On the Steps

On March 1, 2015 · 4 Comments

I sat there cycling through television channels aimlessly the other day like I do when I’m bored. I came across a famous a scene from one of the Rocky movies where the hero Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) started running up the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (map). You know the scene I’m talking about.


Philadelphia Museum of Arts (Rocky steps)
Philadelphia Museum of Arts (Rocky steps) by Alonso Javier Torres, on Flickr (cc)

He’s climbing the steps triumphantly to a soundtrack of "Gonna Fly Now" and you know someone’s about to get a pounding. I didn’t stick around long enough to figure out which movie it was — apparently Stallone recreated the scene in just about every Rocky movie — although it did get me thinking. Movie locations aside(¹), were there any genuine historical events that happened on steps or stairs?


On the Steps of the Lincoln Memorial



The occurrence that came to mind immediately was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (map) in 1963. The site selected by Dr. King was highly symbolic, as it was the 100th anniversary year of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that trumpeted freedom for slaves living within Confederate states then in rebellion. He drew obvious parallels between the Lincoln of old and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, recognizing Lincoln’s achievements while signaling the struggle continued.

Those same steps featured prominently in another Civil Rights milestone a generation earlier when Marian Anderson sang from that spot in 1939. She’d already earned fame as a classical vocalist, a contralto. She performed on those steps because she’d been denied a performance hall in the city.

Marian Anderson was an international superstar in the 1930s—a singer possessed of what Arturo Toscanini called "a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years." But if race had been no impediment to her career abroad, there were still places in the United States where a black woman was simply not welcome, no matter how famous. What surprised Anderson and many other Americans was to discover in 1939 that one such place was a venue called Constitution Hall, owned and operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the capital of a nation "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

The DAR refused to relent in spite of withering criticism. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the organization, writing "You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization failed."

Fifty thousand people showed up to hear Marian Anderson perform on the Lincoln Memorial steps; many times more than would have heard her at the indoor venue. The Daughters of the American Revolution deeply regretted it actions later and invited Marian Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall several times beginning in 1943.


On the Steps of Aztec Temples


Templo mayor ruins, in the middle of Zocalo
Templo mayor ruins by Antoine Hubert, on Flickr (cc)

Many Mesoamerican societies practiced human sacrifice in the centuries preceding European contact. The Aztec of central México took the practice to an entirely new level. There were many varieties of ritual and sacrifice although it was human sacrifices particularly that attracted the most attention of armchair historians. Bloodletting reached its pinnacle at Templo Mayor, the Great Temple at Tenochtitlan, now in modern day Mexico City (map).

At the climax of the ceremony, prisoners of war were taken to the top of the steep steps of the pyramid leading to two shrines. Held down, the victims’ abdomens were sliced open by high priests wielding ceremonial knives, and their hearts – still beating – were raised to the spirits above and the crowd in the sacred precinct below. The lifeless bodies of those sacrificed were then kicked down the stairs, and as one followed another, these flowed with blood, bright red against the white of the temple walls. Over the four days of the opening ceremony, some 4,000 prisoners were killed to satisfy the Aztec gods.

That was hardly the only time in history where violence happened on stairways.


On the Steps of the Theatre of Pompey


Largo di Torre Argentina
Largo di Torre Argentina by Rodney, on Flickr (cc)

The Roman leader Julius Caesar met his demise on a set of steps at the Theatre of Pompey in Rome in 44 BCE, now at the Largo di Torre Argentina (map).

Caesar attempted to get away, but, blinded by blood, he tripped and fell; the men continued stabbing him as he lay defenseless on the lower steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, around 60 or more men participated in the assassination. Caesar was stabbed 23 times.

This was considered a triggering event. Afterwards the Roman Republic (with consuls elected by citizens) that had lasted for five hundred years transitioned into the Roman Empire (led by emperors).


Other noteworthy events

  • On the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building (map): Congressman William Taulbee was shot to death in 1890; and Congressman John Jenrette and his wife Rita consummated an adult relationship in the early 1980’s (although she now denies it), a sideshow to his bribery convictions.(²)
  • On the steps of the Versace Mansion in Miami Beach(map): A serial killer murdered famed fashion designer Gianni Versace on the steps of his South Beach mansion in 1997.
  • On the steps of the Avon Theater in Stratford, Ontario (map): Last prize goes to a set of stairs in Canada where Justin Bieber often sat busking for tips before he became famous.

