New reader "Thomas" sent an email to 12MC concerning an institution of higher learning seemingly out of place geographically. The University of California has a number of affiliated campuses, although none of them are located in Pennsylvania. Yet, oddly there’s a California University of Pennsylvania. As always, there was a twist to the situation as I looked closer. The university was placed in a town called California outside of Pittsburgh. The town was founded in 1849, presumably in commemoration of the California Gold Rush that was happening at the same time. The university simply took the name of the town and the state. I replied that it reminded me of another geographically counterintutive institution from the same state, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
California University… of Pennsylvania
This could provide an exceptional opportunity for mischief, I thought as I considered the possibilities further. What if people wanted to misrepresent where they earned their diplomas, maybe pad a résumé or impress their friends, or for some other unknown reason? Maybe it would be easier or cheaper to attend a soundalike institution instead. If miscreants said that they’d graduated from Cal, would it be their fault if others assumed they were referring to UC Berkeley instead of lesser-known Cal U in PA?(¹).
I am certain that all of the similarly-named colleges and universities are perfectly fine places with solid reputations. However, the better known versions could convey additional benefits or prestige whether academic or athletic if used deceivingly. Those of questionable moral standing could easily employ a bait-and-switch.
I was curious to discover the prevalence of such opportunities even though I don’t condone improper use. The examination began with a listing of colleges and universities in the US, UK and Canada. I sorted for similarities and compiled a lot of close matches in a shared Google Doc. I distilled that down to a handful of optimal deceptive options.
Spring @ Cornell by matt.hintsa, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Several options presented themselves for those unable to gain admission to an Ivy League school or those unwilling to shoulder a six-figure student debt upon graduation. I called these choices the "Cheap Ivies" (not to be confused with the Public Ivies).
How about Cornell College in Iowa instead of the Cornell University in New York? They were founded by distant cousins from the same family so they’re practically the same. Any of the Columbia Colleges (Missouri, South Carolina, Illinois) could substitute for Columbia University. Finally, nobody would really need to know that Penn referred to William Penn University instead of the University of Pennsylvania.
Notre Dame Band, Notre Dame Stadium, University of Notre Dame DDZ_0303 by NDomer73, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), license
Not everyone will want to attend a big-time athletics school. Those universities tend to have tens of thousands of students. They can be very impersonal places. However everyone wants to be associated with a winner, right? A certain image would come across if someone mentioned he was a Notre Dame grad. It could quickly become a launching point for a thousand barroom conversations (or brawls) as long as he didn’t mention his preference for the Notre Dame Falcons from Ohio instead of the Fighting Irish. Similar situations existed for Georgetown in Kentucky, and Miami University of Ohio. How about Pitt? One could easily substitute Pittsburg State University in Kansas for the University of Pittsburgh.
Was it be Seton Hall University or it’s nearly identically-named Seton Hill University? They’re both named for the same person, Elizabeth Ann Seton, so go for it.
Cambridge University by Caffeinehit, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
The University of Cambridge and its 31 constituent colleges in England are known throughout the world. There have been 90 Nobel laureates affiliated with the university. Stephen Hawking has long been associated with Cambridge. Isaac Newton went there. Its long list of famous alumni have made some of the most important contributions to mankind for the last several centuries. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to pursue a degree from Cambridge College in Massachusetts? "I completed my studies at Cambridge" would be a completely true statement.
Other substitutions could include Ottawa University in Kansas in lieu of the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. Then there were the Yorks. There are York Colleges in Nebraska, New York and Pennsylvania, along with York University in Ontario and the University of York in England. Go ahead and substitute any one for any other.
Guess I should use one of my own photos while I’m at it
I found a similar situation with the Lincolns. There were Lincoln Universities in Missouri and Pennsylvania and a University of Lincoln in England. None of those were the unusual one. That honor went to Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. Someone could have so much mischievous fun with Lincoln Memorial.
It wasn’t their fault, though. The founders established Lincoln Memorial University in 1897. The Lincoln Memorial — the edifice in Washington, DC — wasn’t constructed until 1922.
