach the hill from the opposite direction and survey the surroundings you can clearly see how the illusion works. In conclusion, cars do not roll up hill; they are actually rolling down hill."

Like any good magic trick however, knowing the secret doesn’t have to spoil the fun.

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