Fire

On September 24, 2017 · 2 Comments

It seemed like wildfires burned all across the American West this summer, each one worse than the other. A fire in Montana burned so long and so intensely that many nearby towns experience perpetual nightfall for days. Amazingly, the fires of 2017 stripped an area as big as the state of Maryland. For the European audience, that equated to an area about the size of Belgium or Albania. All reduced to ashes.

Twelve Mile Circle featured a number of natural disasters previously (e.g., hurricanes, floods) so why not fire? I considered pinpointing the largest fires in recorded history. However I wanted something I could mark distinctly on my index map. Maybe I could shift my attention to famous city fires instead.

First I had to get this out of my system:



You know you wanted to see it. Or maybe that was just me. Fortunately it lasts only eight seconds.


Great Fire of London


The Monument
The Monument. Photo by Gabrielle Ludlow on Flickr (cc)

The Great Fire of London in 1666 may be the most well-known. It began in the bakery of Thomas Farriner/Farynor late at night. First it spread west and then north as winds shifted. Nearly all of the original medieval part of the city went up in flames. Firefighting techniques barely existed at the time and couldn’t contain it. The main defense involved fire breaks, literally removing anything combustible before flames arrived. However, officials didn’t move quickly enough to create breaks so the fire spread far-and-wide. Reputedly very few people died even though the fire covered a sizable portion of central London. That might have been because the city government didn’t keep good records of the poor and destitute. They may have simply been incinerated. The true death toll will never be known.

Anyone who studied English History of this time period probably remembered hearing about the fire in the diary of Samuel Pepys.

So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson’s little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge…

The fire left an indelible impression. Five years later the city commissioned construction of a large Doric column near the site where the fire began on Pudding Lane. Christopher Wren designed the monument while he did the same for the reconstruction of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The column rose 62 metres (202 feet) upon completion and it still stands. Visitors can climb to the top of the Great Fire of London Monument for panoramic views of the city. (map)


Great Chicago Fire


Impact vs Chicago Fire
Impact vs Chicago Fire. Photo by abdallahh on Flickr (cc)

The most famous fire in the United States might be the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. According to popular legend — disproved long ago — the fire began when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lamp. The disaster did indeed start near the O’Leary family’s barn on an alley behind DeKoven Street (map). However, nobody knew the true cause. The story of a clumsy cow sold a lot of newspapers so it stuck.

The fire created utter devastation in downtown Chicago, consuming more than three square miles of densely-populated neighborhoods. By the end, more than a hundred thousand people lost their homes and three hundred people lost their lives. The city’s business district laid in ruins. It might have been worse except for rain on the third day. The fire finally began to burn out as it approached more sparsely-settled areas farther away from the downtown core.

As in London, the people of Chicago created a lasting memorial near the site where the fire began. The Chicago remembrance took a much more practical turn. The city constructed a training facility for the Chicago Fire Academy on the site. Firefighters now learn how to combat blazes at the place where the city’s most horrific conflagration began.

Memories of the disaster remained strong even more than a century later. The local Major League Soccer team named itself the Chicago Fire.


Great Fire of Meireki


Meireki fire
Meireki fire via Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

I’d never heard of the Great Fire of Meireki before I started researching this article although it certainly deserved a mention. Meireki referred to the Japanese imperial era when the fire took place, specifically its third year, 1657. That put it just a few years before the Great Fire of London. This one also brought a capital to its knees, the city of Edo, now known as Tokyo. Its legendary origin put the Chicago story to shame. Supposedly the blaze began when a priest attempted to burn a cursed kimono. Actually, nobody knew how it started although the spot traced to somewhere within the Hongo district (map).

Edo suffered through an extended drought leading up to the fire, leaving buildings tinderbox dry. Wooden homes clustered tightly along narrow streets became the perfect fuel. High winds that day fanned flames widely throughout the city. Up to seventy percent of the Edo burned before the fire finally subsided. Perhaps a hundred thousand people died.

Last Places in Asia

On July 3, 2016 · 4 Comments

The second time I searched on the exact phrase the "Last place in [geographic area] to"… while leaving the remainder of the statement blank, I focused on countries in Asia. I knew it would be more difficult than the examination of England. However, I didn’t figure it would be nearly impossible. Many countries produced not a single occurrence. I found a few examples after extensive searching, instances both fascinating and completely unpredictable.