(¹) Actually that would be completely and utterly wrong so don’t do that.
I keep a close eye on the geographic characteristics of Twelve Mile Circle visitors, which seems natural for a geo-oddity website. I also generate article topics from viewer anomalies. For example, I never knew that Mars could be found in Pennsylvania until a Martian visitor, one from a spot north of Pittsburgh as it turned out, hopped onto the site to explore a few pages.
Take Me to Your Leader
Mars, I noticed, included a Mars Picnic Shelter, a Mars Skating Rink, a Mars Athletic Field and a Mars Cemetery, so insert your preferred joke here. I kind of enjoyed the though of a burial on Mars although Martian ice skating seemed promising too.
Naturally if there’s a Mars then there must be a Venus. Colonies of Venusians lived in many places including Texas.
I wondered if I could find a town named for each planet. I managed to get about halfway through my research when I discovered that someone already beat me to it. He turned to the same U.S. Geological Survey database I would have used and completed the effort a year before 12MC even existed. View that website if you’d like a comprehensive list of planetary towns within the United States. Keep reading if you’d like the usual 12MC treatment: examining places in more detail; sprinkling in a few international locations; and lame attempts at entertainment.
Starting closest to the sun (Sun City?) and working outward, the 12MC spaceship landed first on…
Crazy ’bout a Mercury
Notice the grey coloring on the background of this map of Mercury, Nevada. Google Maps uses that particular shade to designate restricted government facilities. Indeed, Mercury is a closed town. You cannot go there. You might be able to go there if you’re a nuclear engineer working for the U.S. Department of Energy although I think it’s still safe to say that "YOU" cannot go there in a general sense.
The government built Mercury to house it workers at its Nevada Test Site, where nuclear weapons were detonated in a controlled manner. DOE provided a fact sheet (pdf) with much more detail if that interests you.
My favorite trivial moments:
- Mercury, being closest to the sun, can be very hot. So can a nuclear explosion. Mercury is an appropriate name for a town at a nuclear test site even though its naming appeared to be coincidental.
- Notice Jackass Flats Road. I don’t have anything more to add; just found it funny. It reminded me of Jackass Junction.
A View from the Surface of Venus (Bay)
I mentioned the Venus located in Texas already. One can also find a Venus, in this case Venus Bay, in Victoria, Australia. It’s a nice weekend getaway for people from Melbourne ("let’s travel to Venus for a little holiday")
Flickr by J. Stephen Conn via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
Doesn’t Earth as a placename seem redundant? Apparently that’s not a problem for the residents of Earth City, Missouri (map) or Earth, Texas (map). The Handbook of Texas provided a common excuse, the "name already taken" dilemma, when settlers required a post office. There are three distinct apocryphal explanations. I liked the sandstorm story so let’s use that one.
Originally Halsell called the place Fairlawn or Fairleen, but it was renamed Earth, supposedly for a sandstorm blowing when storekeeper and first postmaster C. H. Reeves had to come up with a name acceptable to postal authorities in Washington.
We already mentioned MARS and there’s a well-known JUPITER with 50,000+ residents exists in Florida, so let’s blast farther into the solar system.
Canadian Mini Solar System
I found several Saturn opportunities although the best choice seemed to be Saturn Lake in Ontario. I didn’t find anything particularly remarkable about the lake itself, however it’s placed within a mini-solar system when paired with Pluto Lake. Another nearby feature was called Juniper Lake, which sounds a lot like Jupiter. I gave this cluster two-and-a-half points even understanding that Pluto was dropped from the planet list in 2006. I won’t mention Pluto again.
*** DANGER: Skip to the next section if you are offended by deliberate mispronunciations and juvenile humor ***
Mianus View Requires No Explanation
I couldn’t find Uranus but I found Mianus. Steve from CTMQ pointed to Mianus during our epic Connecticut Extremes Adventure last summer. In all fairness, we were several hours into the trip and I think fatigue had begun to degrade our conversation. We were amused by Mianus for the next several miles. Yes, I am aware that no less a paragon of wit and sophisticated humor than Jackass (speaking of Jackass) featured Mianus during one of its episodes.
