Last Stand

On June 15, 2016 · 4 Comments

I came across the escape route used by John Wilkes Booth in the immediate aftermath of the Abraham Lincoln assassination while I researched By George. Every student in the United States likely learned all about the assassination multiple times starting from elementary school and every year thereafter. Fewer probably knew much about the attempted escape. I confess to understanding no more than a few basic details of Booth’s brief flight from justice. Then I started to wonder if I could find the exact spot where Booth died, a rather macabre subject for sure, although certainly a legitimate topic for a geo-oddity blog.

John Wilkes Booth’s Foiled Escape

Garrett Farm
Garrett Farm on Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

For example, I knew all about Ford’s Theater where Booth shot Lincoln. It’s still there, an active home to the performing arts, and I’ve been to it a bunch of times. I’d never heard of Richard H. Garrett’s farm, though. That’s where Booth died.

John Wilkes Booth fled south from the city into Maryland after he committed his horrendous crime. He stopped at Surratt’s Tavern for guns and supplies he’d stashed there earlier. Then he traveled to to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd who set his broken leg. Mudd later went to prison for four years at remote Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas for doing that (I saw his jail cell!).

Booth then stayed with various Confederate sympathizers, hid in the woods, and crossed the Potomac River into Virginia. Eventually he found his way to Garrett’s farm. Garrett apparently had no idea who he was dealing with and in fact hadn’t even heard about Lincoln’s assassination. Lines of communication had been decimated in Virginia during those final months of the war and word hadn’t spread that far yet.

Union soldiers tracked Booth down to the farm and trapped him in a tobacco barn on Garrett’s property. Booth refused to surrender so they set the barn on fire. One of the soldiers shot Booth — some say in cold blood — and Booth was carried to Garrett’s front porch where he died several hours later. That would seem to be a rather historic spot yet it no longer exists. The house fell into disrepair in spite of its notoriety, eventually collapsing upon itself.

The place where Booth died is as unsung as modernity can make it, a forgotten median, sandwiched between the north and southbound lanes of a divided, four-lane highway. Commuters and truckers speed by, wholly unaware that they’ve passed the location where the most famous manhunt in United States history came to a violent end.

The road that passed by Garrett’s home eventually became U.S. Route 301, later expanded to four lanes (map), obliterating what little was left of the farm.

Fort A.P. Hill

Va. Guard aviators support Marines at Fort A.P. Hill.
Va. Guard aviators support Marines at Fort A.P. Hill by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr (cc)

That wasn’t the only indignity. The United States Army began to expand rapidly in the years leading up to World War II. It searched around the country for out-of-the-way spaces suitable for stashing military functions away from prying eyes. Eastern Virginia looked particularly good, a quite rural hideaway just steps from the nation’s capital, with sixty thousand acres available for the government to seize.

Fort A.P. Hill was established as an Army training facility on June 11, 1941, pursuant to War Department General Order No. 5. In its 1st year, the installation was used as a maneuver area for the II Army Corps and for three activated National Guard divisions from Mid-Atlantic states. In the autumn of 1942, Fort A.P. Hill was the staging area for the headquarters and corps troops of Major General Patton’s Task Force A, which invaded French Morocco in North Africa.

The old Garrett farm fell within the original northern boundary of Fort A.P. Hill. Who exactly was A.P. Hill? He was a Confederate general who fought the Union armies of Abraham Lincoln and died in combat during the Third Battle of Petersburg. It seemed a little ironic that the US Army named a fort for someone who fought against it. Similarly, it seemed strange that the place where Lincoln’s assassin died happened on land that would later be named for a Confederate officer. Yet there it was, and largely forgotten.

Minor League

On February 17, 2016 · 9 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle examined piles of sports teams while researching Other State Nickname Thingies. Generally I stuck with university teams although professional basketball’s Golden State Warriors provided the best example. Then I gazed at other sports and fell into the weirdness that could only be described as the names of minor league baseball teams. I wasn’t the first one to notice these unusual designations. The Intertubes were filled with articles about the strangest team names so I decided to take a slightly different tack.

The team volatility also surprised me. They changed names, affiliations, and cities with abandon. I examined a minor league team closest to me geographically, the Potomac Nationals. There wasn’t anything particularly creative about the name for this High-A farm team for the Washington Nationals. However, in less than forty year of it existence it had gone by Alexandria Dukes, Prince William Yankees, Prince William Cannons, Potomac Cannons, and then Potomac Nationals. It also changed affiliations between the Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and currently the Washington Nationals. I noticed this wasn’t unusual as I examined other teams.

