Odds and Ends 13

On June 4, 2017 · Comments Off on Odds and Ends 13

Twelve Mile Circle occasionally features topics that don’t warrant an entire article. I collect these items in a spreadsheet and present them all together every once in awhile. However I hadn’t done one of those in awhile and the topics began to pile-up on my list. Odds and Ends 12 appeared all the way back in March 2016! That surprised me a little. I needed to do some spring cleaning so I hopped to it.


An Island Apart


Malabo
Malabo. Photo by Embassy of Equatorial Guinea on Flickr (cc)

The small African nation of Equatorial Guinea featured an odd geographic arrangement. Most of the nation occupied a rectangle of land bordering the western continental coastline. As well, it included an island quite a bit removed towards the northwest, directly off of the coast of Cameroon. Yet, Equatorial Guinea placed its capital on that island and not on the mainland. The island went by the name of Bioko and the city Malabo (map).

That arrangement existed as a relic of colonialism. Europeans first encountered this corner of Africa when Portuguese navigator Fernão do Pó landed on Bioko in 1472. That effort didn’t stick so Portugal traded the island to Spain in 1777. Spain didn’t do much with it either so the British came along and squatted on it in the 1820’s when they found nobody from Spain occupying it. Spain got around to reasserting sovereignty in 1844 and the island remained in Spanish control until Equatorial Guinea gained its independence in 1968. Malabo became the capital by default because it was the oldest and most developed city in the new nation.

Malobo won’t be the capital much longer, however. Equatorial Guinea plans a new capital deep within its mainland jungle interior. Construction began several years ago and government function started moving to the new city, Oyala (map), in February 2017. This completely planned community may someday hold up to two hundred thousand residents, nearly a quarter of the nation’s population. The BBC explained at least one motivation. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema survived several coup attempts and he wanted a more secure location. Oil revenues fund its construction.


What a Mistake


2007-09-10-16-08-59
Rainy Lake. Photo by d Wang on Flickr (cc)

An oddly named geographic feature appeared as I researched the Pub with No Beer. There, just to the northwest of Taylors Arm, I spotted Mistake State Forest (map). I never did find the mistake that led to its name. However, I did learn that it covered 5,638 hectares (~14,000 acres) managed by the Forestry Corporation of New South Wales. I think I made a mistake when I tried to investigate Mistake State Forest.

Fortunately I ran across something completely unexpected and infinitely more interesting. Minnesota’s Star Tribune covered a situation where an 80-year-old error in land records wiped out a popular state trail. Minnesota sold some surplus acreage to a private landowner near International Falls in 1935 and forgot to record its sale. "And the buyer, a prominent International Falls businessman, apparently lost track of the purchase amid all his wheeling and dealing." The spot subsequently became a popular recreational area (map) on Rainy Lake. It might have a generally happy ending though. The heirs seemed willing to gift much of the land back to the state, although retaining acreage with prime views.


A Literal Name


Colstrip Montana
Colstrip Montana. Photo by Spot Us on Flickr (cc)

I noticed that a user landed on 12MC from a remote corner of Montana, so I took a closer look. The spot said Colstrip (map), which I considered a rather strange name. Wouldn’t it be funny, I though, if the name came from an actual strip of coal. Well it did actually, as the city confirmed.

Colstrip was established by the Northern Pacific Railway in 1924 as a company town to provide coal for their steam locomotives. The mining is open pit strip mining, where draglines remove soil above the layer of bituminous coal from the Fort Union Formation.

The coal mining tradition continued to the present day, with the nearby Rosebud mine being one of the largest in the state. Later, a large power plant opened up nearby to generate electricity for a huge territory surrounding it. However, Colstrip residents face an uncertain future as pressures build on coal. Nearly everyone in town worked either at the mine or at the power plant. Meanwhile coal begins to fall out of favor. It probably won’t be worth renovating the plant to make it more efficient. It’s too outdated. The plant was built forty years ago and is now considered "the nation’s 15th-largest producer of greenhouse gases."


First Name, Last Name


Welcome to Clinton, Iowa
Welcome to Clinton, Iowa. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr (cc)

I discovered an additional example of First Name, Surname Symmetry recently. This one involved an historical figure named DeWitt Clinton. He dominated New York politics during the early part of the Nineteenth Century. His service included mayor of New York City and multiple terms as Governor. He nearly became President of the United States with a respectable showing against the eventual winner, James Madison. Clinton’s crowning achievement may have been his pivotal role in promoting and building the Erie Canal. This opened a vitally important trade route to the growing interior of the nation. This singular achievement led to dozens of places named in his honor throughout the American Midwest.