I hereby nominate "Mianus View Terrace" as the most unfortunate street name in the United States.
There is a Neptune Township in New Jersey, however I think I’ll feature the Neptune Island Group in South Australia instead for a couple of reasons:
- It’s supposed to be teeming with Great White Sharks, and that piqued my interest; and
- Wikipedia said there was a ship named Venus that wrecked on Neptune in 1946
I’m sure I could have searched for various other features of our solar system. I’ll leave those for the 12MC audience.
Chicken scratch is an informal term for illegible handwriting. It is also a type of chicken feed that’s typically strewn upon the ground. Chickens then scratch around the dirt in pursuit of feed, leaving marks behind. I suppose illegible handwriting might be thought to resemble the results of hungry chickens foraging for cracked grains.
I’m much more interested in intact footprints though.
Don’t even try to make sense of 12MC today. I’m fixated on geographic features named Chicken Foot at the moment, and I don’t know why although possibly it’s because it seems so absurd. Behold the complete compendium of every Chicken Foot place name listed in the U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System -GNIS. I guarantee that this list has never been compiled and presented to the public before, and undoubtedly for good reason. These geographic features are found throughout the nation with a particular concentration in the southern states. I have provided the exact Lat/Long coordinates recorded in GNIS in each of the map links to prove that I’m not making these up. Many are too minor to be listed by name on the usual Internet mapping tools.
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I think the residents of Middletown Township in Bucks County, Pennsylvania must have been embarrassed by Chickenfoot Park because they didn’t include it in their list of parks. Bucks County didn’t want much to do with it either. They operate the adjacent Oxford Valley park with its golf course and swimming pool. I can only speculate that Chickenfoot didn’t convey an image they wished to portray so they dropped it. We know better. They can’t hide from their heritage.
Chicken Foot Lake
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In contrast, folks in Wisconsin don’t seem to mind Chicken Foot Lake. Maybe early residents were running out of names. What else would account for nearby Chicken Crop Lake and Deadman Lake. Chicken Foot doesn’t sound so bad when compared to lakes named for an element of a chicken’s digestive system or a dead person. Chicken Foot Lake also bears a vague resemblance to a chicken foot so it’s not completely illogical. Maybe? Just a little? In a Rorschach Test way?
Flickr by marywasadj via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
I still can’t believe I found a chicken foot photo with a Creative Commons license.
Chicken Foot Ridge
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Alabama’s Chicken Foot Ridge does indeed appear talon-like and forms somewhat of a foot when combined with other nearby ridges. Squint a little and the shape will appear. This site also includes an adjacent feature called Chicken Foot Cove (map). In this context "cove" refers to a recess in the side of a mountain rather than the more familiar watery version. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen cove used in this context before so this was a memorable find.
Alabama scores an additional time with Chicken Foot Mountain (map) and wins bonus points for being part of an animal trifecta here, with adjacent Turkey Creek and Cattail pond. It’s practically Old MacDonald’s Farm out there.
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The remaining Chicken Foot features are:
- Chickenfoot Lake, California (above) — probably the most remarkable resemblance to an actual chicken foot
- Chickenfoot Creek, South Carolina (map); and
- Chickenfoot Hollow, Kentucky (map)
There is also a musical group called Chickenfoot composed of members of various other popular groups that I was blissfully unaware of until I started searching for geographic features. Ditto for a derisive term for a Peace Sign symbol. Google pointed those out to me. I mentioned that so no one will feel obliged to comment about them.
I couldn’t find any Chicken Foot locations in any other parts of the world. Canada, however, came close with a different anatomical area: Chicken’s Neck Mountain and adjacent Chicken’s Neck Ecological Preserve in British Columbia (map).
The best the United Kingdom could manage was Chickenley in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, England. I might describe that as "like a chicken" as in "his chickenley behavior seemed rather peculiar." Wikipedia noted without attribution I might add, that "The Chickenley name could derive from a family name originating during early settlement, corrupted to ‘chicken’ over the years (map)." Perhaps. I like my completely fake explanation better.