Frederick Keys

Frederick Keys vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Frederick Keys vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans by Mark Poblete on Flickr (cc)

The nearest team to me while I grew up was the Frederick Keys, a High-A team affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, based in Frederick, Maryland (map). The name "Keys" certainly qualified as an odd choice, in this case honoring historical resident Francis Scott Key, of Star Spangled Banner fame. I’d attended many games over the years when, completely by change, I happened to enter the ballpark on August 14, 1992. It was a Friday. I knew that only because I found a record of game online. Something piqued my curiosity as we approached the stadium gate. I never had to walk through magnetometers like I were entering an airport before, although I suspected what might be brewing. Sure enough, two military helicopters landed next to the field and out walked President George H. W. Bush and family into the stadium. They’d been vacationing at nearby Camp David. Presidential sightings in the Washington, DC area weren’t particularly unusual, however it was still pretty cool.

There was a long tradition with the Frederick Keys at the 7th inning stretch. The team’s theme song always played over the stadium speakers, a hokey event involving everyone shakes their keys, because this was the Keys. A bad pun, I know. Anyway, here was the best part — President Bush didn’t have any keys! He had to borrow a set of keys from someone in his party so he could play along. That notion stuck with me ever since — an amazing realization that the presidency was so powerful that no door ever locked in its path.

Classic Match-Ups

Monty by Chris Murphy on Flickr (cc)

The bizarre variety of minor league baseball team names offered plenty of fodder for fictional match-ups. I didn’t consider whether they made any sense from a competitive standpoint because it hardly mattered, although I’d still love to see some of these games fielded. For instance, how about the Montgomery Biscuits (map) vs. the Kansas City T-Bones? A lump of dough battling a hunk of meat. Nice.

The most laid-back game would have to be the Traverse City Beach Bums vs. the Asheville Tourists. I almost went to an Asheville Tourists game when I was in Asheville last summer. I gave it up after spending most of the day hiking and driving, just too tired from being a real tourist to see the baseball Tourists.

A battle of crustaceans might also be amusing. I’m not sure which team would come out on top in a tournament between the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, the Charlotte Stone Crabs or the Lakewood BlueClaws. Maybe the two teams named for Blue Crabs would gang up on the Stone Crabs. It’s hard to tell.

Beaks and talons would fly if the Nuevo Laredo Owls ever played the Orem Owlz. And no, I didn’t understand why it was Orem Owlz instead of Owls. Maybe the team was trying to connect with a younger demographic although trying a little too hard to be edgy. If that was the case then it fell miserably short when the team announced Caucasian Heritage Night in 2015: "Our night was to include Wonder Bread on burgers with mayonnaise, clips from shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ and trying to solve the vertical leaping challenge." The Owlz canceled its plans after the inevitable uproar. The Director of Media and Communications resigned.

Talk about nuts, what if the Modesto Nuts, Lansing Lugnuts and Wichita Wingnuts all got a chance to play each other? Games could take place at Dunkin’ Donuts Park (the future home of the Hartford Yard Goats — another ridiculously named team).

A good dogfight might include any combination of the Portland Sea Dogs, Charleston RiverDogs, Batavia Muckdogs, Glendale Desert Dogs, Lincoln Saltdogs, El Paso Chihuahuas, Erie SeaWolves, Midland RockHounds, or New Jersey Jackals. And a good catfight could include the Carolina Mudcats, Gary SouthShore RailCats, Lynchburg Hillcats, New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Sacramento River Cats, Tri-City ValleyCats, Connecticut Tigers, Kane County Cougars, Lakeland Flying Tigers, Quintana Roo Tigers, or Yucatán Lions.

My Favorite

Hillsboro Hops opening game, with rainbow
Hillsboro Hops opening game, with rainbow by ryan harvey on Flickr (cc)

There could be only one favorite. Regular 12MC readers wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I preferred the Hillsboro Hops. This was a Single-A team in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon (map) affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Its physical placement on the northern fringe of the Willamette Valley and its location outside of Portland made the name a perfect choice. Portland was famous for its heavy concentration of breweries and hops were an essential brewing ingredient grown right in the valley. The team’s logo literally featured a hop cone wearing a baseball cap.

Go Hops!

