County Hunter

On October 8, 2017 · 3 Comments

The itch to continuously visit new counties kept stalking me. I did really well this year with a long road trip back from Missouri in April. Then I drove all over the Midwest in June. Finally I took the whole family through the Four Corners region of New Mexico and Colorado. My county counting tally stood at 1,425 by the end of the summer and yet I still wanted more. Unfortunately, I’d used up most of my vacation hours for the year. I needed to find the closest unvisited county and hit it on a weekend. Three options existed, all two-or-more hours away. Nothing closer remained anymore.

Pocahontas County, West Virginia


Forest Moon of Endor? No. Green Bank, West Virginia - 1
Forest Moon of Endor? No. Green Bank, West Virginia. Photo by Stephen Little on Flickr (cc)

I should be able to reach to nearest border of Pocahontas County in about 3 hours and 20 minutes. Certainly this would be too far for a dash-and-grab, stepping my toe across the border and heading back home. That would make a round trip of nearly seven hours just to color a single county on my map. Even I thought that sounded ridiculous.

Fortunately, if I decided to select Pocahontas for my excursion, I could find a couple of interesting activities waiting for me there. The media featured Pocahontas periodically because of the town of Green Bank, home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Scientists searched for aliens with that telescope among other things. In support, the government created a large National Radio Quiet Zone around the observatory to prevent interference with its delicate instruments. Nobody could use a mobile phone, a WiFi router or even a microwave oven within twenty miles of Green Bank. The town also attracted some rather unusual residents in recent years as a result; those who believed that they suffered from electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

Elsewhere in Pocahontas I could visit the Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort. It offered year-round activities like many ski resorts do now. I could probably get there just in time to see the leaves change colors if I left sometime in the next couple of weeks.


Atlantic County, New Jersey


Atlantic City
Atlantic City. Photo by Eric Haake on Flickr (cc)

A little closer to home, 2 hours and 45 minutes away, I could be in Atlantic County, New Jersey. Theoretically. However, I’d need to thread the needle perfectly to avoid miserable traffic on dreaded Interstate 95. It could also take a lot longer. Then I’d need to add another half-hour to get to the only attraction worth seeing, Atlantic City. Can anyone believe I’ve never been to Atlantic City? I don’t know how that happened. I’ve had a number of opportunities over the year and yet I’ve never made the trip. Gambling isn’t my thing so that explains most of the reason. There are plenty of closer beaches.

Still, I wouldn’t mind strolling along the famous boardwalk, enjoying the flash of casino lights and hunting for every street from the Monopoly game. Really, to be honest, I’d use this as a springboard for a longer drive to capture Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth Counties. This neatly aligned trio of counties remained the only ones in New Jersey I’ve yet to capture. Then I could mark New Jersey done.


Huntingdon and Blair Counties, Pennsylvania


Route to Huntingdon and Blair
Route to Huntingdon and Blair (Dark Blue)

Instead I chose Huntingdon and Blair Counties in Pennsylvania. I could get to Huntingdon in as little as two hours, the absolutely closest county I’ve yet to visit. I could push deep into Blair all the way to Altoona, the regions largest city, in about three. The Twelve Mile Circle audience won’t find out what I discovered just yet. I’ll keep readers in suspense. However, expect to see an article on Huntingdon and another on Blair in the coming days.

Green Bank and Atlantic City will be visited someday too. Maybe in the Spring. We’ll see.

Even More Spooky

On September 17, 2017 · Comments Off on Even More Spooky

It served me right for trying to guess what might please the Twelve Mile Circle audience. Longtime readers know that I’ve never been able to do that in the past even after all these years of trying. I probably should have waited until closer to Halloween. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this series — the exact locations of events even more than the stories themselves — and I still had a few spooky places on my mind. Bear with me one more time and then we’ll return to our regular content.

Typhoid Mary


Riverside Hospital
Riverside Hospital. Photo by reivax on Flickr (cc)

One doesn’t hear much about Typhoid Fever in the Western world anymore. This bacterial infection causes fever, headaches, body pains, weakness and rashes in its most virulent form. It might take weeks or months to fully recover. Sometimes it even kills. Typhoid practically disappeared when society started focusing on cleanliness and once antibiotics became the norm.

