Tag: Trivia

50 of the Strangest Place Names in America… and How They Came to Be

50 of the Strangest Place Names in America… and How They Came to Be

I love looking at maps and checking out the names of places.  Some of them are unique, while others are funny and a few are just downright weird.  Here are some of my favorites, including how they got their names.

Scratch Ankle, Alabama got its name from train workers who always saw the locals scratching their ankles from mosquito bites.

Mary’s Igloo, Alaska took its name from an Inupiat woman named Mary, who welcomed miners, trappers and others into her home for coffee. During that period, Mary’s Igloo was a transfer point for supplies for the gold fields upriver.

Why, Arizona derives its name from the fact that two major highways, State Routes 85 and 86, originally intersected in a Y shape. As a result of Arizona law that required city names to have at least three letters, the town’s founders named the town “Why” as opposed to simply calling it “Y.”

strange town names why arizona

Smackover, Arkansas comes from the name that French settlers gave the town in 1686: “sumac couvert,” which translates to “covered in sumac bushes.”

Weed, California has nothing to do with marijuana or poor landscaping.  Rather, the town gets its name from the founder of the local lumber mill and pioneer Abner Weed, who discovered that the area’s strong winds were helpful in drying lumber. The town motto is “Weed like to welcome you.” (ha ha ha!)

Troublesome, Colorado takes its name from nearby Troublesome Creek.  The creeek got its name because soldiers had difficulty crossing it.

Yeehaw Junction, Florida got its name in the 1950s. Some say the community’s name comes from how locals would yell “Yeehaw!”  Others believe the name is close to the Seminole language word meaning “wolf”. According to town historians and several original newspaper articles, the town’s original name was either “Jackass Junction” or “Jackass Crossing.” That strange town name stemmed from local ranchers ring burros to visit the Desert Inn (the local brothel).

Experiment, Georgia took its name from the University of Georgia’s Agricultural Experiment Station, which is located there.

Dickshooter, Idaho received its name from Dick Shooter, a man who “established a homestead there.”

Goofy Ridge, Illinois was a camp near the river bank where moonshiners and other carousers met weekly to do their drinking. One night, a local game warden declared his relative sobriety by vowing that he could shoot a walnut off the head of a volunteer. The game warden placed the target on the volunteer’s head, aimed his .22 rifle, and shot the nut right off. A witness described the incident as “one damned goofy thing to do,” and the camp was consequently known as Goofy Ridge.

French Lick, Indiana (also hometown of NBA legend Larry Bird) was originally a French trading post built near a spring and salt lick.

strange town names french lick indiana

Fertile, Iowa got its name due to the quality of the soil in the valley there.

Protection, Kansas received its name from a political issue in the 1884 presidential selection.  There was a lot of popular support for a protective tariff, and the town drew its name from that.

Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky got its name because when looking at a map of Ballard County, it resembles a monkey’s head. The town Monkey’s Eyebrow is, of course, where the monkey’s eyebrow would be.

Boring, Maryland‘s name was not chosen for the pace of life, but for postmaster David Boring.

Hell, Michigan offers multiple theories for the origin of its name. My favorite: the original settler, George Reeves, was asked what to name the town when Michigan achieved statehood. His response was a surly, “I don’t care, you can name it Hell for all I care.”

strange town names hell michigan

Sleepy Eye, Minnesota took its name from Sleepy Eye Lake, which was named after Chief Sleepy Eye of the Sioux. Chief Sleepy Eye was known as a compassionate person with droopy eyelids.

Tightwad, Missouri got its name when a store owner cheated a customer, who was a postman, by charging him an extra 50 cents for a better watermelon. (Some sources claim the transaction involved a rooster rather than a watermelon.)

Two Dot, Montana got its name from the cattle brand of George R. Wilson, who donated the land for the town. “Two Dot Wilson” had a cattle brand of two dots, placed side by side on the hip of his cattle.

Searchlight, Nevada (hometown of US Senator Harry Reid) received its when George Frederick Colton was looking for gold in the area in 1897. He supposedly said that it would take a searchlight to find gold ore there.

