Some birthplaces of people inspire great monuments and a flood of tourist traffic. When it’s the birth of an idea, a product, or a movement, you may find the place where it all began to be far more humble.
There are so many, from blue jeans, plutonium and the Cobb salad, to Slinkies, kazoos and the Blues, there are birth sites — precise spots in the ground where these things first came into being. In many cases, these locations are obscure – they’re unmarked or they have been forgotten altogether. For that reason, they don’t turn up on too many travel itineraries. I mean, you might be walking mere blocks away from the birthplace of the cheeseburger, the Internet or where the song “Happy Birthday To You” was written without even knowing it.
Here are a few random ones worth stumbling upon:
Pass the Pepper, please!
Was Dr Pepper really inspired by the sensitive nose of a pharmacist? In 1885, Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist working at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas, is believed to have invented the drink, using his acute sense of smell. He spent most of his time mixing up medicine for customers, but in his spare time, he enjoyed serving carbonated drinks at the soda fountain. But mostly, he loved the smell of the drugstore where the aromas of all the various fruit syrups mixed together in the air. He decided to try to capture it by creating a drink that tasted like that smell. Keeping a journal, he experimented repeatedly until he finally hit upon a mixture of fruit syrups that he liked. Morrison is also credited with naming the drink “Dr. Pepper” (the period was dropped in the 1950s).
Unfortunately, the exact origin is unclear, though the Dr Pepper Museum has collected more than a dozen different stories on how the drink obtained its peculiar name. To this day, the Dr Pepper Company is the oldest major manufacturer of soft drink concentrates and syrups in the United States.
Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store, originally located in Waco at the corner of N. 4th Street and Austin Avenue, can now be seen here at the Dr Pepper Museum, located at 300 S. 5th Street in Waco. The exceptional museum tour includes many interesting smells and flavors in the Old Corner Drug Store, a tour of the bottling room, the chance to crown a soft drink bottle and, of course, enjoy Dr Pepper in the soda fountain.
A golden opportunity
James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848 on the South Fork of the American River in Coloma, California. This event led to the greatest mass movement of people in the Western Hemisphere and was the spark that ignited the spectacular growth of the West during the ensuing decades. The precise gold discovery site is located in the still–visible tailrace of Sutter’s sawmill and, though it’s a bit of a challenge to locate, a historic marker fills you in on the exact details once you arrive at this, one of the most significant historic sites in the nation.
In addition to this birthplace of the Gold Rush, the park here at 310 Back Street in Coloma has a museum, a replica of the sawmill and a number of historic buildings. Visitors also have the opportunity to try panning for gold in the American River or enjoy a picnic under the trees. The monument and statue placed above Marshall’s gravesite (who died in 1885) is California’s first historic landmark.
To boldly go to a future birthplace
In Riverside, Iowa, is one of the stranger birth sites in the United States, for the birth has yet to take place. The city officially proclaimed itself the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, a character from the television show “Star Trek” played by William Shatner. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” asserts in his book “The Making of Star Trek” that the character of Kirk had been born in the state of Iowa. In March 1985, when the town was looking for a theme for its annual town festival, Steve Miller, a member of the Riverside City Council who had read Roddenberry’s book, suggested to the council that Riverside should proclaim itself to be the future birthplace of Kirk. Miller’s motion passed unanimously.
The council later wrote to Roddenberry for his permission to be designated as the official birthplace of Kirk, and Roddenberry agreed. The proclamation declaring the town the “Official Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk,” signed by Gene Roddenberry, is housed, along with a carved wooden statue of James T. Kirk, at the Riverside Area Community Club on Route 22 in downtown Riverside. A large stone and plaque in the rear of the building purport to be the site of the future farmstead and birthplace of James Kirk, March 22, 2228.
Birthplaces are all around us
Birthplaces are all around us: in far-off fields, alleys, and along the back roads. They give us a glimpse back in time when the first sparks flew. Some may not be the most impressive visually or architecturally, but they have soul and spirit and they capture definitive moments for us. They make it easier to think about great beginnings and inspirations, which I think is perfect fodder for the inquisitive traveler.
Chris Epting is an author, award-winning journalist/photographer and dedicated road tripper. His best-selling books including James Dean Died Here (the locations of America’s pop culture landmarks), Roadside Baseball, and The Birthplace Book, along with many others that remain popular with many travelers and RVers throughout the country and world. He is excited to be contributing to RVTravel.com and looks forward to helping to lead you places you may not have discovered otherwise. You may learn more about Chris at his author’s site, www.chrisepting.com.