I’m predisposed to look for patterns and there are times when they come together better than others. This is one of those times although it may seem to have a bit of a stream-of-consciousness feel to it.
I left for Dulles Airport on Monday morning for a week of work in San Diego, California. As I rode in the taxi I heard a story on the radio about Samoa. They are planning to change to the other side of the International Date Line, aligning themselves more with Australia than the United States. When that happens their calendar will lose a day. I jotted a note into my mobile phone so that I would remember to mention something on 12MC when I arrived in San Diego. I didn’t figure I’d dwell on it because it was likely to get extensive press and blog coverage elsewhere but I also couldn’t let such a momentous geo-oddity event pass unnoticed on these pages either.
I arrived, checked my email, and regular reader Greg was already on the case, letting me know about an article on CNN. One of the benefits of the switch, apparently, sounds a lot like my article called Celebrate the Day Twice except that the locations are a lot closer and a lot more feasible: Samoa and American Samoa. Nobody will be able to experience January 1, 2000 again but it might be fun for a random birthday or anniversary.
As I was responding to Greg, I received an email from loyal reader Steve at Connecticut Museum Quest. He was letting me know of a tweet from another favorite blogger, DataPointed. If I had a Twitter account I suppose I’d re-tweet this, but since I don’t, let me copy the text verbatim:
Random GeoFactoid: Runway 01L-19R at Dulles International is closer to the State of West Virginia than the White House. http://bit.ly/mRAt2z
This brought three things to mind beyond the self-evident coolness factor of that statement:
- How did DataPointed even dream up such an amazingly obscure factoid?
- Why didn’t I learn about this six hours earlier when I was in the cab heading towards Dulles so I could impress (or not) the cabbie?
- What does county-counter extraordinaire Fritz Keppler, who works right over by Dulles, think about this?
San Diego is so much more enjoyable than some of my typical destinations. I even had an opportunity to wander around the city a bit thanks to all the hours I picked-up flying west into the Pacific Time Zone.
I walked down the waterfront at the Port of San Diego and received a visual reminder that the world is about to end. I don’t generally question peoples’ beliefs — people are free to believe what they want to believe — but I do think it’s worth mentioning that doomsday prophesies and various predictions of the End Times don’t have a particularly good track record. If the rapture happens on May 21, 2011, as some seem to believe rather fervently, then this will be one of my final blog entries. I won’t be motivated to blog during the brief period between the rapture and the fiery destruction of the earth on October 21, 2011, either. Just sayin’.
On a happier note I came across a tribute to Bob Hope as I wandered past the USS Midway aircraft carrier museum. depicting one of his countless USO tours in support of the troops for more than fifty years from the Second World War through the Persian Gulf War. I particularly enjoyed the interplay between bronze figures of his military audience members and the flesh-and-blood modern tourists who wandered through the statuary. When I returned to the hotel I then noticed a blog entry from Catholicgauze of Geographic Travels and his tribute to the USO. Welcome back from Afghanistan, Catholicgauze.
If I were to choose between a frightening doomsday prophesy or this iconic image of a better tomorrow from the conclusion of the Second World War, well, I don’t think there’s really much of a choice at all. I’m an optimist.
Anyone have any other San Diego suggestions before the world ends (bearing in mind that I’ll be on foot)?
I call the second case of mistaken geographic identity the "Invasion of a Maryland Beach Town!"
This instance of mistaken geographic identity happened long before my birth, and all the way back in 1941. It’s become a part of Howder family legend that will undoubtedly be passed along to our progeny for generations to come. Some families bestow royal titles upon their descendants. Others accumulate great fortunes that transcend to lucky heirs. Still others pass along their famous names, invoking memories of ancestors who displayed great courage, resourcefulness or intelligence.
There isn’t a Duke of Howder, a Howder family fortune or a Howder Einstein. No, the family has none of those. We are ordinary people who celebrate ordinary things. We share stories like the time grandmother prepared to flee the city with three young children in tow, a tale she had to endure repeated at every family gathering for more than a half-century afterwards.
It may help to understand that the date in question was December 7, 1941, and the city was Washington, DC. Perhaps she can be forgiven for her lack of geographic understanding. People were in a panic. How many people on that day stopped to ponder the geographic placement of Pearl Harbor, assuming they’d ever heard of it, when radios broke the news of a Japanese surprise attack?
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It was the date which will live in infamy in the immortal words of President Roosevelt as he called for war, an event seared forever into the psyche of those who lived through it, much like September 11, 2001, has been seared into mine.
My father’s mother did not receive as much of an education as many people today because of her family situation and her gender. She was one of several American-born children of recent Irish immigrants who occupied a small row house in a working-class section of Capitol Hill. In adulthood she raised a family as a single mother through the depths of the Great Depression, as an entry-level clerk in a nondescript government office. She faced a lot of adversity in her early life while sacrificing her personal opportunities to improve the lot of her children.
Who could blame her for not knowing about Pearl Harbor and transcending what she thought she heard on the radio into a more familiar place: Herald Harbor.
What? You’ve never heard of Herald Harbor?
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Herald Harbor is a small riverside community located just outside of Annapolis, Maryland. It’s barely 30 miles from the United States capitol. Poor grandmother thought that the Japanese had landed on the western shore of the Chesapeake and were preparing to invade Washington, DC. She had seen the newsreels of European refugees fleeing from the German blitzkrieg and she knew exactly what to do. Grandmother gathered everything that she and her children could carry on their backs and prepared to flee the city on foot towards the safety of nearby Virginia.
