Things I Wonder

On January 29, 2012 · 4 Comments

I maintain a long list of potential topics on a spreadsheet that’s grown to several hundred rows. Some of my story ideas remain on the sheet for months or years. That’s because they must have been interesting enough to record but not substantial enough to create a standalone article. Let me winnow down the list a little by posing some ridiculous hypothetical questions.

Why do they love me in Yellowknife?

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I get an unusually large number of 12MC visitors per capita from Yellowknife, the capital city of the Northwest Territories of Canada. Maybe 20,000 people live in Yellowknife and yet hardly a few days go by between visits. It’s always different people. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between the topics they select either. All I can figure is maybe people enduring dark, cold winters deal with their confinement by hitting the Intertubes.

I also wondered about the unusual number of hits from East Sparta, Ohio, a village of less than a thousand inhabitants. I often record several visits per day. I combed through the data a little bit further and discovered that the source was always or I guess Yahoo has a server farm nearby? Maybe something similar is happening in Yellowknife.

Did the founders of Jay, Oklahoma realize its postal abbreviation (Jay, OK) sounded a lot like A-OK?

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There’s no connection. A-OK didn’t come into prominence until the early 1960’s. Jay, OK had been around for a solid half-century by that point. It’s just an interesting coincidence.

However, that leads to a follow-up question: If it’s not A-OK, then who or what is Jay? The local Chamber of Commerce attempts to answer that perplexing question:

There are at least two stories about how the town got it’s name. One story says it was named by its surveyor Dick Wofford, for his only son, Jay, who later was a business man in Jay until his death early 1960. Another story says the town was named for “Jay” Washbourne. “Jay” got his name from the large “J” which refused to come off the flour sack from which his mother made his shirt. There is no known documentation as to how Jay, Oklahoma actually got its name.

I hope someone uncovers definitive evidence of the second theory. I’m oddly amused by the mental image of a kid in a homemade flour sack shirt.

Jay also has an interesting twist to its founding. The town was built completely from scratch with the express purpose of serving as the county seat. Delaware County wanted a more central location for its county seat sometime around 1908. They calculated the exact center of the county, hoping to plat a town there, but the land was owned by a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. There were too many legal hurdles for the owner to sell the land because it was part of the Cherokee nation so they selected an adjacent tract owned by a person of partial Cherokee descent instead. Even today, upwards of 40% of Jay’s residents can trace Cherokee ancestry.

Jay is the self-proclaimed "Huckleberry Capital of the World." Another contender, Trout Creek, Montana, had to settle for a lesser standard ("proclaimed ‘Huckleberry Capitol of Montana’ by the state’s legislature in 1981"). Thus, Jay, OK is indeed A-OK in the world of Huckleberrys.

Where is Europe’s largest vegetated shingle spit?

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Face it, you’ve wanted to know the answer to this forever, right? In simple terms a vegetated shingle spit is composed of small pebbles created through long-shore drift.

The largest European vegetated shingle spit can be found along the coast of Suffolk, England at the mouth of the River Orr. It’s called Orford Ness. The National Trust describes it as

… [an] Internationally important nature reserve, with a fascinating 20th-century military history." … Orford Ness may contain as much as 15% of the world’s reserve of coastal vegetated shingle, and the best preserved shingle ridges in Europe. So fragile is this habitat that even walking on it causes irreparable damage.

Consider the rarity of vegetated shingle spits: Orford Ness is only about 2,200 acres.

What’s the deal with the Austrian Navy?

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Some people wonder how Captain von Trapp in the 1965 movie The Sound of Music could have been a retired naval officer when Austria was a landlocked country. It’s simple. He was actually a veteran of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. The empire had seaports upon its dissolution at the end of World War I. The movie is factually correct on that point.

However, while investigating that claim, I found a couple of other places where the movie veered from reality rather dramatically. First, von Trapp was offered a position in the German Navy but he wasn’t in any real danger of being forced to serve the Third Reich. Austria wasn’t under Nazi control at the time and he simply turned it down. Second, according to Wikipedia and probably more significantly,

… since the Captain had been born into what later became the Italian territory of Zara, the family were all Italian citizens as a result. Therefore, the family left Austria for Italy by train in broad daylight, rather than by hiking over the mountains outside Salzburg to Switzerland in the middle of the night as in the The Sound of Music.

Today Zadar (Zara in Italian) is part of Croatia. However, it was an Italian enclave ever-so-briefly during its history (1920-1947). This happened to coincide with the period covered by the movie. The dramatic scene is nothing more than Hollywood fiction.

On January 29, 2012 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Things I Wonder”

  1. David Overton says:

    Not to mention that if they had really hiked over the mountains outside Salzburg they would have ended up in Germany rather than Switzerland.

  2. Peter says:

    It’s fortunate that the movie version of the Von Trapp’s escape didn’t actually happen. Just imagine what the Nazis would have done to the nuns once they figured out that the nuns had sabotaged their car …

  3. Phil Sites says:

    Yellowknife is my No. 1 for most inaccessible and remote metropolitan area in North America…just look at what it takes to drive there. It’s almost ten hours once you even get to the NWT border, which is after a lonely drive in itself through northern Alberta (though I hope to try it one day). Not to mention NWT has some of the heftiest fuel prices in Canada.

    I imagine it’s a perfect setting for people imagining the world outside of their own, seeing as it’s not as easy to get out as it might be for most of us.

  4. Steve says:

    Alright. You’re all gonna LOVE this comment. Re: Yellowknife and the NWT…

    Back in the 90’s I was a bartender in Hartford, CT (post-graduation, saving money for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, pre-real job). Anyway, this bar was very popular with the Hartford Whalers because we were sort of low-key and on the way out to the wealthy suburbs where they all lived.

    Their best player in the mid-90’s was one Geoff Sanderson. He was quiet, but the first time he came in (I’m a huge hockey fan) I asked him what it was like growing up in a NWT town that is now defunct. He couldn’t believe I knew this fact – and frankly I forget how I knew it – but we ended up talking about western Canadian geography for a good hour. He grew up in Pine point NWT, which was an itinerant mining town which was torn down in 1988 when the mine closed More here. It was on the other side of the Great Slave Lake from Yellowknife.

    To this day, Sanderson is the ONLY NHL’er EVER to be from the NWT. Think about that. That’s crazy. So yeah, my interest and recall for geographic oddities allowed me to become – and remain for years – friends with a former NHL All-Star who drove a really, really fast and tricked out Porsche.

    And funny enough, today (2/1) is his birthday.

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