I can’t seem to make a dent in my list of potential Twelve Mile Circle articles. I keep writing steadily and in the process I run into several more morsels that go onto a never-ending pile. It’s become a perpetual motion machine.
I’m going to do something I haven’t done in a very long time. I’ll featuring some obscure and beloved websites. The last time I devoted an entire article to something like this was all the way back in March 2010 and even then I did it with some trepidation. Websites tend to come-and-go, and those recommended by 12MC don’t seem to fare well after I mention them. In fact, I’m pretty sure a 12MC endorsement is pretty much a death knell. Nonetheless, the sites I’ll feature are very well established with prospects of solid longevity. Maybe we’ll break the curse. Either way, at least I can place check marks next to three entries on my overflowing topic list in a single shot and call them done.
Wisconsin State Capitol by howderfamily.com
"not fit for any civilized nation of people to inhabit."
The Wisconsin Historical Society publishes Odd Wisconsin in blog format about once a week, beginning about a year ago. It hits on three of my interests: geography; history and weirdness. As they note, their mission is to "Amuse, surprise, perplex, astonish, and otherwise connect you with your past." They "lower a bucket into the depths of Wisconsin history and bring to light curious fragments of forgotten lives."
That bucket has been lowered into some rather interesting places. I’ve learned:
- The Madison area — the site of the state capital since 1836 — was once described as "not fit for any civilized nation of people to inhabit."
- Wisconsin and beer are practically synonymous, and several American brewing empires traced their origin to the state. Nonetheless beer almost became illegal during the early years of statehood. Voters passed a prohibition referendum in 1853 and it failed only because the state legislature didn’t endorse it.
- One area could have become Petersylvania; no, not Pennsylvania, Petersylvania after Rev. Samuel Peters.
- The town of Dekorra was poised by geographic happenstance to become a major settlement like Madison or Milwaukee. Never heard of it? Exactly.
Trestle looking down by ken ratcliff, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Niobrara River Cowboy Trail Bridge
I could get lost on bridgehunter.com for days, just drilling down randomly on the 30,000+ bridges contained on its pages. Contributors add bunches of new ones to the site every day. Almost three hundred vertical lift bridges? Simply mind-blowing. I could also feast on 600+ tunnels or nearly a hundred ferries listings if I ever grew tired of bridges, too.
Let’s try it out. Say, I want to see only Nebraska bridges and then select Cherry County from the clickable map. The Niobrara River Cowboy Trail Bridge looks promising, and there it is with four photographs, a Google Street View image, lat/long coordinates and various vital statistics. Just like that, I learned about an old Chicago & Northwestern railroad trestle (map) that was converted to pedestrian use as part of the Cowboy Trail, which is a Rails-to-Trails project. Now I’ll have something interesting to do when I visit Nebraska’s largest county. There are thousands of possibilities like that simply waiting to be discovered on the site.
I wonder if the website attracts the wrong crowd sometimes. The URL is only a single letter away from Bride Hunter. Lonely-hearts with bad typing skills in search of mail order brides might arrive on the site only to leave disappointed.
12MC Visits Lots of Virginia Places
I’ve used Virginia Places as a reference for years. It is copyright © 1998-2013 so I guess the owner continues to maintain its content even thought the formatting seems to be stuck in 1998. Virginia Places serves as a reference for a geography class at George Mason University (Geography of Virginia – GGS380) so signs look promising for it to stick around for awhile.
The index page includes that annoying, anonymous Virginia quote that one sees scattered throughout the Commonwealth: "To be a Virginian either by Birth, Marriage, Adoption, or even on one’s Mother’s side is an Introduction to any State in the Union, a Passport to any Foreign Country, and a Benediction from Above." Whatever. I’ll forgive Virginia Places for that brief transgression because I like leafing through the rest of its pages.
Remember last year when I served as a chauffeur for someone participating in the Dust Bowl Marathon Series? My participant selected the half-marathon option, so only half-crazy.
We’re doing it again. This time it will be the Riverboat Marathon Series (Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana), April 12-16, 2014. That gives all of you plenty of time to get in shape and join us for one or more of the races. I’m already salivating over the number of counties I’ll capture.