Loveladies, New Jersey began as a small, 10-acre island in the bay adjacent to a US Life-Saving Station was owned by a man named Thomas Lovelady. The area was called Lovelady’s, which eventually evolved to Loveladies.

strange town names loveladies new jersey

Rush, New York was either named after the rushes growing along the creek, or after Dr. Benjamin Rush, Founding Father of the United States.

Whynot, North Carolina came from residents debating a title for their community. A man asked, “Why not name the town Whynot and let’s go home?” Nearby towns at the time with equally interesting names include Erect, Hemp, and Lonely.

Zap, North Dakota got its name because of a coal mine at the edge of town. The railroad company official in charge of naming new villages knew a coal-mining town in Scotland called Zapp, and thought that would be a good name here. However, he chose to Americanize the name and spelled it with only one “p”.

Pee Pee Township, Ohio took its name from Pee Pee Creek.  The creek got its name when an early settler inscribed his initials (P. P.) on a tree along its banks.

Okay, Oklahoma took its name from the OK Truck Manufacturing Company. Okay? OK.

Idiotville, Oregon got its name because of its remote location.  People said that only an idiot would work there.

Intercourse, Pennsylvania in Amish country, received its name in 1814. In those days, the word ‘intercourse’ meant the social interaction and support shared in the community of faith.

Ninetysix, South Carolina has several different theories for the origin of its name. My favorite is that it is an interpretation of a Welsh expression, “nant-sych,” meaning “dry gulch.”

strange town names ninety-seix south carolina


Two Strike, South Dakota received its name in honor of Lakota Chief Two Strike, whose native name was “Nomkahpa,” meaning “Knocks Two Off.” The chief’s claim to fame was that, in a battle with the Utes, he knocked two warriors off their horses with a single blow of his war club.

Sweet Lips, Tennessee received its name from settlers who declared water from a creek to be “sweet to the lips.”  Alternative versions of the story say it was wandering hobos or thirsty Civil War soldiers.

Uncertain, Texas derives its name from surveyors who were attempting to delineate the border between Texas and Louisiana.  They were uncertain as to which side of the line they were on, hence the name.

Humptulips, Washington comes from a local Native American language, meaning ‘hard to pole’, referring to the difficulty local Native Americans had poling their canoes along the Humptulips River.

War, West Virginia took its name from the nearby War Creek.  The creek got its name from the frequent battles between Native Americans near the stream.

strange town names war west virginia

Spread Eagle, Wisconsin got its name from the Spread Eagle chain of lakes. When seen from above, the lakes resemble an eagle with its wings spread.

Travel Trivia

Travel Trivia

I often joke that I can remember a fact that I learned in fifth grade, yet I can’t remember why I walked into another room.  It’s not quite that bad, thankfully, but I do have a knack for holding on to useless knowledge.  So I thought I would share some of my favorite bits of travel trivia.  I hope you find them as interesting as I do!

  • One state in the US has more national parks than the other 4 – California is home to nine national parks. (Alaska is a close second with eight.)
  • The largest active volcano on earth is Mauna Loa, in Hawaii. Its last eruption was in 1984.
  • The Philippines has the only national flag flown differently depending on whether it is at war. The blue portion is on top in times of peace and the red portion is on top during war time.

philippines-flag travel trivia

  • At 5772 miles long, the Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railway in the world. It crosses 3901 bridges.
  • The Republic of Nauru, an island nation in Micronesia, has no capital.
  • South Africa, by contrast, has three capital cities:  one administrative/executive, one legislative, and one judicial.  Fourteen other countries have two capitals.
  • Three countries in the world are completely surrounded by only one other country:  Lesotho, San Marino, and Vatican City. Lesotho lies within the country of South Africa, whereas San Marino and Vatican City are within Italy.
  • In the list of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only one still stands today – the Great Pyramid of Giza.

great_pyramid_of_giza travel trivia

  • Many people have heard that the city of Venice Italy is slowly sinking. However, it may surprise them to learn that Mexico City is also sinking – at 10 cm per year, a rate that is ten times faster than that of Venice.
  • The world’s oldest subway is London’s Underground. At its opening in 1863, it measured four miles long. Today, it is approximately 250 miles long.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these bits of travel trivia! If you have a fun fact to share, please comment below.