Her neighbors stopped her at the doorway of their apartment building. They explained that the attack took place at Pearl Harbor, a place in Hawaii several thousand miles away. She didn’t believe them because she’d just heard with her own ears that the Japanese were attacking Maryland. How could the Japanese navy circle South America (or go through the Panama Canal), hug a long section of the eastern United States, and make it all the way up the Chesapeake Bay totally undetected, they reasoned, and why would they attack an anonymous beach town?
It took a lot of cajoling, but against her better judgment the evacuation of Washington drew to an close. She and her children trotted back upstairs with their bundles and packs.
Articles in this string:
Mistaken Identity, Part 1: Call the Inspectors
Mistaken Identity, Part 2: Invasion of a Maryland Beach Town
Mistaken Identity, Part 3: Baltimore, DC
I made an offer to the kind readers of the Twelve Mile Circle back in September 2010. I said I’d be glad to explore and present geo-oddities for any location based on user suggestions. I took this as a personal challenge and an opportunity to investigate areas that may have escaped my attention previously. "Katy" accepted my offer and requested an article on St. John’s, the provincial capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
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St John’s is a decently-sized place with a city population hovering around a hundred thousand people with a wider metropolitan area about twice that size. The investigation should be quick and easy, I figured. Katy thought St. John’s seemed like a nice little city, and indeed it is but that’s the problem: there is little "odd" about it, geographic or otherwise. I was about to declare St. John’s the most vanilla town in Canada but I gave it one final push. I now have enough material to report a few unusual features.
The closest I’d come previously was my Mt. Pearl Mystery, which wasn’t an article about St. John’s per se but about an adjacent town. That became a recurring theme as I conducted my research. I found lots of almost strange or nearby odd but not much material directly within the city proper.
For example, St. John’s is often called "North America’s Oldest City." That’s a fascinating claim but it comes with a lot of baggage. First, one has to ignore the universe of non-English settlements. Second, one has to discount other English settlements founded prior to St. John’s including nearby Cupids Colony located elsewhere on the Avalon Peninsula. Technically Cupid’s Colony isn’t considered a "city" as defined. See what I mean?
Let’s explore another superlative. St. John’s is also called "the most easterly spot in North America." However, Greenland is generally considered part of North America. So, maybe it’s the most easterly spot on continental North America? That doesn’t work either. St. John’s is located on Newfoundland, an island, which makes it just as tenuous a claimant as Greenland. The best that can be said is that St. John’s is the most easterly spot in Canada. That happens at Cape Spear and I guess that’s a fairly decent geo-oddity.
This geographic placement does put St. John’s a lot closer to Europe than most of North America and that’s allowed it to carved a nice historical niche for itself. Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message here. Also, Alcock and Brown departed from St. John’s on the first successful non-stop transatlantic airplane flight in 1919 (eight years before Charles Lindbergh did it solo from the U.S.).
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The Trans-Canada Highway ends at St. John’s at the spot shown above. Departing here, a traveller would have to drive another 7,821 kilometres (4,860 miles) before arriving at the opposite end in Victoria, British Columbia. However, can St. John’s be considered part of a single transnational route if a 177 km ferry ride is required to connect Newfoundland to the mainland?
I will grant that a definite oddity exists here although not a logical one. I can’t understand why
Vancouver has a mile zero marker at its terminus but St. John’s refers to their endpoint as mile one. St. John’s even has a sports complex called the Mile One Centre as a tribute. Why don’t the two cities agree?
We can salvage a few other oddities. Let’s talk about the weather. Natural Resources Canada says, "St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador is the foggiest city in Canada with 121 days every year with fog. It is also the windiest city with an average annual wind speed of 24 kilometres per hour and has the most days of freezing precipitation with 38 days per year." Well, maybe we shouldn’t dwell on the weather. Moving right along…
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Why is there a United States flag flying over St. John’s? There are already enough misguided people who seem to believe that portions of Canada fall within U.S. territory — not people who read this blog of course — so an image such as this will feed into their conspiracy theories. Actually, this is the United States Armed Forces Monument at the site of the former Pepperrell Air Force Base, which operated between 1941 and 1960. It began during the earlier days of World War II before the United States entered the conflict. The U.S. traded fifty surplus Navy destroyer ships to the United Kingdom in return for leases at several strategic locations, including this one at St. John’s.
I found one other geo-oddity with a historical twist in St. John’s, the Newman Wine Vaults.
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As the story goes, a ship bound from Portugal to England in the Seventeenth Century ran into repeated troubles. The ship slipped its moorings while at port, got chased by pirates, blew far off-course in a storm, and finally found itself deep within the North Atlantic Ocean as winter approached. The captain decided to seek safety in St. John’s Harbour until the weather improved. He unloaded his cargo of port wine at dockside cellars until he could return to England the following spring. Connoisseurs noticed that aging had significantly improved the wine.
I’m not sure I believe the story entirely (it sounds like the captain and crew might have been sampling their cargo in transit) but it became a successful marketing gimmick. Lots of port wine journeyed from Portugal to England via the St. John’s detour for more than two centuries. I guess people figured out eventually that Port could be aged closer to home, but the Newman company kept the ruse going for multiple generations.
Well Katy, I hope that meets your expectations. You gave me quite the challenge but I finally managed to salvage something in the end! I also learned a lot more about St. John’s than I expected, too.
Readers should feel free to keep suggestions coming.