I guess it’s the current heat wave that’s baking me and forcing me think about how nice it would be to sit inside an ice-cold movie theater at the moment. That’s not a possibility right now. Still it would be splendid, and by association, when I think of a theater I think of popcorn. Aren’t vicarious associations wonderful?
The binomen Zea Mays is more popularly referred to as corn or maize depending on where one lives, and the variety Everta pertains specifically to popcorn. Many kinds of corns are actually capable of popping when steam and pressure build up inside the hard outer shells of their kernels. However only Everta has been cultivated with the sole purpose of accentuating this delightful quality to perfection.
Bat Cave Well
It is believed that popcorn may have originated somewhere in Perú several thousand years ago. The oldest existing ears of popping corn, however, were unearthed in the United States at least according to the Popcorn Board. Yes, that is a real organization. I’d love to get a job there. People would ask, "So where do you work?" and I’d answer, "Oh, I work for the Popcorn Board. Would you like some? Butter and salt, or just plain?"
The earliest direct popcorn evidence traced to the Bat Cave Archeology Site, a series of rock ledges used as shelters on the edge of the Plains of San Agustin in western New Mexico. I couldn’t geolocate the exact spot — and indeed it’s not publicized because it’s considered to have continuing archeological significance — so the best I could find was USGS coordinates for Bat Cave Water Well. Besides, I don’t think Batman would be happy if told everyone where to find the Batcave. The map above should be reasonably close even if it’s not the exact spot where those ancient ears of popcorn were found in the 1940′s and 1950′s, and dated back a solid 4,000 years.
View Popcorn Capitals of the World in a larger map
Most popcorn cultivation, processing and consumption happens in the United States. The Agricultural Marketing Research Center’s Popcorn Profile noted that popcorn popularity began to skyrocket during the middle of the 20th Century, first as an affordable snack during the Great Depression and then as an alternative to candies made scarce because of sugar rationing during the Second World War. Those momentous back-to-back events lasting longer than a decade created an unanticipated tangential consequence for the crop. They established and solidified popcorn as a major snack food in the United States. AGMRC noted that "more than 80% of U.S. production is consumed domestically" so the habit continues to last more than a half-century later.
Several agricultural communities vie for the title of "Popcorn Capital of the World" Mapping the contenders outlines a primary cultivation area for this highly specialized crop: the US midwest from Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and into Ohio, plus other states to a lesser degree. Growing popcorn still remains largely a mom-and-pop operation unlike more widely-consumed commodities. Again referring to the AGMRC Popcorn Profile,
Popcorn was produced by 968 farms on over 201,000 acres in 29 states during 2007 (most recent data). Nebraska is the top popcorn-producing state and produced 294.5 million pounds of shelled popcorn, or 34% of all popcorn production. Individual farm acreages used for popcorn production are quite small. For example, the majority of popcorn-producing farms raised only 100 to 250 acres of popcorn in 2007.
I thought I’d take a closer look at those towns claiming the Popcorn Capital crown to see which ones deserved the title legitimately. I took an extremely unscientific approach. Which place celebrated their popping harvest with the most gusto?
- Van Buren Popcorn Festival, August 8-10, 2013: the website included a countdown clock and promised "Three Days of Family Fun, Food, and Free Entertainment."
- Marion Popcorn Festival, Sept 5-7, 2013: the Village People will be the musical headliners on the main stage on Friday night!
- Valparaiso Popcorn Festival, September 7, 2013: named the "Best Festival of the Region" by readers of a local newspaper.
- North Loup Popcorn Days: Aug 23-25; Free popcorn all weekend.
- Ridgway Popcorn Day, Sept. 5-15, 2013: It seemed to be combined with the Gallatin County Fair although I wasn’t sure specifically which day was "Popcorn Day." It might be the day of the Popcorn 5K; Sept 13.
- Schaller Popcorn Days, July 12-13, 2013. I couldn’t find a dedicated website although the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune provided some advance publicity). I’m sorry we missed it.
My research demonstrated that each of the Popcorn Capitals took their title seriously. I don’t think I can crown a champion.
I only felt bad for the Village People. It’s a tragic slide from the heights of 1970′s disco superstardom all the way down to the 2013 Marion Popcorn Festival. I am sure that Marion, Ohio is a wonderful town, however nobody is going to confuse it with Greenwich Village.
