The recent Manly Places dealt with U.S. locations that swung wildly towards an overabundance of men. Naturally I also wanted to examine the opposite condition. The inverse of manly seemed as if it should be something like ladylike so that’s what I called the followup article. This one required more effort. Women lived longer than men naturally and the ratios reflected that. Fluctuations didn’t hit the same extremes either.
Women did seem to congregate in larger numbers in major northeastern cities, such as Boston, New York and Washington: "Nine of the 10 metros with the highest ratio of women to men are in the East: Oakland is the only exception." However, fluctuations occurred even within those metropolitan areas. The most women in New York City could be found in the 10021 ZIP Code. In the suburbs of Washington, DC, in Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Maryland specifically, 1.2 women lived alone for every man in a similar situation.
I found some bad news and some good news about women and prisons. Incarcerated women skewed the populations of lightly populated rural counties and towns just like their male counterparts. However, at least within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, women accounted for only 7% of the inmates. Still, where women’s prisons existed, anomalies could occur. No county had a greater imbalance than Summers County, West Virginia, the home of Federal Prison Camp Alderson. This minimum security facility housed nearly a thousand women (map). That created an imbalance in Summers County of 1.23 women to every man.
Some well-known criminals served time there, too. I remembered Lynette Fromme mostly because of her nickname, "Squeaky." She became a follower of Charles Manson and later tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford. Her sentence could have kept her confined for the remainder of her life although she earned parole in 2009 after serving 34 years. She spent many of her years at Alderson, helping to skew the population ratio of Summers County except for the couple of days in 1987 when she escaped briefly.
Things really got wacky at the town level. The greatest imbalance occurred in tiny Raoul, Georgia, population 2,500. Four out of five residents were women. There, the Lee Arrendale State Prison of the Georgia Department of Corrections created the anomaly. The largest town on the list of Top 100 cities with the most women, Chowchilla, California made space for two prisons for women. However one of them, Valley State Prison, became a men’s facility in 2012. It will likely drop from the list after the next Census.
My intuition failed me once again. I figured colleges and universities would skew ratios more than prisons. I didn’t get things completely wrong, though. One of the largest towns to crack the Top 100 list reflected that category. Mount Holyoke College fell within the boundaries of South Hadley, Massachusetts (map). This institution dated to 1837, beginning as the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. It’s 2,500 students comprised a sizable chunk of the town’s population of 17,000; enough to contribute mightily to a favorable ratio of women to men.
A lot of colleges for women either closed or became coeducational institutions as the Twentieth century progressed. About sixty still remained in the United States. That limited the number of chances to dramatically impact populations.
I looked a little beyond the United States this time. Sort of. Wikipedia had a nice list of countries by sex ratio that I consulted. After I sorted the list it showed that the Northern Mariana Islands had the greatest abundance of women. It contained about 1.4 women for every man. Of course the Northern Mariana Islands actually belonged to the United States in a commonwealth arrangement (map), even though it appeared separately on the list.
This anomaly occurred because of legal loopholes and deplorable exploitation of female garment workers brought to the islands primarily from China. The Northern Marianas fell within something of a gray area. Products coming from there could claim that they were "Made in the USA" and avoid tariffs. However, a lot of wage and fair labor laws applicable on the mainland United States did not apply to them. A large garment industry started operating in the Northern Marianas around 1984 to take advantage of the situation. That’s why women so outnumbered men. They toiled in factories twelve or more hours a day without breaks for poverty wages. Once exposed, the U.S. Congress began to pass laws that eventually restricted the loopholes. The last of the factories closed in 2012 and the population of Saipan dropped by nearly a third.
Estonia may top the list after the next Census takes place in the Northern Marianas. I examined the ratios within Estonia by different age categories. It seemed after a quick glance that Estonian men simply began to die in droves once they hit their 60’s.
Various saints appeared in recent Twelve Mile Circle articles, most recently On the Feast Day. I didn’t intent to fixate on them. The names of saints, both notable and obscure, kept coming to my attention as I researched other articles. I couldn’t simply ignore them. Take Saint Alban, for instance. Perhaps if I lived in England I might have known something about him. That’s the place where his story began. English explorers, colonists and settlers took his name and spread it wherever they migrated. I saw a town by that name in the United States and I naturally wondered, who was this Saint Alban?
Saint Alban figured prominently in the cast of revered characters of England’s Christians. Many considered him the English protomartyr, the original Christian martyr for the nation. The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban later rose near the site of his martyrdom in Hertfordshire (map). The surrounding town took his name too. However, during the Roman period, somewhere around the third century, they called it Verulamium and they did not tolerate Christians.
Alban sheltered a stranger who happened to be a Christian priest, the legend said. The priest practiced a forbidden faith, an act punishable by death. Alban learned more about the priest’s religion as he hid him from capture, leading to Alban’s conversion to Christianity. Meanwhile the authorities continued searching for the priest so Alban swapped clothes with him so he could escape. This angered the local magistrate who decided to punish Alban the same way he intended to punish the priest. He ordered Alban’s beheading on a hillside just outside of town. Alban became an instant martyr. Even now, 1,700 years later, pilgrims return to the site of St. Alban’s martyrdom, especially on his feast day, June 22.
The story evolved over the centuries, and in reality St. Alban may or may not have actually existed. Nonetheless, that didn’t matter. He meant a lot to Christians in England and his name spread as they sailed around the globe.