They must have really loved DeWitt Clinton in Iowa, though. The state (then a territory) named one of its counties Clinton in 1837 (map). However the county took it one step further. Two of the towns that formed within its boundaries became DeWitt and Clinton, located about 20 miles (32 kilometres) apart (map). That formed an excellent First Name, Surname Symmetry.

Some astute readers may have already figured out how I discovered this happy confluence, especially the people who follow my 12MC Twitter account. I was in Clinton, Iowa three days ago although I’m back home now. Take that as a little foreshadowing of articles soon to come.

Ghost Signs

On February 9, 2017 · Comments Off on Ghost Signs

It adorned a cliff on the Maryland side of the Potomac River across from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (map). I’d seen it dozens of times over the years, a constant presence as I toured the town or rode my bike along the C&O Canal Trail. Its smoothed painted surface cracked over the years, the letters faded, and I never could tell exactly what it said from a distance. I’d seen a Ghost Sign.

Maryland Heights


Harpers Ferry Ghost Sign
Harpers Ferry Ghost Sign. My own photo

This type of advertising used to be quite common as the 19th Century crossed into the 20th. Nobody thought twice about slapping some pigment on a wall, a barn, or in the case of Harpers Ferry, upon nature itself. This unknown author chose a prime spot on an outcrop known as Maryland Heights, scaling down the precarious ledge to apply his commercial message. Back during the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces both occupied the heights at various times, ringing it with artillery. They wanted to control the highest point of elevation above a key town at a major river confluence. An advertiser claimed those same heights a generation later although for a peaceful purpose.

From her house on High Street in 1906, Clara Riley watched as sign painters created a huge advertisement, out of a milk and whitewash mixture, on the side of the mountain. Mrs. Riley remembered the year because she was in labor with her first child while the sign was being painted.

The sign could be seen practically everywhere in Harpers Ferry. More importantly, everyone riding a train on a heavily traveled railroad line saw an advertisement for "Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder" just as they entered a tunnel directly below the sign. That’s what it said, as I learned.


Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder


Mennen's Borated Talcum Toilet Powder, 1898
Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder, 1898
on Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

Apparently people in an earlier era liked to purchase a tongue-twister of a product called Borated Talcum Toilet Powder. I think it lost some of the superfluous wording later and simply became Talcum Powder. Meanwhile, the Mennen brand continued to exist, now owned by Colgate-Palmolive. In recent years they made a popular deodorant called Mennen Speed Stick. Then in the early 1990’s they practically sparked an entire musical genre when they marketed a deodorant to teenage girls called Teen Spirit. Smells Like Teen Spirit!


A Ghostly Phenomenon


Butte Ghost Sign VI
Butte Ghost Sign VI. Photo by Rex Brown on Flickr (cc)

Frankly, I hadn’t paid much attention to Ghost Signs. I’m not even sure how the subject popped into my mind for a Twelve Mile Circle article. Other people took it very seriously, though. They fixated on it with the same intensity as my obsession with county counting. I could respect that. After all, these signs became the subject of a popular website, a Twitter account with more than 5,000 followers, and a Flickr group with more than 30,000 images. The popular press also expressed an interest, for example in articles from The Guardian and The Independent. Ghost signs completely eclipsed my humble efforts on 12MC.

Clearly something in those signs sparked such intense devotion. They acted as connections to earlier times, fading a little bit further as each year passed. They were survivors. However, ghost signs also seemed ephemeral, like on any given day someone might return to find their favorite sign gone. A nostalgia formed around them. Some have been fortunate and have been saved from destruction as cherished historical artifacts. Many more will disappear. I know that I’ll keep a better eye out for them now that I’m tuned in to the phenomenon.

For instance, I’ll stay on the lookout for the Lincoln Hotel and Butte Special Beer sign on Park Street (map) if I’m ever in Butte, Montana.


Black Cat


Black Cat, Dingley Road
Black Cat, Dingley Road. Photo by Caroline on Flickr (cc)

The name Sam Roberts came up often as I researched ghost signs. He, apparently, began cataloguing them worldwide about a decade ago from his base in London. Often he listed his favorite example as the sign for Black Cat Cigarettes on London’s Dingley Road (map). Regrettably, he reported the loss of that mural in September 2016, covered up by a new building constructed next to it. Another wonderful ghost sign lost.

Digging for Minerals

On August 28, 2016 · 1 Comments

A mine is a hole in the ground owned by a liar (attributed to Mark Twain).

