A number of items have come up recently although none large enough for a single article. It’s time to resurrect a recurring theme. The 12MC "Odds and Ends" compilation ratchets up to #7.
Google Maps Treasure Map
By now everyone should be aware of the April Fools layer on Google Maps yesterday, a so-called Treasure mode in the style of a pirate map. It’s already ancient history even as April 2 and the layer has been removed. I first noticed it on the afternoon of March 31, a day early. I guess they figured nobody would be checking Maps on Easter. They were wrong.
I started solving the puzzle immediately as did many others around the world. Someone started a collaborative Google Docs spreadsheet and I was invited to participate through my Twitter feed. We’d pretty much solved the puzzle by early evening the day before most people even knew it existed. I think the collaboration may have been the first to complete the puzzle although I don’t know that for a fact. It was amongst the very earliest of solutions in any case.
Here is how it appeared as we worked through the answer on Docs.
My little contribution also involved plotting all of the letters on a shared Google Map.
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I was hoping that I might be able to draw a line between the points and maybe find an additional Easter Egg or something. However it appeared that individual solutions were all placed randomly and far apart for perhaps no other reason than to make it difficult to find them without solving each of the clue chains.
The most entertaining part of this was collaborating in real time with about fifty people — all strangers to me — from around the globe in a single Doc simultaneously.
White House Easter Egg Roll
Speaking of Easter Eggs, in a more literal sense this time, I lucked into tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll held on Monday. This is a 135 year-old tradition that dates back to the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877. It’s become a Washington, DC area institution over the years, one of those events everyone living here has to do at least once in his or her lifetime, and one of the simple joys of being near the Nation’s Capital. It’s a sign of springtime as surely as the annual blooming of the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin.
This is one tough ticket. Each year the White House opens a lottery, and although tickets are free, the demand far outstrips supply. I’ve never attended the event before. My kids are getting older and we figured if we didn’t act on the tickets this year then we might never get another chance.
It’s a rare privileged to be able to walk on the White House lawn, even as part of a large crowd. This was only the third time I’ve done that in the many years I’ve lived here. The kids had a great time and will probably remember this forever. Even the weather was perfect. The only tiny blemish happened as we left and right after as we cleared the security gates, when we could hear someone start to sing the National Anthem. I knew we’d just missed an opportunity to see President Obama by maybe thirty seconds. I guess that means we have an excuse to try again.
Go South to Go North
I love it when readers notice Twelve Mile Circle articles and use them as inspiration for their own personal travel adventures. Please send a message to me whenever you do that. Unlike some of your friends, family or loved ones, 12MC understands your geo-oddity obsession and consider it worthy of accolades and attention. I want to share your stories with fellow enthusiasts who will find them endlessly fascinating.
"Kevin" was influenced by North AND South, an article about a town named North located south of the South Carolina capital and southeast of Due West, and by All Ways – Every Cardinal Direction, where I imagined that one could travel to neighboring states in numerous counterintuitive ways given sufficient motivation.
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Kevin traveled to a point outside of Charlotte, North Carolina marked on the map. I’ve edited Kevin’s photo, below, by adding a line on the border and a circle around a sign that reads "North Carolina State Line – Union County." I had to shrink the photo down to make it fit within the margins of 12MC so hopefully my additions will increase the clarity. It might be more legible if you open the image in another tab, too.
Traveling here, one can drive south from the state of South Carolina into North Carolina, and vice versa. Go south and hit north. Go north and hit south. This isn’t some insignificant border anomaly either. It’s actually rather more noticeable than many of the tiny border nicks I pointed out in my previous article. Also, at least for now, Street View does not provide coverage here. This will be your only chance to view the spot unless you go there personally.
Thank you Kevin!
Something has been bothering me since I mentioned the town of Washington, Virginia recently in Flip-Flopping. It claims to be the oldest town named for George Washington, platted by none other than George Washington himself in 1749. I noted that it’s often called Little Washington to differentiate it from nearby Washington, DC which dates to 1791. "Little" Washington is only 68.7 miles (111 kilometres) from "Big" Washington according to Google Maps. Was this the closest distance between two towns that share the same name?
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Washington to Washington
It was not, by the way, but I’ll get to that later.
I began by establishing some ground rules.
- The names had to arise independently although they could originate from a common source. Both Washingtons were named for George Washington. Clearly the city of Washington was not named for the little village in rural Virginia, though.
- They could not be part of the same basic metropolitan area. Kansas City (Missouri/Kansas), St. Louis – East St. Louis (Missouri/Illinois), Niagara Falls (New York/Ontario) and similar occurrences were specifically excluded. See how I crossed an international boundary on that last one? Right. The two Congos fell into this same category and I tossed that possibility from consideration too (plus, they’re countries not towns).
- They both had to be "meaningful" places. That was subjective. I defined it to mean that they both had to appear as labeled places on Google Maps. In the event of an approximate tie I would consider it better if each town was large enough to have a government and a web presence. Washington, Virginia is the seat of government for Rappahannock County in addition to being a town in its own right, for example.
- Google Maps would also serve as the final arbiter of distance using simple queries such as "Washington, VA to Washington, DC." No lat/long coordinates or street addresses could be used to shorten distances.
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Greenville to Greenville
I began by consulting Wikipedia’s list of the most common U.S. place names and I figured I’d start with those found in Rhode Island. None of those towns would be very far from a state border by definition. The same would hold true, relatively speaking, for neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts. That winnowed the list down to Greenville, Riverside, Kingston and Newport for Rhode Island. I didn’t get any cross-border cooperation, though. Nonetheless and to my surprise, Greenville, Rhode Island to Greenville, New Hampshire — crossing through the entire width of Massachusetts — scored very well at 79.6 miles (128 km).
I also uncovered an odd Google Maps glitch, and I’m not sure if it was specific to me or whether it will be repaired before someone else attempts it. I tried to route from "Greenville, NH to Greenville, VT" and it calculated a 0.4 mile path to Panda Wok. I wonder how much Panda Wok paid Google for that nifty little trick?
Then I started getting a weird sense of déjà vu, like maybe I’d already published this article before. That possibility dawned on me as I examined other common town names on the list, particularly Franklin. I worry about the day that it will happen, and believe me it will happen someday. I now have several hundred articles under my belt and it’s hard to keep them all straight. Today is not that day. I searched my archives and found that two Franklins appeared in The Jeffersons and Beyond in a different context with a distance of 102 miles (164 km) between them.
While I was at it I also observed Washington, Maryland on the list and compared it to Washington, DC. It did almost as well as Washington, VA, at 69.7 miles (112 km); only a mile farther! (map). Mostly though, the list was a bust.
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Lens to Lens
Then I transitioned to the desperation method. That involved looking near state and provincial borders for similar towns, and failing that, moving on to national boundaries. Languages tend to slop across European borders so maybe I could find something there. I spotted Lens in northern France and focused on it only because it was a short name. Could there be a Lens in Belgium. Yes, and the distance between them was 66.5 miles (107 km).
I found the best answer of the day completely by luck.
Now I turn the challenge over to the wise and all-knowing 12MC audience. I think there has to be better occurrences, probably numerous ones, that meet the four basic criteria.
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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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 surname in the 2000 Census.
I think that little bit of geo-trivia is a good place to stop my surname-geography comparison.