I could probably find some more examples although that Justin Bieber thing discouraged me. I can hardly wait for all of the Bieber-related Google Ads that will now start popping onto my screen for the next month.

(¹) Otherwise I’d nominate the Exorcist Steps in Georgetown, Washington, DC (Street View).
(²) Inspiring the name of a local comedy troupe, The Capitol Steps.

2015 Travel Plans

On January 28, 2015 · 7 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle has some bold travel plans for 2015 if I do say so myself. I’ll keep it domestic this year unlike 2014 although I might cross the border into Canada briefly during one of the trips. As always, I welcome assistance as I begin my initial planning. Please feel free to offer comments or suggestions if any of my upcoming targets match your vast travel experiences. You all know what I like: weird geography; obscure parks; quirky roadside attractions; unusual boundaries and easy highpoints. The usual stuff. I’ve been able to visit several places suggested by users that I didn’t know about previously (e.g., Capulin Volcano National Monument) and I thoroughly enjoyed them.


Great Allegheny Passage



My travel season will begin with the Great Allegheny Passage. This trail was cobbled together from several abandoned railroad lines formerly operated by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, Union Railroad and the Western Maryland Railway. Now the GAP is a 150 mile (240 kilometre) hiking and biking trail between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cumberland, Maryland. I plan to bike the length of the GAP on a long weekend sometime in mid/late April with a friend, the exact date depending on when the Big Savage Tunnel opens for the season.

The GAP should offer riverside passages, amazing tunnels and bridges, and wonderful scenery. I also hope to stop at Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater as well as the town of Confluence, which was featured on 12MC awhile ago.


Cape Cod


Cape Cod, Massachusetts (NASA, International Space Station Science, 05/08/07)
Cape Cod, Massachusetts (NASA, International Space Station Science, 05/08/07)
by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, on Flickr (cc)

Cape Cod will happen in mid-May. I’ve never been to the cape before so that’s sufficient justification right there. It will also coincide with a significant wedding anniversary so that actually provides the real impetus. With luck, I might also be able to pick up Dukes and/or Nantucket Counties. Those are two difficult pickups and I’d love to add them to my county counting list. I also hope to add to my lighthouse and ferry lists.


Thousand Islands


IMG40D_0811-1
Zavikon Island by Sergio, on Flickr (cc)

This one is less definite than the others. We’re thinking seriously about touring the Thousand Islands region between New York and Ontario, sometime in mid-July. The early plan was to find a spot within a day’s drive of Washington, DC and this seemed like an interesting place that I’d never explored before. This trip could just as easily switch to New York’s Lake Erie coastline or perhaps to one of the Finger Lakes we’ve not seen before, instead. It depends on what we find during our research and what seems most interesting.


Center of the Nation



This trip will follow the path designated by Mainly Marathons, specifically their Center of the Nation Series in September. Previously 12MC covered my adventures during their Dust Bowl series and their Riverboat series, plus two races at their Appalachian series. Once again I will stress that I am not a runner, I am the driver who transports a runner from one location to another. I would never imply or pretend that I had the stamina for something this extreme. However, rumor has it that I might partake in the 5K option each day during the series this time. That way I won’t feel guilty about snacking on all of their goodies at the start/finish line like I’ve been doing at previous races.

This time it’s six races in six states in six days. My driving duties will add an entire raft of new counties in some rather obscure areas of the United States to my lifetime list. The races will be held at,

  • Day 1 (Sept. 14): Baker, Montana
  • Day 2 (Sept. 15): Bowman, North Dakota
  • Day 3 (Sept. 16): Belle Fourche, South Dakota
  • Day 4 (Sept. 17): Sundance, Wyoming
  • Day 5 (Sept. 18): Chadron, Nebraska
  • Day 6 (Sept. 19): Sterling, Colorado

I can’t say enough good things about Mainly Marathons or its participants. It’s a great group of people albeit with one very unusual hobby.

Anyway that’s what I have planned over the next several months. Let me know if there are sights along the way I shouldn’t miss.