I began some initial planning for a brief county counting trip to West Virginia that I hope to undertake in a couple of months. Examining potential routes, I noted a county called Mineral that I would hit in some of the likely scenarios. I’d crossed into Mineral before, as recently as last year, right across the north branch of the Potomac River from Cumberland, Maryland. I’d never really thought about it at the time. Now I wondered, how did Mineral gets its name? What mineral came in such abundance to deserve its own county?

I also found three more Mineral Counties, a total of four. They seemed interesting in their own ways.

Colorado


Creede, Colorado
Creede, Colorado. Photo by Jeffrey Beall on Flickr (cc)

Many minerals came from the mountains surrounding Creede (map), the local seat of government in Mineral County, Colorado. However, silver put it on the map. Prospectors came to Colorado first for gold beginning in 1859 and then for silver a decade alter. Colorado underwent a protracted Silver Boom during the last three decades of the 19th Century. Booms jumped from place to place, the final one happening in Creede in 1890.

The town leapt from a population of 600 in 1889 to more than 10,000 people in December 1891. The Creede mines operated continuously from 1890 until 1985. Creede’s boom lasted until 1893, when the Silver Panic hit all of the silver mining towns in Colorado. The price of silver plummeted and most of the silver mines were closed. Creede never became a ghost town, although the boom was over and its population declined.

Outlaws, crooks and nefarious characters inhabited Creede, a typical situation for these rough-and-tumble mining camps on the distant fringe. Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, the King of the Frontier Con Men, lived there during the peak of the boom. He died a few years later at the Shootout on Juneau Wharf in Skagway, Alaska.

Robert Ford also lived in Creede. Ford originally belonged to Jessie James’ criminal gang and reputedly killed James to collect a reward in 1882. He died in Creede in 1892, shot in the back by Edward O’Kelley. O’Kelley came to be known as "the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James." A policeman, Joe Burnett, shot and killed O’Kelley in Oklahoma City in 1904. That made Burnett "the man who killed the man who killed the man who killed Jesse James." The chain stopped there. Burnett died of a stroke in 1917.


Montana


Mineral County Courthouse
Mineral County Courthouse. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

Mineral County, Montana felt so superior that it named the county seat Superior (map), although it may have been named for the founder’s hometown in Wisconsin. Gold became Mineral’s namesake mineral originally, triggered by a rush on nearby Cedar Creek in 1869. However silver also existed in abundance.

The history of Mineral County is steeped in the tales of rich gold and silver mines. From the first mining efforts in the early 1860s to the present day, mining has been important to the people who first settled here and to those who now live in this county. Today, people still actively work mining claims, which are an important part of the county economy and heritage.

Neither gold nor silver made the greatest contribution to Mineral County history. That distinction went to sheets of paper in the form of a Bible’s printed word. Gideons International placed its very first Bible in the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. A Gideon named Archie Bailey stayed at the hotel regularly and sought permission to place a Bible in each of the hotel’s 25 rooms in 1908. Gideons followed that simple act with another 2 billion Bibles left in hotel rooms around the world for the next century and counting.


Nevada



Hawthorne Army Depot

Twelve Mile Circle featured a town in what later became Mineral County, Nevada, in Aurora: A County Seat in Two States. Simultaneously! I’ll summarize the situation briefly. Gold brought prospectors to the area in 1860. The border between California and Nevada left a lot to be desired and both states claimed the same strip because of its mineral wealth. A later, more definitive survey placed Aurora in Nevada although it didn’t matter in the long run because everyone abandoned Aurora when the gold ran out.

Mineral County survived because of its other important feature, a bunch of nothing. What better place for the Federal government to locate the largest ammunition depot in the world? It covered 147 thousand acres (230 square miles; 600 square kilometres). Hawthorne Army Depot (map) grew around Mineral’s county seat at Hawthorne on three sides. It dated back to 1930 and continues to operate today, underpinning the entire economy of the county.


West Virginia


Cumberland, Maryland
Mineral County is on the left bank of the river. My own photo.

None of the other Mineral Counties rivaled the one in West Virginia with its nearly 30 thousand residents (map). Ironically, I found fewer stories about this one than any of the others. The mineral in question may have been iron ore or maybe coal. However, coal derived from organic material so it didn’t actually meet the definition of a mineral. Neither did I find any cool stories. Sure, George Washington owned some of the land, and some minor Civil War action happened there. The same could be said for nearly every other county within a couple hundred miles.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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