Posts filed under “Travel”


What do Oklahoma, California, Indiana, Houston, Dallas, Boston, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Washington, New Castle, Armagh, Paris, and Mars have in common?

Long-time readers have probably already answered correctly that they are all places in western Pennsylvania.

We have not even ventured into the eastern half of the state, where we also find Dublin and Belfast and Bangor, and Lancaster and Reading and York and Shrewsbury, and Hanover and Hamburg and Heidelberg, and Bethlehem and Nazareth and Emmaus, and even the New Jerusalem.

Also in the east we find a Wyoming Valley. And it may surprise Westerners to discover that the state of Wyoming—this is absolutely true, and you can look it up for yourself—was named for the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, because their new home reminded the early settlers so much of Scranton. (It is an even more remarkable fact that the populations of the two Wyomings, the state in the West and the Scranton metropolitan area, are nearly identical, and you can look that up, too.)

This subject came up the other day when one of Dr. Boli’s frequent readers was remarking on the names of places in Pennsylvania. Her hypothesis was that the name of any conceivable place can also be found somewhere in Pennsylvania.

So far Dr. Boli has had a hard time disproving this hypothesis.

This is true in spite of Pennsylvania’s well-known habit of recycling names for townships. You must give the name of its county with the name of the township, so that when you mention Elizabeth Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, nobody thinks you mean Elizabeth Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There is also no rule against recycling names in city neighborhoods, so there is an Allentown in the eastern part of the state and an Allentown in Pittsburgh, and yes it does cause confusion every day.

It is also true in spite of the fact that Pennsylvania is notorious for names that occur nowhere else, and could not occur to a sane mind, from Acmetonia to Zelienople. A little education is a dangerous thing in a town founder. What shall we call our new oil boomtown? think the fathers of a new settlement. There is already an Oil City in the Pennsylvania oil country—but there is no Oleopolis. Well, there is now! And now that those two names are both taken, well, there’s always Petrolia.

And it is also true in spite of the Pennsylvanian predilection for abstract concepts as names of towns. Industry, Economy, Prosperity, Amity, Freedom, Harmony, Pleasant Unity—all these abstractions are also places in western Pennsylvania.

In spite of all these things, Pennsylvania is stuffed with familiar names in unfamiliar contexts. The graduates of California University and Indiana University will tell you that they always have some explaining to do. When Pennsylvanians want to make distinctions, they have to be very specific: for example, Pittsburghers will refer to Washington, Pennsylvania, as “Little Worshington” to distinguish it from the District of Columbia. (On the other hand, once you get close enough to Little Worshington, then it is just Worshington, and the District of Columbia is Big Worshington.)

This seems like a good project to turn the readers loose on. Get out your maps. Which famous cities and places can you not find in Pennsylvania? And which names pop up that you didn’t expect to find there? And finally, what is your favorite unlikely Pennsylvania name, and can you do better than “Punxsutawney”?


Cuba You Quit Way

We were talking about the names of Pittsburgh alleys a while ago—or rather ways, since there are officially no alleys in Pittsburgh. Our friend Father Pitt points out another interesting name from a 1923 map. (It appears that, on current maps, this is regarded as a continuation of Diaz Way.)


It is a curious fact that there are no alleys in the city of Pittsburgh. Like most facts, this one is not true except in a meaningless technical sense: that nothing in Pittsburgh is officially called an alley. Some alleys are called “street” or “avenue” (for that matter, many a concrete or wooden stairway is called “avenue”), but the usual name for an alley is “way.”

It has occurred to Dr. Boli more than once that the standards for naming these “ways” are different from the standards for naming streets. Street names usually have to have some marginal attachment to meaning. Sometimes there is a theme: the Mexican War Streets, for example, are so called because they are named for battles in the Mexican War; the streets in Bellevue are named for Civil War generals; the streets in West View are named for universities and colleges; and so on. Sometimes streets are named for trees or flowers. Sometimes they are named for things that used to be there, like an old estate on which a city neighborhood was built.