Trivia: The Statue of Liberty, NY

Trivia: The Statue of Liberty, NY

A New York Icon

The Statue of Liberty has graced New York Harbor since 1886.  Most people know that it was a gift to the United States from the people of France.  Some (those who have seen National Treasure: Book of Secrets, for instance) know that there is a smaller version of the same statue in France.  Some may know that the date July 4, 1776 is inscribed on the tablet she holds.  But here are some things that most people might not know at all:

Statue of Liberty Trivia
Photo via Flickr by aherrero.

What You Probably Don’t Know About Her

  1. The statue’s full name is Liberty Enlightening the World.
  2. The female figure is Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom.
  3. To climb up into the crown on her head, you must ascend 354 stairs.
  4. Once there, you can look out at the harbor through 25 windows.
  5. Approximately 4 million people visit the statue each year.
  6. Gustave Eiffel, the man who designed the Eiffel Tower, also designed Liberty’s ‘spine’ – four iron columns supporting a metal framework.
  7. Three hundred different types of hammers were used to create the sculpture.  Not 300 hammers, mind you, but 300 types of hammers.
  8. Although you cannot see Lady Liberty’s feet clearly, she is in fact standing among a broken shackle and chains, with her right foot raised.  This is to depict forward movement away from oppression and slavery.
  9. The statue has been destroyed on the big screen in at least three movies – The Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, and The Day After Tomorrow.
  10. Since 1984, the statue has been a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  11. In high winds (50 mph), the statue can sway up to three inches.  Her upraised arm can sway up to five inches.
  12. Several people have attempted suicide by jumping off the statue.  However, only two were successful.
  13. In 1944 the lights in the crown flashed “dot-dot-dot-dash” which in the Morse code means V, for Victory in Europe.
  14. In 1982, it was discovered that the head had been installed two feet off center.
  15. From the time of its installation until 1902, the statue also served as a lighthouse, with visibility up to 24 miles away.

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is located on Liberty Island near New York City. Telephone 212-363-3200.  Liberty Island is open every day from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM, except December 25 (closed). Hours change seasonally.  To assist you in planning your visit, there is a free app for the Statue of Liberty & the nearby Ellis Island Museum of Immigration.

Photo Credit: The image used in the Pinterest graphic for this post is via Flickr by Ramanathan Kathiresan.

Statue of Liberty trivia
Trivia: Crossing the Rubicon

Trivia: Crossing the Rubicon

The Rubicon is a river in northeastern Italy. It is named from the Latin word rubico, which means “red” because its water is colored by red mud deposits.

“Crossing the Rubicon” is a phrase that means to commit oneself to a risky course of action or to go past the point of no return.

But why?

Well, because of Julius Caesar, that’s why.

The Rubicon marked the boundary between the Celt-inhabited part of Italy (called Cisalpine Gaul, or “this side of the Alps”) and the rest of Italy, which was controlled by Rome and its allies.

At the time, governors of Roman provinces were appointed promagistrates with the right to command (imperium). The governor would serve as head of the army, and according to Roman law, any promagistrate who entered Italy at the head of his troops forfeited his imperium.

Exercising imperium when forbidden to do so was a capital offense. Obeying the commands of a general who did not legally possess imperium was also a capital offense. If a general entered Italy while exercising command of an army, both the general and his soldiers became outlaws and were automatically condemned to death. Generals were morally and legally obliged to disband their armies before entering Italy.

In 49 AD, Julius Caesar led a legion south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul into Italy in order to make his way to Rome. In doing so, he broke the law regarding imperium. According to historical accounts, Caesar said, “the die is cast!” as he crossed the river, so he clearly knew what he was doing.

However, it did not come to a tragic end for Caesar. His decision to cross the Rubicon forced Roman leaders and a large part of the Roman Senate to flee in fear. Caesar’s Civil War ensued, and Caesar won. As a result, he never suffered any consequences for breaking the law of imperium.

What Big Ben Is… and Isn’t

What Big Ben Is… and Isn’t

I’ll give you the bottom line first. Big Ben is a bell, not a building or even a clock. You cannot see Big Ben in this photograph:

Big Ben

And sadly, unless you are a resident of the UK, you never will see Big Ben. The interior of the tower is not open to overseas visitors, although United Kingdom residents are able to arrange tours (well in advance) through their Member of Parliament. But there is no lift, only 300+ stairs, so maybe it’s just as well.