Actually, I first noticed the name in West Virginia. St. Albans sat just a few miles west of Charleston on the southern bank of the Kanawha River (map). The town began as Coalsmouth in the late eighteenth century at a place where the Coal River joined the Kanawha, thus at the mouth of Coal. I guess that sounded like an odd name for a town. Coalsmouth got a new name when it incorporated in 1872; "named by the chief counsel of the C&O railroad and close friend and railroad builder Collis P. Huntington, H. C. Parsons, in honor of his hometown in Vermont."
St. Alban made it over to Canada too. There it retained a possessive apostrophe, the Town of St. Alban’s on the island of Newfoundland (map). The original settlers arrived at this spot on the Bay d’Espoir sometime around the middle of the nineteenth century. They called it Ship Cove. However, that caused problems.
… the community’s name was changed in 1915 at the suggestion of parish priest Father Stanislaus St. Croix, in order to avoid confusion with numerous other Ship Coves. The present name of the community honours an English martyr and was chosen to reflect the fact that St. Alban’s is one of the few predominately Roman Catholic communities in Newfoundland where the majority of inhabitants are of English (rather than Irish or French) origin.
Logging once generated most of the jobs in St. Alban’s. Today aquaculture and hydroelectricity fuel its economy.
Another continent, another St. Albans (map). I didn’t find much specific about this particular representation, though. In fact, even the History of St. Albans said,
Surprisingly for a neighbourhood as old and as big as St Albans, there is very little written about its particular history, i.e. its own history as a neighbourhood. This is because it developed across the boundary between Sunshine and Keilor and was thus divided between these two municipalities.
First came a railway station named St. Albans in 1887. The town grew around it after land speculators purchased small farms nearby. One gentleman, Alfred Padley, actively subdivided many of the plots and resold them. His wife, according to the website, had a family link back to the St. Albans in Hertfordshire. Thus the name transferred to the station and to the town.
One publication called St. Albans "the homicide capital of Victoria." It experienced sixteen homicides in two years. There are cities in the United States that probably experience that many homicides in a week. Sixteen — while certainly tragic for those involved — didn’t seem extreme enough to warrant such an onerous label.
St. Albans, New Zealand
I figured I might as well finish my virtual world tour by taking a look at New Zealand. Yes, a St. Albans grew there too, as a suburb of Christchurch. Look at its splendid border. The jagged edge made it appear like somebody tore it from a sheet of paper. I wondered what led to such an unusual shape, seemingly skipping or included houses and businesses at random. Alas, I never found out. However I did discover how it got its name. Apparently, before the town existed, St. Albans was the name of a local farm. The owner, George Dickinson, named it for a cousin. She was Harriet Mellon, the Duchess of St Albans.
It adorned a cliff on the Maryland side of the Potomac River across from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (map). I’d seen it dozens of times over the years, a constant presence as I toured the town or rode my bike along the C&O Canal Trail. Its smoothed painted surface cracked over the years, the letters faded, and I never could tell exactly what it said from a distance. I’d seen a Ghost Sign.
This type of advertising used to be quite common as the 19th Century crossed into the 20th. Nobody thought twice about slapping some pigment on a wall, a barn, or in the case of Harpers Ferry, upon nature itself. This unknown author chose a prime spot on an outcrop known as Maryland Heights, scaling down the precarious ledge to apply his commercial message. Back during the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces both occupied the heights at various times, ringing it with artillery. They wanted to control the highest point of elevation above a key town at a major river confluence. An advertiser claimed those same heights a generation later although for a peaceful purpose.
From her house on High Street in 1906, Clara Riley watched as sign painters created a huge advertisement, out of a milk and whitewash mixture, on the side of the mountain. Mrs. Riley remembered the year because she was in labor with her first child while the sign was being painted.
The sign could be seen practically everywhere in Harpers Ferry. More importantly, everyone riding a train on a heavily traveled railroad line saw an advertisement for "Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder" just as they entered a tunnel directly below the sign. That’s what it said, as I learned.
Apparently people in an earlier era liked to purchase a tongue-twister of a product called Borated Talcum Toilet Powder. I think it lost some of the superfluous wording later and simply became Talcum Powder. Meanwhile, the Mennen brand continued to exist, now owned by Colgate-Palmolive. In recent years they made a popular deodorant called Mennen Speed Stick. Then in the early 1990’s they practically sparked an entire musical genre when they marketed a deodorant to teenage girls called Teen Spirit. Smells Like Teen Spirit!
Frankly, I hadn’t paid much attention to Ghost Signs. I’m not even sure how the subject popped into my mind for a Twelve Mile Circle article. Other people took it very seriously, though. They fixated on it with the same intensity as my obsession with county counting. I could respect that. After all, these signs became the subject of a popular website, a Twitter account with more than 5,000 followers, and a Flickr group with more than 30,000 images. The popular press also expressed an interest, for example in articles from The Guardian and The Independent. Ghost signs completely eclipsed my humble efforts on 12MC.
Clearly something in those signs sparked such intense devotion. They acted as connections to earlier times, fading a little bit further as each year passed. They were survivors. However, ghost signs also seemed ephemeral, like on any given day someone might return to find their favorite sign gone. A nostalgia formed around them. Some have been fortunate and have been saved from destruction as cherished historical artifacts. Many more will disappear. I know that I’ll keep a better eye out for them now that I’m tuned in to the phenomenon.
For instance, I’ll stay on the lookout for the Lincoln Hotel and Butte Special Beer sign on Park Street (map) if I’m ever in Butte, Montana.
The name Sam Roberts came up often as I researched ghost signs. He, apparently, began cataloguing them worldwide about a decade ago from his base in London. Often he listed his favorite example as the sign for Black Cat Cigarettes on London’s Dingley Road (map). Regrettably, he reported the loss of that mural in September 2016, covered up by a new building constructed next to it. Another wonderful ghost sign lost.