Some people appeared asymptomatic. They carried and spread typhoid without suffering any ill effects. That condition befell Mary Mallon, and Irish immigrant who lived in and around New York City. She cooked for several wealthy families and she didn’t believe in washing her hands before handling food. Good cooks found easy employment so she simply left each family after they contracted the disease and the cycle repeated. Outbreaks followed her several times as she switched to different families between 1900 and 1907. Authorities finally tracked her down and quarantined her at Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island (map). The hospital sat within eyesight of New York City, safely separated from the general population by the East River. Newspapers dubbed her "Typhoid Mary" and the name stuck.

Mary disavowed all responsibility and refused to be tested. Even so, the hospital released her after three years, stipulating that she must never work as a cook again. She kept that promise for a few years. Then she changed her name to Mary Brown and started cooking once again. The previous pattern of typhoid infections followed her. Once again authorities tracked her down and quarantined her, this time for life. Mary remained at Riverside Hospital from 1915 to 1938 until she died at a ripe old age… of pneumonia.


The Headless Horseman


A Ride in the Hollow
A Ride in the Hollow. Photo by Jessie Hodge on Flickr (cc)

The Headless Horseman starred in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," a short story published by Washington Irving in 1820. In this fictional account, the schoolmaster Ichabod Crane and his nemesis Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt both sought the favor of the same young woman, Katrina Van Tassel. She dashed Ichabod’s hopes one evening at a party at her home.

Crane left dejected, riding on horseback through spooky woods thought to be haunted by a headless horseman. According to the legend, a Hessian soldier fighting in the American Revolution lost his head to a cannonball and he wanted it back. The spectral figure chased Crane through the eerie forest, as Crane raced towards a bridge at the Old Dutch Burying Grounds that supposedly marked safety. The ghost threw his decapitated head towards a terrified Crane. The next day they found his horse and a splattered pumpkin, but Crane was never seen again. The story implied that Brom Bones played on Crane’s superstitions and orchestrated the whole thing to get rid of him.

Of course, Washington Irving created the story as a fictional work. However he used a real setting. Sleepy Hollow existed as did legends of a headless spirit wandering there. Irving lived nearby so he set the story in a familiar place. The area came to be known as North Tarrytown. It fell on hard times long afterwards as the 20th Century wound down and a local General Motors factory closed. That’s when the village voted to change its name back to Sleepy Hollow to hopefully draw more tourists and help the local economy. They also erected a sculpture of the Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane near the spot where the bridge stood in the story (map).


Jack the Ripper


Ten Bells, Spitalfields, E1
Ten Bells, Spitalfields, E1. Photo by Ewan Munro (cc)

Jack the Ripper terrorized Whitechapel in the East End of London for three months of 1888. The serial killer victimized prostitutes in slums, cutting throats, slicing abdomens and removing organs from bodies. As in the case of Typhoid Mary, an overly-competitive press in search of lurid headlines seized upon the story and sensationalized it to the point of frenzy. Numerous deaths were attributed to the killer, and dozens of theories spun from the imaginations of armchair detectives during the next century and beyond. Nonetheless, only five murders could be attributed to Jack the Ripper with any degree of certainty. These became known as the "canonical five" in the parlance of those who studied such things.

Much of Jack the Ripper’s London went the way of the wrecking ball a long time ago. However, a pub called The Ten Bells included a tenuous connection to two victims of the canonical five, Annie Chapman and Mary Jane Kelly. It still exists (map). Annie may have patronized the pub on the morning of her murder; and Mary Jane supposedly attracted clients on the street outside its doors.


Mothman


Mothman
Mothman. Photo by jmnecrikt on Flickr (cc)

A strange creature tormented residents near Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966 and 1967. It flew low over the treetops, a devilish figure with outstretched wings they dubbed Mothman. Allegedly it followed cars, killed farm animals and generally harassed and scared locals in a rural area outside of town near an old TNT plant. Then, on December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River that connecting Point Pleasant to Ohio collapsed. It happened during the evening when many people were returning home from work. Forty six people died. Witnesses claimed Mothman sightings that same evening and many locals blamed the creature for the tragedy. Some also claimed an appearance of a mysterious Man in Black soon thereafter, and speculated Mothman might be an alien connected to UFO sightings.