However, that will be changing. Next year, a three year long major renovation is due to take place. In addition to essential maintenance on the clock mechanism, a lift will be installed in the tower. The clock will be stopped for several months during the maintenance, and there will be no chimes. Striking and tolling will, however, be maintained for important events. Tours will also be suspended at the end of this year until the work on the Tower and Clock is complete.

The tower in which Big Ben resides was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to honor the queen for her Diamond Jubilee. In times past, it has also been known as the Clock Tower or St. Stephens Tower.

The clock is famous for its accurate timekeeping abilities. Each face of the clock bears a Latin inscription at the bottom which means O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First. 

On top of the clock’s pendulum is a small stack of old penny coins; these are to adjust the speed of the clock. Adding or removing a penny will change the clock’s speed by 0.4 seconds per day. In August of last year, the clock was discovered to be running 7 seconds fast. Coins were removed from its pendulum to correct the error, which caused it to run slow for a time.

Big Ben is the largest bell inside the Elizabeth Tower, and it is formally known as the Great Bell (there are four smaller bells known as quarter bells). It is 7 feet 6 inches tall and 9 feet in diameter.

Big Ben Bell London


Big Ben was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, who also made the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established as a business in 1570 and is still operating today. The Foundry can be toured, but tour availability is limited and must be booked well in advance. For more information, check the Foundry website.

Back to Big Ben. How it came to be called that is a matter of opinion. Some believe it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw the installation of the Great Bell. Others believe it was named after English heavyweight champion Benjamin Caunt.

Most people nowadays use the name to refer to the clock, the tower and the bell collectively, although sticklers like me cringe upon hearing it.

So, to review:

  • the bell is Big Ben or the Great Bell
  • the tower is the Elizabeth Tower

Any questions?



Trivia: Why Do All Roads Lead to Rome?

Trivia: Why Do All Roads Lead to Rome?

Over 2000 years ago in ancient Rome, Emperor Caesar Augustus erected a monument now known as the Milliarium Aureum, meaning golden milestone. All roads were considered to start from the monument, and all distances in the Empire were measured from that point.

Some have speculated that perhaps all the major cities in the empire and distances to them were listed on the monument, although the monument’s precise location and inscription are unknown for certain. Today, a marble structure speculated to be the base of the milestone can be seen in the Roman Forum.

This is why we say “All roads lead to Rome.” Back then, they did!

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

I’m a true history geek, and my favorite time & place in history is Tudor England. So Hampton Court Palace was very high on my list of places to visit when I went to London.

It is stunning from the minute it comes into view. Statues of heraldic animals holding shields line the main walkway to the palace gate. Large paned windows look out over the grounds as if standing guard. Ornate chimneys peek out from the rooftops.


My biggest complaint about Hampton Court was that when we were there, we were not allowed to take photographs inside the palace, with the only exception being the Tudor Kitchens. Thankfully, that is no longer the case.

The palace was mostly built by Cardinal Wolsey, who spend an insane amount of money on outfitting it with lavish decor, beautiful gardens, etc. When he sensed that he was beginning to lose favor with King Henry VIII, he gave the palace to the king. Once Henry VIII took over, he began expanding it to make room for his court. He started by quadrupling the size of the kitchen.



Next came the Great Hall and Tennis Court. The Great Hall took about five years to be completed and it was an impressive room!  Our guide told us that if we looked up at the eaves, we would find smiling faces looking down at us.  Sure enough, there were carved heads poking out at regular intervals.  We were told that the carved figures were incorporated into the design of the hall as a warning to guard your words carefully because the king had ears everywhere. These heads were the original eavesdroppers.


We were also shown The Haunted Gallery. It is said that Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was then confined to her room for a few days before being sent to her execution at the Tower of London. Legend claims she briefly escaped her guards and ran through The Haunted Gallery to beg Henry for her life but she was recaptured. They say her ghost haunts the gallery and that her screams are occasionally still heard there today.

