US State Capital Surnames

On November 22, 2012 · 6 Comments

We’ve waded through surnames that paired with nations and those that matched U.S. states. Now it’s time for the third and final installment of this investigation, the list of surnames that matched capital cities of U.S. states. A quick summary of the rules — information is pulled from Frequently Occurring Surnames from Census 2000 and provided in a shared Google spreadsheet — and we’re just about ready to go. Matches between surnames and state capital names were the least likely to indicate any kind of correlation beyond a common etymological root. It wasn’t legitimate to conclude that people with the surname Phoenix traced their ancestral homeland to Phoenix, Arizona, as an example.

I did make one accommodation. Many of the capital cities were obviously based upon the surnames of settlers, historical figures or other notables with various suffixes tagged onto them such as -burg, -ville, -ton, -polis or city. I felt it was fair to discard those extraneous characters.

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Jackson Wins

Fortunately I didn’t have to invoke that rule for the most frequent occurrence, an honor bestowed upon Jackson. It’s both the capital city of Mississippi and the 18th most common surname in the United States with 666,125 instances. Jackson was an exact match. I say this with all due respect to my close family in Mississippi (and there are a bunch of them): doesn’t it feel good to come out on top of a list for once, and it’s not for a negative reason?

Jackson, as a surname, can be interpreted literally to mean "Son of Jack" with Jack additionally serving as the diminutive form of John. One would expect lots of Jacksons and Johnsons and indeed that is the case. Andrew Jackson, an important figure in the history of the nascent United States, became a namesake for the Mississippi capital even before he became President. Jackson was just ending his role as the first U.S. military governor of Florida when Mississippi named its capital for him in 1822.

The final major battle of the War of 1812 had propelled Jackson into national visibility and adoration. He led the U.S. victory over British forces at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 and became an instant hero. Jackson carried his military exploits into the First Seminole War, setting a stage for Spain to cede Florida to the United States and positioning him for his election to President in 1829.

Jackson, the city, is also the site of the Jackson Dome which has become one of the more popular articles on 12MC for reasons that completely escape me. A handful of visitors drop by there every day.

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Son of Harry’s Town

We have another son to consider with the surname Harris, the root of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. One has to sound it out a bit to uncover "Harry’s Son." It’s easier to hear it in the less-mangled version, Harrison. People got lazy, slurred the last couple of letters and it morphed into Harris, a version used by more than half a million people (593,542) in the United States. That was enough to make it the 24th most popular surname in 2000.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania isn’t named for anyone famous, just some guy who settled in the area in the Eighteenth Century. As noted in the Harrisburg City Archives,

John Harris emigrated first to Philadelphia from Yorkshire, England, and later to Lancaster County. As a pioneer, he wished to venture farther west to build a productive life in a new land. Through his Philadelphia contacts, Harris received a land grant of 800 acres, on what is now the site of downtown Harrisburg and part of Shipoke.

His son John Harris Jr. platted a town here in 1785, named it for the family and incorporated the village in 1791. It became Pennsylvania’s capital in 1812.

Washington came next on the list, assuming one considers Washington to be the "capital" of the District of Columbia. The first issue is simple. The District is not a state. The second is more complicated. Washington is coterminous with the District (separate city charters for Washington and Georgetown were combined into a single governing unit by the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871). It’s hard to claim that the District has a distinct capital for its municipal government since it’s so completely enmeshed within its role as the capital of the United States. Maybe I could argue that the capital of the District is the Wilson Building? I’m going to set this aside. One should feel free to refer to the surname in the context of the State of Washington in the previous article if the topic warrants further elaboration.

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Once a National Capital

Two other capital city surnames round-out the popular top tier with greater than a hundred thousand appearances each.

The surname Austin is an Anglicization of Augustine, with Latin roots implying "greatness." That’s the reason why Roman emperors were often titled Augustus. Austin, Texas was named for Stephen F. Austin, the "Father of Texas." It served as the national capital of the Republic of Texas from 1839-1846 before it became the state capital of Texas with its admission to the United States. There were 113,160 people with the Austin surname in the 2000 Census.

The surname Montgomery is a bit shrouded in history and traces back with Norman roots to the 11th Century at least. Montgomery, Alabama was named in 1819 for Richard Montgomery, a general during the American Revolution. Paradoxically, the surrounding county was also named Montgomery, although for a different Montgomery, Lemuel P. Montgomery who died in the 1814 Creek War. There were 112,144 people with the Austin Montgomery surname in the 2000 Census.

I think that little bit of geo-trivia is a good place to stop my surname-geography comparison.


On October 23, 2012 · 5 Comments

Gephyrophobia is a fear of bridges. People who experience this anxiety are gephyrophobiacs. I’ve known people with this fear to varying degrees although I didn’t realize it had an actual name until recently. I noticed a search engine query on the Twelve Mile Circle from someone who appeared to be a gephyrophobiac. The person was searching for an automobile route from Mississippi to Michigan that avoided bridges.

Unfortunately that’s an impossible task in a motor vehicle. Potentially, if one had access to a ship, one could cruise down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, swing around Florida, head up the Atlantic coastline, enter the St. Lawrence Seaway and proceed through the Great Lakes. That would avoid bridges although I wonder if transiting through canal locks might produce similar anxieties. Perhaps airline travel might be a possibility. However they didn’t ask about that. Maybe it’s too expensive. Let’s assume that neither of those are an option for whatever reason and the person truly wishes to travel by automobile.

