Because of their proud self-proclamation, “world capitals” often offer the traveler a chance to experience interesting regional quirks, traditions, lore, and history. Remember that next time you see one of those signs. Perhaps the place is worth a short detour; a moment to revel in some local color or strangeness. Or even just buy a T-shirt.
See, these places say a lot about how our country presents itself to the rest of the world. There is some chest-thumping, sure, but it’s also a kind of cry for attention, I think. These are not all glamorous “capital” claims we are talking about. But they do tell stories.
Tales of fire hydrants and earmuffs
Consider Albertville, Alabama. Thanks to the Mueller Company, one of the world leaders in the production of fire hydrants, Albertville is The Fire Hydrant Capital of the World. This distinction was bestowed upon the city when the company produced its one-millionth fire hydrant in 1989. In honor of the event, a nickel-plated hydrant on a pedestal was placed outside of the Chamber of Commerce – something to remember while on a Southern-swing road trip when Rover needs a bit of relief, sure, but what a nice lesson about an industrious company, too.
Farmington, Maine, knows what it brought to the dance. Hey, it’s The Earmuff Capital of the World, which brings us to a nice story of ingenious youth. And who doesn’t love that? Chester Greenwood, they said, had his ears turn “chalky white, beet red and deep blue” in the winter freeze, which is what led him, in 1874, to create what he called “The Greenwood Champion Ear Protector.” The grammar-school dropout had grown frustrated trying to keep his ears warm while ice-skating, and when a scarf failed to provide the warmth he craved, he crafted two ear-shaped loops from wire and then had his grandmother sew fur on them. And as it is easy to imagine, the invention was a hit. In fact, within just three years, Greenwood had earned himself a United States Patent for earmuffs.
What to do next but open a factory, so that is what Greenwood did, and within several years he was cranking out upwards of 30,000 earmuffs each year. In fact, Greenwood made a good part of his fortune providing ear protectors to U.S. soldiers during World War I, and he would later patent other inventions as well. In 1977, Maine’s legislation declared December 21st as “Chester Greenwood Day” and there is a parade that still takes place each year in his honor on the first Saturday in December (don’t miss the police cars dressed up as giant earmuffs).
Bedding for a Ruffed Grouse
Kalamazoo, Michigan, is The Bedding Plant Capital of the World and this is a place that knows a thing or two about centers of the universe. At one time it was “The Paper City” in honor of all the paper and cardboard mills. Then it was “The Celery City” after the crop that dominated the area. Who could forget “The Mall City” after they opened the first open-air pedestrian mall in 1959? (Actually, I could and I did, as there are several mall-related “first” claims.) At one time or another, the city has also been where Checker cabs, Gibson guitars, and the Roamer automobile were manufactured.
Today it has settled on “The Bedding Plant Capital of the World,” in honor of the fact that they are home to the largest bedding plant cooperative in the U.S. You know bedding plants, right? Those are the fast-growing, usually colorful plants that create all of those seasonal displays and backdrops for more prominent flowers. And Kalamazoo has every right to make the claim as they produce upwards of 75 percent of this country’s floral bedding.
These places can be weird. But they make the road what it is; a little weird, a bit quirky, but always interesting.
Travel safely; see you next week.
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.