Last Place in China where Glyptostrobus Grows in the Wild


Glyptostrobus pensilis
Glyptostrobus pensilis by Chris_Williams_PhD on Flickr (cc)

I’d never heard of the conifer Glyptostrobus pensilis, a native of subtropical southeast China and small slivers of Laos and Vietnam. I’d never heard of an organization called the American Conifer Society either, yet it existed as did the tree from China. The Society said,

Commonly called Chinese Water Pine and Chinese Swamp Cypress, both misnomers… The genus formerly had a much wider range, covering most of the Northern Hemisphere, including the high Arctic during the Paleocene and Eocene… Chinese Swamp cypress is nearly extinct in the wild due to overcutting for its valuable decay-resistant, scented wood, but it is also fairly widely planted along the banks of rice paddies where its roots help to stabilize the banks by reducing soil erosion.

Glyptostrobus pensilis survived to become the only remaining species of the genus Glyptostrobus. Dendrologists once thought Glyptostrobus went extinct in the wild in its native Chinese habitat however small clusters continued to cling to life in mangrove swamps near Zhuhai (map), perhaps its final stand. Fortunately gardeners and arborists also cultivated Glyptostrobus as an ornamental tree in plenty of other places, including China. It can grow throughout much of the southeastern United States and in parts of the Pacific Northwest, too. The specimen in the photograph grew at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

Just don’t go looking for Glyptostrobus in the wild in China except in Zhuhai.


Last Place in Japan Banning Women


大峯
大峯 (Mt. Omine) by Kemm Ell Zee on Flickr (cc)

A modern industrial nation banning women seemed oddly anachronistic, yet a place in Japan continued its 1,3000 year prohibition unabated. Women weren’t allowed on the peak of a mountain within the Omine range, in the Kansai region of Honshu (map). Officially called Mount Sanjo although more popularly called Mount Omine, the summit sheltered the monastery of Ominesanji, the holiest place of Shugendo Buddhists.

"It’s not about discrimination," explained the monk who led my expedition when I questioned him about the "No Women Admitted" sign. "In the past, this was a dangerous mountain with bears, rock falls and other hazards. People still die on this mountain today. The ‘ban’ is there to protect women in the way you would want to protect your mother or sister or wife from danger. It also exists so that we do not get distracted from our practice…"

All other Japanese monasteries lifted their prohibitions years ago. Ominesanji never changed. The ban didn’t have the force of law — and women were known to ignore the signs occasionally — although the monks of Mount Omine still considered those disregarding their traditions as severely breaching local etiquette.


Last place in Indonesia to See the Total Solar Eclipse of 2016


Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia
Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia by skyseeker on Flickr (cc)

The moon passed between the earth and the sun on March 8-9, 2016, creating a narrow band of total darkness across a swatch of the South Pacific. Widespread areas of Oceania and southeast Asia witnessed the event partially. Very little land, generally only the open ocean, fell within the full blackout. Parts of Indonesia did experience the maximum effects of the eclipse. The tiny island of Pulau Fani (map) became the last place in the nation to go completely dark, for 2 minutes and 14 seconds. I’d never heard of Pulau Fani and I suspected many in the Twelve Mile Circle audience hadn’t either. I found very little information about the island although it had a listing on Indonesian Wikipedia. Roughly translated,

Pulau Fani is the outer islands of Indonesia, located in the Pacific Ocean and is bordered by the state Palau… For the latest data existing seasonal population numbers there are 11 households.

I also learned that a total eclipse will cross the United States on August 21, 2017. I think I need to find a way to visit my relatives in Charleston, South Carolina where a total blackout will occur.


Last place in Cambodia to Fall to the Khmer Rouge


big_preah_vihear
big_preah_vihear by lokryan on Flickr (cc)

The Khmer Rouge, an army of Communist agitators, rebelled against Cambodia’s Khmer Republic beginning in the mid 1960s. The Khmer Republic didn’t have sufficient unity or the strength to contain the Khmer Rouge as the years passed, and finally fell to it in 1975. The last vestige of the old Khmer Republic lingered for a few weeks longer at a single place, at the Preah Vihear Temple (ប្រាសាទព្រះវិហារ).

Ironically, Preah Vihear (map) might actually belong in Thailand. It was built as a Hindu temple atop a summit in the Dangrek Mountains in the 11th Century. Nine hundred years later, French colonialists in Cambodia negotiated with the Rattanakosin Kingdom of Siam to establish a border. Part of it followed the spine of Dangrek Mountains. Oddly, the map placed Preah Vihear within Cambodia even though it fell on Siam’s side of the watershed as did the primary path leading to it. Siam, renamed Thailand, later disputed this designation and appealed to the International Court of Justice. The ICJ sided with Cambodia in 1962, declaring that someone should have raised concerns back in 1907 after the original survey. Thailand waited too long to push its claim.