Heading outside, the most notable feature of the palace is the Hampton Court astronomical clock. Still working, the clock shows the time of day, the phases of the moon, the month, the quarter of the year, the date, the sun and star sign, and high water at London Bridge. The tide information was of great importance to those visiting  from London, who would need to take a barge in order to return to the city.


The other significant era for Hampton Court Palace was the Stuart era, particularly during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II.  By this time the palace was considered old-fashioned and out of style. William & Mary decided to rebuild the palace, one section at a time. Their intention was to tear down and rebuild every portion of the palace except the Great Hall.

Noted architect Christopher Wren was called upon to design a new Baroque style palace and grounds. One of the areas that he designed (which I loved!) was the Fountain Court.


We managed to sneak in a quick photo of the King’s staircase, which was decorated with frescos and delicate ironwork. You can imagine how ornate and decorated everything else in this section of the palace was.


The palace – both the Tudor area and the Stuart area – was stunningly beautiful. Costumed employees were around to provide information and answer questions. And as wonderful as the building was, the grounds were equally beautiful, symmetrical and neatly trimmed, with not so much as a single leaf out of place.


Plus, you could hire a horse and carriage to take you for a ride around the gardens.


If you closed your eyes you could almost imagine that you were in another time, and that it was your palace. Or maybe that’s just me.

Hampton Court is a great day out from London, family-friendly, and romantic for the childless. I highly recommend a visit!

Hampton Court Palace is located at Surrey KT8 9AU.  Telephone +44 (0)20 3166 6000.  It is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.  It is easy to get to if you take the Tube to Waterloo station and then a train to Hampton Court.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Although I have never lived more than 2.5 hours away from Washington DC, and even went to college there, I had never visited the Lincoln Memorial. It seemed like there was always something else vying for my attention and time. So I decided it was about time I went to see it.


As with most monuments, there is a lot of hidden meaning and symbolism. The USA had thirty-six states when Lincoln was assassinated. The number of columns surrounding the memorial is also 36. The names of the states are also engraved in the frieze at the top of the building, as are the dates on which they entered the Union.

Once you enter, there is the big statue of Lincoln, seated in his chair. I know you’ve seen pictures and movies, so you know it’s big. But standing in front of it, big is not even close to being an adequate description. It’s just one of those things you have to see in person.


Interestingly, the sculptor positioned Lincoln’s hands in a manner that displayed the two traits that shaped his legacy. One of the president’s hands is clenched, representing his strength and determination to see the Civil War through to a successful conclusion. The other hand is more open and relaxed, representing his compassionate, warm nature.

The statue was originally intended to be only 10 feet tall, but was enlarged to nearly double that size – 19 feet tall from head to foot. To give you an idea of how big that is, imagine if the statue suddenly became animated and stood up. He would be 28 feettall!

It took four years just to complete the statue of Lincoln.

The north and south side of the memorial interior contain carved inscriptions of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address. The editor in me loves the story about how in the inscription of  Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, an engraver inadvertently carved a letter “E” where he meant to carve an “F.” This error was corrected by filling in a portion of the carving.

lincoln 8.JPG

While you’re there looking at the Lincoln statue, be sure to turn around for one of the best views of the Washington Monument and the Reflecting pool you will ever see.

monument view 2.JPG

And, as I always say, don’t forget to look up!

lincoln 9.JPG

Take the time to visit this memorial and ponder the significance of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency on our country. You’ll be glad you did.

Confession:  I have never been to the Washington Monument or the Jefferson Memorial, either. Stay tuned!

The Lincoln Memorial is located at the Western end of the National Mall and Memorial Park in Washington DC.  Public parking is available along Ohio Drive, SW between the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials. If taking public transportation, the closest Metro stop is Foggy Bottom (orange and blue lines), about a mile away. The monument can be visited any time, day or night, 365 days per year.

Trivia: Taking George Washington Literally

Trivia: Taking George Washington Literally

There is a statue of George Washington sitting outside the national Gallery in London. It’s odd enough to see someone who fought against the British in the 1700s memorialized in England. Odder still to know that there is Virginia soil beneath the statue.

Apparently  our first president said that he would never set foot on British soil again. So when they wanted to erect the statue in memory of him, they shipped in soil from Virginia to put under it and therefore honor his wishes.