But “ways” seem to be named as often as not by flipping open a dictionary or encyclopedia at random and pointing at a word blindfolded. Here, in no order at all, is a list of “ways” in Pittsburgh whose names have at various times struck Dr. Boli as odd or amusing:

Woolslayer Way
Cabinet Way
Lycurgus Way
Asteroid Way
Sewer Way
Pitcher Way
Crooked Way
Gypsum Way
Equator Way
Comet Way
Fred Way
Urn Way
Telegraph Way
Vanilla Way
Relic Way
Livery Way
Alhambra Way
Asterisk Way
Parody Way
Archon Way
Alcove Way
Lunar Way
Pandora Way
Appian Way
Plummet Way
Revision Way
Highnote Way
Investor Way
Pontoon Way
Minor Way
Repeal Way
Petite Way
Caress Way
Rope Way
Brim Way
Press Way
Boer Way
Saturn Way
Cameo Way
Betty Jane Ralph Way
Quartz Way
Legion Way

Now, for the sake of absolute honesty, Dr. Boli will note that one of those odd names has a foundation in history. Rope Way was a rope walk two hundred years ago: a rope factory was set up next to it, and a long straightway was necessary for pulling the strands straight and twisting them together. Perhaps some of these other ways have similar histories: perhaps they ran past manufactories of asteroids or betty jane ralphs. But Dr. Boli does not know those histories, so the names remain inexplicable to him.


© OpenStreetMap contributors. Licensed under the Open Data Commons Open Database License.

And of course most of it is a stairway, because it exists in Pittsburgh. It is a very short walk from the Hampshire stop on the Red Line trolley. There is nothing in particular to see except a few very Pittsburghish houses and storefronts and an old neighborhood silent-movie palace, but you can tell your friends you have walked the entire length of Parody Way, and they will be suitably impressed.

This is strict truth, because Dr. Boli considers April Fool’s Day the most sacred holiday of the year.


Five Famous Buckets You Must See Before You Die.

The Old Oaken Bucket, located at the Woodworth House in Scituate, Massachusetts, inspired the famous song by Samuel Woodworth——

The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket,
The moss-covered bucket which hung in the well.

This remains one of the most famous songs ever written about a bucket.

The Devil’s Bucket, northeast of Dead Armadillo, Texas, is a hole in the ground, approximately twelve feet in diameter, whose shape gives it an uncanny resemblance to a large bucket.

King Ethelbeard’s Bucket, a large golden vessel encrusted with precious stones and elaborate Saxon filigree work, is used by Queen Elizabeth to water her petunias. It may be viewed by the public at Buckingham Palace every year on Bucket Day.

The Amazing Farmer’s Bucket Theme Park in Qianxinan Buyei, China, has as its centerpiece a three-hundred-foot-tall mechanical figure of a farmer carrying a bucket. Riders ascend an elevator to the shoulder and slide down the interior of the arm into the bucket, and the “farmer” dumps them on his “garden.”

The George Jasnorzewski Memorial Bucket Truck in Grant Borough is used every year to place the Christmas decorations on the borough building. It is named for Mr. Jasnorzewski, who tragically died at his desk in the borough building while filling out the requisition forms for a bucket truck.


Probably not in South Africa.

In Porto-Novo, Benin, laundry cannot be hung out to dry until it is blessed by the Archbishop.

Any resident of Coosawhatchie, South Carolina, who ambles across the highway in less than four and a half minutes is socially ostracized and has to move to Ridgeland.

In Cleveland, every April 1, traffic police amuse residents by enforcing the no left turn signs.

Capes are seldom worn in Cape Town.

In New Delhi, it is customary to give cabinet ministers gifts of socks with gold clocks in the hope of favorably influencing their decisions. It never works.

When a freshly married couple in Yoshinogawa, Japan, reach their new abode, the bride is carried across the threshold by an Amazon Prime delivery driver.

It is considered poor manners to wave frantically with the left hand while falling from a tall building in Dubai.


Photo of a Vatican City teller machine by Seth Schoen, who has released it under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

In one country in the world, you can use a teller machine in Latin, which makes Dr. Boli happy. The Google translation of the words on screen (click on the photo to enlarge it) makes him even happier. Dr. Boli knows that Google Translate’s Latin translations tend toward the surreal, so he had to find out what Google had to say in this case. Dr. Boli interpreted “Inserito scidulam quaeso ut faciundam cognoscas rationem” as something like “Please insert card for operating instructions.” But Google interprets it as “I beg you to do anything you know them to the character of a card inside the mouth.” That is much more poetic than Dr. Boli’s interpretation.


IF YOU LOOK up “Smyrna” in Google, you get a little box with the beginning of the Wikipedia article: “Smyrna (Ancient Greek: Σμύρνη, Smýrnē or Σμύρνα, Smýrna) was a Greek city dating back to antiquity located at a central and strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia.” And you get a map of Smyrna and its suburb Clayton and the 3 Palms Zoo & Education Center.