Preah Vihear provided a great natural defensive position. Attackers could not approach the temple from the Cambodian side without scaling cliffs. Forces loyal to the Khmer Republic held out for more than a month until the Khmer Rouge dislodged them with intensive shelling. They had an easy escape route, though. They simply walked a few metres across the border into Thailand. Tragically, the victorious Communists would perpetrated a horrible national genocide where as many as three million people died before Vietnamese forces toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Elvis is Everywhere

On May 18, 2014 · 5 Comments

My recent trip to Graceland put Elvis Presley, or more properly what I call the "cult of Elvis" at the forefront of my mind once again. It never wanders far, lurking in my subconscious as it does, simply waiting for a proper triggering event. Graceland certainly qualified.



Go ahead and play "Elvis is Everywhere" by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper in the background and get into the proper mood. This time I concentrated my efforts outside of the United States in a true Elvis is Everywhere spirit. He turned up in interesting places, both historically expected and locationally inexplicable through the actions of his acolytes.

Randers, Denmark



Graceland Randers, Denmark

An event hall in Randers, Denmark recreated the form of Graceland and even named itself Graceland Randers. In addition to hosting Elvis-inspired weddings and sponsoring meetings of the Official Danish Elvis Presley Fan Club, Graceland Randers offered an Elvis museum and an Americana-inspired diner called Highway 51 (the actual Highway 51 is known as Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis and runs directly past Graceland).

I’d include photographs, however Graceland Randers hadn’t been around long enough to generate anything with Creative Common licenses yet. Even Street View showed it as an empty lot. I did find a nice copyright protected photograph that showed Graceland Randers’ decent albeit incomplete rendition of the real deal.


Friedberg, Germany


Capri Club 2009 - the army home of Elvis Presley
Capri Club 2009 – the army home of Elvis Presley by Barbara Müller-Walter, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

Ray Barracks, an American military facility, used to exist at Friedberg, Germany until it was decommissioned in 2007 and returned to German control. Elvis Presley served in the US Army as a draftee and was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division at Ray Barracks. He lived at the barracks for an 18-month period during 1958-1960. Friedberg legitimately claimed a connection to Presley. It made sense for the town to erect a monument in a roundabout outside of the former barracks gates (map).

There were several other Elvis-inspired locations I managed to find elsewhere in Germany, including:

I imagine that Elvis’ German tour of duty likely contributed to the proliferation.


Neve Ilan, Israel


Burma Road 024
Burma Road 024 by Alex Jilitsky, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Uri Yoeli constructed the Elvis Inn in Neve Ilan, Israel (map) even though Elvis never stopped there. Rather it sprang from the owner’s devotion. It has been described as "a cafe and souvenir shop off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway that’s more like a shrine."

Mixed in with the menorahs and Hebrew T-shirts are 728 pictures of Elvis Presley that cover every wall, the ceiling and four brick pillars supporting the roof. Young Elvis, old Elvis, fat Elvis, slim Elvis, white-jumpsuit Elvis, Army Elvis, Elvis and Priscilla, and Elvis wearing a cowboy hat in the middle of a framed Confederate flag. Even the napkins say Elvis.

Trip Advisor gave it mixed reviews.


Kobe, Japan



View Larger Map

This one took some digging. I’d noticed references to a rock ‘n’ roll museum in the Harajuku district of Tokyo, and its Love Me Tender Elvis store, Get Back Beatles store and Gimme Shelter Rolling Stones store. Then it closed suddenly in 2009. There was speculation about where or whether its iconic Elvis Presley statue would reappear.

Later sources referenced Kobe Harborland, but where? Thank goodness this large cluster of malls and shops included an online guide with a decent map, even if mostly in Japanese. Transposing between the the Harborland reference and Google Maps allowed me to approximate the location in Street View, and I finally spot Elvis’ current whereabouts. Elvis left the building and reappeared in Kobe.


Not Enough?

Waymarking includes an entire Elvis Category. I had fun searching for Elvis around the world. I even used it to find a replica Hollywood Boulevard star for Elvis at a hamburger joint in São Paulo, Brazil (map). I’ll also note that an Ancient Roman Elvis bust was discovered not too long ago and sold at auction.

Elvis is, and truly was, everywhere even before his "birth." And of course we all know he never died.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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