Encounters seemed to curtail although the old stories became the basis of a book called the The Mothman Prophecies in 1975 and a film of the same name in 2002. Point Pleasant loves its Mothman too. Entrepreneurs there erected a statue (map), opened a museum and started an annual Mothman Festival. Someday, as I finish my county counting efforts in West Virginia, I will stop there and see if I can spot Mothman myself.

Tendril of Fairmont

On July 30, 2017 · 1 Comments

Last October I took a trip through various parts of northern West Virginia to count some counties. This included a stopover in Morgantown, home of the state’s flagship West Virginia University. I had to bypassed this area a number of times previously so I enjoyed being able to stop for once.


Fairmont
Fairmont, West Virginia
via Google Maps

Research at the time brought my attention to the nearby town of Fairmont. I noticed that Fairmont included a long tendril with a bulb on its southern end. It almost looked like an umbilical cord, literally just the width of a road for a couple of miles. What could possibly be so important that the town had to reach out like that and make sure this acreage fell within its borders? I should have been tipped-off by my numerous drives up and down I-79 over the years. I’d noticed an office park with huge satellite dishes by the side of the highway.


I-79 Technology Park


DSC_4119
Dedicating New, Innovative North Central Advanced Technology Center.
Photo by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Flickr (cc)

Sure enough, those dishes appeared within the confines of the I-79 Technology Park. This served as West Virginia’s answer to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. WVU, a major research university, sat just twenty minutes up the road and offered a solid anchor. The facility contained 750,000 square feet (70,000 square metres) of building space. These housed data centers and offices for 30 businesses, where 1,500 people worked (map). Many of those jobs were solid, high-paying scientific an engineering positions too. No wonder Fairmont claimed it.

The government also maintained a visible presence there. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration operated its Independent Verification and Validation program on the campus. There it tested all of its mission critical software, a program created as a result of the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ran a supercomputer center there too.

These facilities should help dispel the myth that everyone in West Virginia works in a coal mine. Mystery solved, I could go ahead and end this article, right?


Captain James Booth



Captain James Booth Memorial

Well, maybe not so quickly. The tendril — Industrial Park Road — bisected a large grassy area just as it entered I-79 Technology Park. My curiosity got the best of me so I drilled down to check it out. There I noticed the Captain James Booth Memorial. I’d never heard of Captain James Booth and I didn’t know why he warranted a memorial. The memorial itself fell just outside of Fairmont’s borders although I considered it close enough for my purposes.

Obviously this high-tech corridor with its data centers and satellite dishes didn’t always exist in this manner. The area was on the wild edge of the American colonial frontier two hundred and fifty years ago. James Booth, an officer who served under George Washington before the United States declared independence, settled in the Monogahela Valley in 1772. He was the first person of European ancestry to live there permanently. Nobody knew much about his earlier life, though. Historians couldn’t even agree on his parents or his place of birth. However he earned a minor historical footnote for the Boothsville settlement he founded in the valley, a few miles south of current Fairmont.

Five years later, Native Americans believed to be from the Shawnee tribe ambushed Booth and his party. He took an arrow to the chest and died. His memorial marked the spot of his death as well as his grave.


Some More Parks


Wheaties/Mary Lou Retton 2.15.12
Wheaties/Mary Lou Retton. Image provided by General Mills on Flickr (cc)

I noticed a small, less dramatic tendril on the eastern side of Fairmont too. The connecting feature went by a more interesting name, Pinch Gut Hollow Road. This road tethered Morris Park into the town boundaries. It seemed like a nice gesture for them to include a park although nothing made it particularly special. The 112 acre property featured nature trails, picnic pavilions, courts for basketball and tennis, and such. Again, nothing remarkable.

However, Fairmont bisected another park just where the tendril to I-79 Technology Park began. It recognized someone I’d certainly heard of before; Mary Lou Retton (map). She was one of the most memorable names from the U.S. Olympic team in 1984. Her gold medal began the United States’ dominance of women’s gymnastics. However, that didn’t really show why a park in Fairmont, West Virginia reflected her name. Well, that was her home town, so that explained it. She lived in Fairmont up until she started getting ready for the Olympics. The town should go ahead and annex the rest of the park while they’re at it.

That tendril to the I-79 Technology Park packed a lot into it. Mary Lou Retton anchored one end of it, Captain James Booth anchored the other, and of course the technology park itself formed a nice bulb for an exclamation point at the end.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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