The best I can do, once again assuming a motorized vehicle is the only possibility, is to search for a path that at least minimizes bridge crossings. Arbitrarily, I decided on bridge lengths of 1,000 feet (305 metres) or less primarily because it was a nice, round number. I also figured it was short enough for an anxious person to grab the steering wheel with both hands, grin-and-bear-it, and power through for ten or fifteen seconds until reaching the other side.

I also had to determine starting and ending points for the route. The query mentioned Mississippi and Michigan so I selected their respective state capitals, Jackson and Lansing.

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The trick was to find a route that swung around the Mississippi River drainage basin. Specifically it needed to hug the southern edge of the Tennessee River basin and the eastern edge of the Ohio River basin. It’s impossible to plot a driving route exactly along the watershed divide because it follows mountain ridges for much of its length. I kept as close as practical without worrying about it too much. I figured the route would cross rivers near their sources where they would still be small and manageable.

My gephyrophobia-reducing (not eliminating) solution would cover 1,721 miles (2,770 kilometers) over 31 hours, versus a more direct route of 932 miles (1,500 km) over 15 hours (map). The penalty one pays for major bridge avoidance is basically a doubling of time and distance.

I’m certain I could produce a better route with even fewer and smaller river crossings. It would be gloriously inefficient.

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I do sympathize with people who experience Gephyrophobia. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to cross the Mackinac Bridge on Interstate 75 between Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas, as an example. I’ve driven that bridge and others like it before and I can see why it would create anxiety for lots of drivers.

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The New York times featured this situation a few years ago in, "To Gephyrophobiacs, Bridges Are a Terror.". One anecdote in particular stuck out in my mind.

Mrs. Steers’s phobia was so severe that she was virtually trapped on Staten Island for 13 years. She missed her brother’s wedding in Brooklyn. She sent her husband and two children off on family vacations without her. She had never seen her sister’s house at the Jersey Shore.

Staten Island covers only 58 square miles (152 km2). Certainly, it’s both larger and better appointed than a prison island like Alcatraz. Nonetheless Gephyrophobia turned it into a prison of another sort. This seemed to be a rather extreme instance since the Staten Island Ferry apparently wasn’t a possibility either. It demonstrates how disabling Gephyrophobia can become in its extreme forms.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Google Maps included a Gephyrophobia button to generated driving directions that avoided bridges?

Latitude Longitude Sequences

On August 2, 2012 · 4 Comments

I was looking for geo-oddities — so many of my articles start off that same way — when I spotted something unusual. This was just prior to my recent trip to Washington and Oregon while I was working on my travel agenda. I’d been contemplating the addition of a quick loop to Newport on the Pacific Ocean coastline. Ultimately I discarded the idea because it would take too long for a single day-trip from our base in Bend. It would have taken 7 hours altogether and my family would have burned me at the stake.

More to the point, this is what I spotted and marked:

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The checkerboard pattern of the Corvalis Watershed Wild Animal Refuge is what drew my attention. Ultimately it proved to be a Google Maps error so I discarded it. However I noticed something equally interesting at that moment, the lat/long coordinates of the marker I’d placed as I conducted further research: 44.60182°,-123.45°. OK, the latitude was boring. It was the longitude that fascinating me. It formed a sequence. 12345.

Maybe I could find some examples where both the latitude and longitude formed a complete sequence in order, using all ten digits. Most of the attempts fell somewhere within the vast oceans although a few hit dry land. Theoretically, someone could visit them with enough effort and determination.

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I think my favorite is -12.345°, -67.890°. This is found in the Manuripi Heath National Amazon Reserve (Reserva Nacional Amazónica Manuripi Heath) in the northwestern corner of Bolivia. This would be a great place to visit if you’re a birder. Timing would need to be taken into consideration as the website explains (in translation) that "Access to this area is very difficult, especially during the rainy season."

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Reversing the order, another example hits dry land only a few hundred kilometres away at -09.876°,-54.321°. This appears to be about 50 km east of Guaranta do Norte in the Mato Grosso state of Brazil. The spot falls in the middle of nowhere although maybe not quite as far into the middle of nowhere as the one in Bolivia. A determined explorer should be able to mount an expedition from Guaranta do Norte and bag this sequential lat/long spot.

Those are the best. Let’s see if I can finagle a sequence to fall somewhere within the United States.

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I shifted the sequence to 34.567°,-89.012°. This should feasible for just about anyone in the vicinity of Blue Mountain, Mississippi to visit. It falls within a small forested area behind a church on County Road 81.

It took some doing to find an example in the UK but I uncovered one there as well.

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It’s not the best example, in fact its rather tortured although it does follow the rules: 56.789012°,-3.4°. Street View almost captures the location. It should be in the distant background of this image taken from Old Military Road near Blairgowrie, Perth and Kinross, Scotland.

I haven’t forgotten about Canadian readers either.

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A decent example can be found outside of Graham-Laurier Provincial Park in British Columbia at 56.7890°, -123.4°. Go into the actual map and you’ll see a couple of photographs taken within extremely close proximity, perhaps less than a kilometre away. They identify this area as a valley of Cypress Creek. I can’t imbed the photo images within 12MC because the author has reserved all rights to them, which is certainly his prerogative, and I don’t have time to seek permission. However if you are interested you can follow these direct links and view their respective pages: CYPRESS CREEK MOUNTAINS and CYPRESS CREEK MOUNTAINS 2.

Feel free to post your favorite latitude/longitude sequences — either in order or in reverse order — in the comments.

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