I’ll be leaving on my annual state visit in a few days, and this year it’s Kentucky. Thank you for your suggestions — I do intend to incorporate some of them into my itinerary. Don’t be concerned if the regular 12MC publication schedule gets a little flaky either. I’ll post my discoveries from the road at times when it makes sense.
I would also encourage readers who have not yet subscribed to 12MC Twitter feed to consider doing that because I’ll likely post updates and photographs of Kentucky geo-oddities in real time.
That’s Tales from Dale, which should not be confused with Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues, a brewery that is credited with jump-starting the microbrewery canning revolution. I happened to visit Oskar Blues long before their cans ever reached the East Cost, a bit of zymurgy trivia that makes me happy. I’ve now gone completely down the rabbit hole on a tangent so let’s get this article back on track.
Dale Sanderson(1) of US Ends.com contacted me recently with a couple of unusual observations. Have you seen his site before? He explains its purpose as striving to "provide photos and descriptions of current and historic US highway endpoints, and to provide maps that show each US highway in the context of its ‘route family’." Thus, Dale has solid geo-oddity credentials and I’m inclined to take note when something catches his attention. My curiosity piqued when he mentioned the anomalies. I didn’t know about them ahead of time so his discoveries were new to me and much appreciated.
Flickr by paige_eliz via Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Recently 12MC focused on Oklahoma City and a pattern of growth that resulted in its borders sprawling across four counties. Dale drilled down and noticed that there were several smaller towns completely embedded within the boundaries of Oklahoma City. Upon further investigation he discovered that one of those embedded towns, Bethany, had an even smaller town, Woodlawn Park, completely embedded within it. Like a matryoshka — the famous Russian nesting doll — Woodlawn Park nests within Bethany which nests within Oklahoma City. It’s an enclave within an enclave.
View OKC, Bethany and Woodlawn Park in a larger map
How did this odd situation arise? Let’s start with Bethany, a town that incorporated in 1910. As described in the Oklahoma Historical Society "Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Bethany "continued as a small, rural town dependent upon support from surrounding farm lands" from its founding until the 1940′s. The historic Route 66 ran through Bethany so the town benefited from transient visitors to a degree although it didn’t start growing rapidly until the nation began to mobilize for the Second World War.
The Society’s Encyclopedia also discussed Woodlawn Park which incorporated in 1952. That happened specifically to avoid Bethany’s expansion and encroachment. Woodlawn Park is a tiny rectangle of about eighty-one acres. Nonetheless it’s an incorporated town run by an elected board of trustees. I went into Street View and saw houses and only houses within its boundaries. There didn’t appear to be a single businesses within the town (unless they’re home-based businesses and hidden from view). Clearly it’s a bedroom community. Woodlawn Park also doesn’t operate any of its own city services. The Encyclopedia notes that services are provided under arrangement either from Bethany or Oklahoma City.
Eventually Oklahoma City grew around Bethany, which had already grown around Woodlawn Park, resulting in the unusual situation Dale observed. I don’t know if this is a unique situation so I’ll turn it over to the 12MC audience. Is anyone aware of other matryoshka towns?
Dale also mentioned McKissick Island, Nebraska
View Larger Map
McKissick Island is one of those places where the Missouri River shifted and left part of a state on the "wrong" side of the river. There are lots of places just like that along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, however this one is a practical exlave with a twist. The island sits fairly close to the Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska (IAMONE) tripoint. If people want to drive to McKissick Island from the rest of Nebraska, they have to drive through two other states first, Iowa and Missouri.
Dale said he’d heard about the oddity from someone else. I hadn’t seen it before so I’ll still give him credit in my mind.
View Larger Map
I’m not sure how I missed McKissick Island’s practical exclave. I used to travel near there very frequently until a few years ago. I blame it on Carter Lake, which is just a little farther north next to Omaha. I used to take great delight when I picked family up at the airport simply so I could drive them through that little stranded neck of Iowa.
Thank you, Dale. Please keep the great oddities coming!
Mark your calendars: The much anticipated re-launching of Basement Geographer happens on June 1!
(1)12MC does not generally post the full names of its readers. I’m making an exception for Dale because he uses his full name both on his 12MC comments and on his personal website.