Centres of the World and Centres of the Universe

This article will alternate between using ‘Centre’ and ‘Center’ in location names depending upon the locales referenced.

Forget your preconceptions that the centre of the Earth lies inside an incredibly dense, ultra-hot core thousands of kilometres below the planet’s surface, or that the universe is a giant homogeneic expanse with no discernable central point. The centres of both can be found in multiple places all across North America. Just look at these seven examples.

The first candidate is a hamlet in northeastern Ohio actually named Center of the World. The village was established in the early 19th century by an investor named Randall Wilmot who intended the town to be the hub of industry in the region, anticipating the incoming railways. Instead, when the rails came, they chose nearby Warren as their major hub in the region, and Center of the World remained merely a hamlet. Today, Center of the World consists of a few dozen houses and a handful of businesses clustered along the roadway.

Centeroftheworld

The road sign welcoming people to Center of the World, Ohio. Source: Zzzucx, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Centeroftheworld.jpg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 licence.

Back in 2011 for Google Sightseeing‘s Desert Week, I wrote about Felicity, California. Located just off a exit ramp in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, Felicity was established in 1985 by skydiving pioneer/investor/budding children’s author Jacques-André Istel. Istel had just written a book about a fictional town at the centre of the world named after his wife, Felicia called Coe The Good Dragon at the Center of the World. Deciding to make his fictional town a reality, Istel chose a site in the desert just off of Interstate 8 that he had admired since his days as a paratrooper in the Korean War and promptly declared Felicity to be the Official Center of the World – after all, who would argue with a fairy tale? The site has become a rather unique tourist attraction. To be certain, though Istel indeed makes his residence there and there is a post office established at Felicity, there’s no actual town there. Instead, Istel has constructed a fantastical array of monuments meant to be both serious and whimsical, including the  hollow, mirror-laden pink granite pyramid that houses the bronze plaque denoting the Official Center of the World.

Center_of_the_world_pyramid

Source: Kirs10, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Center_of_the_world_pyramid.JPG. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence.

Upon visiting the Center, visitors receive a certificate, signed by Istel himself, recording both their visit and the exact time they stepped on the plaque. Visitors are then obligates to make a wish. There’s also the Church on the Hill which lies atop the Hill of Prayer (the earthquake-proofed hill was built in 2002 using 150,000 tonnes of sand); a 7.6 m (25 ft) high set of steps taken from the Eiffel Tower, a large sundial which uses a replica of the Arm of God from the Sistine Chapel to tell time (the arm also points at the church), and the incredible Museum of History in Granite, an outdoor arrangement of 416 granite monument panels arranged along 33 m (100 ft) long wedge-shaped walls (the large keyhole-shaped outdoor formation at the centre of Felicity strikingly visible in satellite imagery). Each panel is engineered to last 4 000 years and is engraved with historical and world facts covering a wide range of subjects (the history of the world, the history of humanity, famous wars), as well as engraved replicas of famous pieces of art. Visitors also have the opportunity to have their own, or loved ones’, names engraved on a panel.

For when the aliens come

The Church on the Hill and the Hill of Prayer rise above one of the incredibly detailed walls. Source: M. Towber, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mtowber/8305167224/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

But why settle for being merely the center of the planet when you can claim the title of being the centre of the entire universe? At least five places in the United States and Canada make that claim.

A lakeside resort in British Columbia’s Deadman Valley located about 50 km/30 mi from the nearest highway cites Tibetan Buddhism as its claim to being the spiritual centre of the universe. Located above Vidette Lake, the rural locale of Vidette was an old roadhouse along the early-to-mid 19th century Brigade Trail used by the Hudson’s Bay Company to transport goods between Fort Vancouver (now Vancouver, Washington) on the Columbia River and Fort Alexandria (now Alexandria, British Columbia) on the middle stretch of the Fraser River. Later, Vidette was a mining camp during the Great Depression that produced 28 000 oz (870 g) of gold during its six-year run. In more recent decades, the property became a wilderness resort popular with fishermen and canoeists. One day in 1980, the resort’s owner was greeted by a young monk from San Francisco who had been dispatched by his lama Tarthang Tulku to pinpoint the centre of the universe. The location Tarthang had identified to the young monk on a map was a knoll 600 m (655 yd) above the resort. Since then, the resort has played host to many pilgrims and spirtualists in addition to the outdoorsmen, rockhounders, and cottagers that make up much of its clientele. The precise ‘Centre of the Universe’ site, located high above the valley, is a rather stunning locale. Below, a guided tour to the ‘Centre of the Universe’:

The location also carries with it a legend that an underground-dwelling dragon that rose out of Vidette Lake lives in a hole above the nearby Deadman Falls, and will revitalise visitors with spiritual energy.

