I recently mentioned Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings book Maphead. Being a maphead myself, I liked it from the beginning, but like turned to something more when I read Chapter 4. Called “Benchmarks”, it told about Jennings visit to the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. He called it “the largest map collection ever assembled in human history”.
He remembered looking at a map of Alexandria, Virginia, before there even was an Alexandria, Virginia. It was, actually, a survey map of the area’s landowners. Jennings found the indexing sticker to learn the name of the mapmaker. It was George Washington. Jennings said he felt “a little twinge of vertigo” for 2 reasons. First, he was holding a map drawn by GEORGE WASHINGTON and, second, it came out of what he called a nondescript drawer.
This is the same emotion I felt in the little museum in Fulton, Missouri, that has grown into the excellent and extensive National Churchill Museum. If you haven’t heard of this, you’re probably asking, “Why is the National Churchill Museum in a little town in Missouri?” Fulton is the home of Westminster College. In 1946 Winston Churchill gave a speech there in which the expression “Iron Curtain” was uttered for the first time.
Since NCM was remodeled in 2006, I doubt if my most memorable map is still on display. After looking at the Churchill stuff, I wandered down a back hallway. On its walls were a bunch of old maps. One of them was a map of the New World drawn by a crew member on a Christopher Columbus voyage. I was staring at what looked like an amoeba. What the sailor was trying to draw was an island he had briefly seen with a couple of observed landmarks. As I thrilled to it, I wondered how it ended up in a hallway in Fulton, Missouri, etc.
Maphead‘s Chapter 4 is a feast of eclectic information related to maps. For example, the Library of Congress founded by John Adams has always collected them. In fact, its first shipment from England included 3 maps and an atlas.
There’s no such thing as a pirate’s map, at least none have ever been found & authenticated. They’re figments of fiction writers’ imaginations, not the painstakingly drawn keys to buried treasure made by the likes of Blackbeard. I’m not so sure I like knowing this.
In medieval Europe, people hated surveyors because they had the power to make maps that might result in the loss of part of your field, etc. A modern equivalent might be our fear of the IRS.
The Four Corners Monument where you can stand on Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah is placed according to an inaccurate survey map. The actual spot is at least 1,807 feet to the east. There goes another fantasy.
Towards the end of Chapter 4 Jennings gets into unusual names as I did in ‘Bland Virginia’, February 10, 2012’s blog. But his is funnier. He tells about places in England with some rather crude names–Titty Ho, Wetwang, Cockplay, etc.