I Before E Like in Milwaukie

On November 12, 2014 · 2 Comments

"I Before E Like in Milwaukie." If that phrase doesn’t grate on one’s nerves or otherwise sound completely wrong, it probably means the reader came from a location outside of the United States. Or came from Oregon. Because there is a Milwaukie in Oregon. I discovered that recently while examining the 12MC reader statistics. Someone visited the website from Milwaukie and it caught my eye because of its unusual spelling. The more standard variant, of course, would be Milwaukee with double-e as used in the large city of that name in Wisconsin.


Milwaukie Theater
Milwaukie Theater by Curtis Perry, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

There were two takeaways. First, anyone arriving on Twelve Mile Circle from an unusual location will always be fair game for a future article. Second, I felt compelled to learn whether Milwaukie and Milwaukee were somehow related to each other. That’s my nature and that’s always going to happen.

I’ll spoil the surprise right at the beginning. Yes there was a connection. Alright, everyone can go home now.


Lot Whitcomb portrait
Lot Whitcomb
Wikimedia Commons in the public domain

Credit an early Western pioneer and entrepreneur, Lot Whitcomb, for the Oregon name. He founded the town in 1848 and without a doubt he named it for Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukie Historical Society of Milwaukie, Oregon issued a History of Milwaukie Oregon in 1965, basing it on an unfinished manuscript prepared as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The manuscript noted the etymology of Milwaukee, a "gathering place by the water" in various Algonquian languages such as Potawatomi and Ojibwe (Chippewa).

Milwaukee in Wisconsin was settled where three rivers converged, the Milwaukie, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic, forming a natural harbor immediately prior to entering Lake Michigan. Whitcomb admired the success of the Wisconsin city that he attributed in part to its favorable geographic placement and searched for a similarly-situated location in Oregon. He found such a spot along the Willamette river where "Kellogg Creek, Johnson Creek and many smaller branches fed by the multiplicity of springs in the vicinity" came together in a comparable fashion. Thus Whitcomb platted a new town and named it Milwaukee. Later the spelling changed to Milwaukie. The exact reason for the change was subject to various apocryphal tales. The History of Milwaukie Oregon concluded that the most likely explanation involved the Postal Service wanting to reduce postal mistakes. Less mail would be routed erroneously if the spellings differed.


Bing
Bing by mbgrigby, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Milwaukie’s primary claim to fame has been the Bing Cherry. That famous fruit also had a fascinating history.

Henderson Luelling traveled to Oregon with a wagon full of fruit tree seedlings and, in effect, delivered the tree fruit industry to the West. Henderson’s younger brother, Seth followed in 1850, settling in Milwaukie, Oregon, where he established a commercial tree fruit nursery (and curiously, changed the spelling of his name.)… Ah Bing was Seth Lewelling’s Manchurian foreman who oversaw 30 Chinese farm workers and helped run the nursery. Accounts differ as to whether it was Seth or Bing who developed the large black sweet cherry variety, but the Bing cherry was developed at the Lewelling nursery and named in honor of the Chinese foreman.

I never realized Bing cherries were actually named for a person. Also, why the fixation with spelling changes in that part of Oregon?

Finally I guess I should mention that Milwaukie is the home of Dark Horse Comics so nobody should feel a need to mention that in the comments.


Back to Milwaukee



I examined the Geographic Names Information System to see if there were other places named Milwaukee, Milwaukie or whatever other variations might be possible. There were very few and I found almost nothing more related to any of them. The Milwaukee in Pennsylvania, however, was featured in a YouTube video by a guy who randomly hit a map with a Sharpie while blindfolded and selected a tiny village near Scranton (map). He drove three hours to Milwaukee the next day to see a few homes and a pie shop.

Actually, the guy had an interesting premise called Here a Year, "to embody the three verbs (Live, Discover, Connect)." He let his readers select a state for him to live in for a year and the audience chose Pennsylvania. The Milwaukee video was one of many articles and videos he posted from March 2012 to March 2013 during his Pennsylvania year. I always find out about these wonderful ideas when it’s too late. I would have enjoyed following along with his adventures as they unfolded.

He selected another state afterwards, Nevada, and a few months later the trail ran cold. I have no idea what he’s up to now — probably got swallowed up in Vegas for all we know — and disappeared. I suppose I could fill-out the contact form on his website and see what happened although, well… that would entail effort. I’m sure he’s well.

Someday I’d love to undertake a year-long county counting journey. I’ll get right on that after I collect my lottery winnings.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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