A less esoteric British Columbian nominee for ‘Centre of the Universe’ is the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory’s Centre of the Universe interpretative centre. Located atop a hill in suburban Saanich, this Centre of Universe is open to the public May through September and is home to the Plaskett Telescope, which was constructed in 1918. At the time of its construction, the 182 cm (72 in) telescope was the second-largest optical reflecting telescope in the world; today that honour belongs to the Gran Telescopio Canarias on La Palma in the Canary Islands at 10.4 m (410 in).

Centre of the Universe, Saanich, British Columbia.

Or, perhaps the Center of the Universe is a pedestrian overpass in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When crossing over the railway between 1st and Archer streets in downtown Tulsa, pedestrians come across a brick circle in the middle of the crossing. This circle denotes a location with unique acoustic properties: when you make noise here, it will echo in your ears, but no one outside the circle can hear it, and no one outside the circle can make noise that creates an echo in your ears. Tulsans are so proud of the spot that the city has even borrowed its name for a major music festival this summer featuring 70 acts and expected to host 40 000 visitors. Adding to the quirkiness of the spot is that it stand directly in front of the Artificial Cloud, a 22.1 m (72.5 ft) tall sculpture that is literally just a cartoon cloud at the top of a pole adorned with symbols of stick people, hands, and airplanes.

Untitled

The Center of the Universe. Really. Source: C.J. Reed, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mulmatsherm/2221445728/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Finally, two US villages bear signs that proclaim their respective locations to be the centre of the universe. According to the 2010 US census, the population of tiny Magnolia, Delaware was just 225. Yet, the wee burg is home to this semi-official ‘town sign’:

Egotistical Town Sign

Source: J. Emerson, http://www.flickr.com/photos/auvet/5616369221/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic licence.

Well, besides the issue of the Earth revolving around the Sun and not the centre of the universe, what’s notable about the sign is its age (nearly 120 years old at this point, which is quite impressive for a humble wooden sign) and that fact that it was mounted in front of the home of John B. Lindale, one of Delaware’s last peach barons. Built as the centre piece of Lisdale’s plantation, the impressive semi-mansion dates to 1886 and is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.

John_B._Lindale_House_&_Farm,_24_South_Main_Street,_Magnolia,_Kent_County,_DE

John B. Lisdale House, Magnolia, Delaware. The ‘Center of the Universe’ sign is just off to the right.

Finally, there is another old mining post, Wallace, located in the Idaho Panhandle. Many know the village as the last location of a traffic light on a coast-to-coast Interstate highway in the US (the town was finally bypassed by an elevated expressway in 1991), but it may be the only place to legally designate itself as ‘Center of the Universe’. Under the premise that any claim that cannot be disproven is by default proven and employing ‘science’ supposedly peer-reviewed by both La Cosa Nostra and the Flat Earth Society, in 2004 the mayor of Wallace declared that the centre lay within Wallace at the intersection of Bank and Sixth streets in downtown Wallace. The location is marked with a commemorative pothole cover.

Center of the Universe Sign Wallace, Idaho - The center of the universe

The Center of the Universe pothole cover and the street sign that points to said cover. Sources: J. Emerson, http://www.flickr.com/photos/auvet/3753215810/, and oregon ducatisti, http://www.flickr.com/photos/ducatisti/5895800359/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic licence.

Further Reading

Chancellor, J. (2013). Center of the Universe Festival organizers talk about inaugural event. Tulsa World, 2 May 2013. Available at http://www.tulsaworld.com/article.aspx/Center_of_the_Universe_Festival_organizers_talk_about/20130502_269_D1_CUTLIN571116. Accessed 29 May 2013.

Kirby, D. et al. (2007). Official Center of the World. Roadside America, Spring 2007. Available at http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/2036. Accessed 30 May 2013.

FelicityUSA.com (2013). Felicity, California. Available at http://www.felicity.us/home.html. Accessed 30 May 2013.

Howder, T. (2009). Center of the Universe. Twelve Mile Circle, 3 March 2009. Available at http://www.howderfamily.com/blog/center-of-the-universe/. Accessed 29 May 2013.

Hutchinson, B. (2007). Centre of the universe found in a meadow. The National Post, 1 August 2007. Available at http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=66,4586,0,0,1,0. Accessed 29 May 2013.

Marsh, G. (2010). Center of the Universe. Historic Wallace Idaho, 6 November 2010. Available at http://wallace-id.com/centeroftheuniverse.html. Accessed 29 May 2012.

National Research Council Canada (2013). Centre of the Universe. 29 May 2013. Available at https://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/outreach/cu/index.html. Accessed 29 May 2013.

onlyinoklahoma (2008). Journey to the Center of the Universe.  3 January 2008. Available at http://onlyinoklahoma.wordpress.com/2008/01/03/journey-to-the-center-of-the-universe-in-oklahoma/. Accessed 29 May 2013.

Town of Magnolia (2013). History. Available at http://magnolia.delaware.gov/community/town-history-and-photos-2/. Accessed 29 May 2013.

Vidette Lake Gold Mine Resort (2012). Vidette Lake Gold Mine Resort. Available at http://www.videttelake.com/. Accessed 29 May 2013.

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