California Tangential

On January 6, 2016 · 4 Comments

Article research doesn’t always go as smoothly or as cleanly as one might imagine. I fall headlong into rabbit holes, sometimes finding inspiration for future articles that continue the cycle. Rarely, however, do I find the sheer volume of factual oddities I encountered while investigating places "Outside of California." I supposed it was enough to create a nice entry for the ongoing series of Odds and Ends that appear sporadically on Twelve Mile Circle, however I decided to call it California Tangential to honor its source instead.

Hooray for Hollywood

California was notable for so many things although perhaps best known for Hollywood, at least from a worldwide cultural perspective. Appropriately, the California locality in southern Maryland referenced in the previous article practically abutted another settlement named Hollywood. Only 6.3 miles (10 kilometers) separated Hollywood from California. This happy juxtaposition was completely coincidental:

It was named in 1867, when a storeowner at Thompson’s General Store near the Uniontown section of Hollywood required a name for the post office inside the store. The storeowner was inspired by the gigantic holly tree planted in front of the store and named the post office Hollywood.

The Hollywood in Maryland (map) predated it’s California cousin by more than twenty years as well as the movie industry’s establishment on the west coast by nearly half a century. Still, it put a smile on my face to imagine the possibility of a Patuxent River Walk of Fame.

Coney Island

Coney Island 003
Coney Island 003 by Jeremy Thompson on Flickr (cc)

I found another bait-and-switch at the California neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. It seemed strange that they select a name from the west coast. A later entrepreneur drew his inspiration from the opposite coast in an attempt to recreate New York’s Coney Island.

In time for the opening on June 21, 1886, the name was officially changed to "Ohio Grove, The Coney Island of the West" in an effort to link the park with the famous New York destination. Fortunate enough to be on a riverfront location, riverboat soon became the most popular method of transportation for park visitors. In 1887, "Ohio Grove" was completely dropped from the name as the park became known simply as "Coney Island."

The attraction still exists. However, just as California, Ohio fell short of its original namesake, so too did its Coney Island (map).


Jackass Flat, Victoria, Australia

I’m too easily amused. I smirked when I spied Jackass Flat adjacent to California Gully in Victoria, Australia. Jackass Flat simply sounded silly because I lacked decorum and maturity. At least people elsewhere had the good sense to change their Jackass to something slightly more sensible. Pity the 224 people who lived in Jackass Flat. Still it could have been a lot worse as I was reminded by an 1860 book I uncovered, Two Years in Victoria

In our walk through the diggings, we could not help noting the names of places and signs as indications of the character of mind of the people who give such names — Jackass Flat, Donkey Gully, Dead horse Gully, Sheepshead Gully, Tinpot Gully, Job’s Gully, Poverty Gully, and Piccaninny Gullies without end. These however are not quite so bad as Murderer’s Flat and Chokem Gully.

I agreed that Murderer’s Flat would have been dreadful. Chokem Gully had a nice ring to it though, ignoring what it actually referenced.

California and Chicago Flip-Flop

California Renovated (Your New Blue)
California Renovated (Your New Blue) by cta web on Flickr (cc)

I found a California Avenue in Chicago. Actually I’d known about the California station (map) on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line for many years because I’d passed it many times taking the train from O’Hare International Airport. I didn’t realize that the station was named for a street until now, though. Conversely there was a Chicago (actually several of them) in California. The most well known may have been Port Chicago, on Suisun Bay northeast of San Francisco (map). It was the site of the horrific "Port Chicago Disaster"

Port Chicago… was developed into a munitions facility when the Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island, California, could not fully supply the war effort. By the summer of 1944, expansion of the Port Chicago facility allowed for loading two ships at once around the clock. The Navy units assigned to the dangerous loading operations were generally segregated African-American units…. Approximately 320 workers were on or near the pier when, at 10:18 p.m., a series of massive explosions over several seconds destroyed everything and everyone in the vicinity.

These events exposed racial inequalities in the U.S. Navy although reforms took many more years. Port Chicago also no longer exists. The government declared eminent domain in 1968 and tore it down to create a safety buffer zone.

Back to the United Kingdom

I’d forgotten about an English California featured previously on 12MC in Wrong Side of the Atlantic. Then another California appeared in Ipswich (map) courtesy of a comment posted by reader Mark. He also provided a document link with much more information about the Ipswich California. That led me to examine the Gazetteer of British Place Names for more California locations. It included several; five in England and one in Scotland. I was surprised by the prevalence.

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