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25 Facts About Places Named Springfield

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Where exactly do the Simpsons live? In 2012, show creator Matt Groening revealed to Smithsonian magazine that his fictional Springfield “was named after Springfield, Oregon,” which lies near his hometown of Portland. “I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S.”

He’s not wrong. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names lists 67 Springfields across the U.S.—but the name isn't just an American phenomenon. Almost every English-speaking country on earth has a town, village, or city called Springfield. One was the birthplace of basketball. Another is where Abe Lincoln started a family. And yet another is home to the biggest fork you’ll (probably) ever see. Here’s the Mental Floss guide to just a few of those Springfields.

SPRINGFIELD, ESSEX // UNITED KINGDOM

1. You can thank this suburb and parish of 20,000 in the Chelmsford district, and one of its citizens, for all of America's Springfields. Puritan and future New Englander William Pynchon was born in Essex's Springfield on October 11, 1590, and when the community that he founded in modern-day Massachusetts was looking for a new name in 1640, they decided to honor the birthplace of the town’s founder and call it Springfield. It was the start of a continent-wide trend: In neighboring colonies and beyond, other cities started re-using the name like crazy. The rest is history.

SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS

2. The Bay State’s third-largest city is the birthplace of Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. After he passed away in 1991, Springfield's residents created the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Located on Edwards Street, it contains bronze statues of his most beloved characters, including Horton, the Grinch, and the Lorax. There’s also a likeness of Geisel himself, flanked by the Cat in the Hat. The project was completed in 2002 at a cost of $6.2 million.

3. Here’s another fun fact for bibliophiles: The publishing company that would become Merriam-Webster, Inc. was established here in 1831 by brothers George and Charles Merriam. Twelve years later, the company acquired the right to distribute and modify An American Dictionary by the late Noah Webster, and Merriam-Webster Dictionaries were born. They sold well: In 1850, New York state alone ordered 10,000 copies of the 1847 edition for its school system.

4. Each autumn, the Springfield metro area hosts one of New England’s favorite events. Nicknamed “The Big E,” the Eastern States Exposition is the largest annual fair in the northeast. Over a million people drop by every year for 17 days of great food, thrilling concerts, and a "Mardi Gras" parade.

5. Springfield, Massachusetts is called “the City of Firsts,” and for good reason. America’s first government postcards were made here by the Morgan Envelope Company in 1873. Springfield resident Solymon Merrick patented the first adjustable wrench in 1835—and just three years later, Merrick was awarded a patent for the first hand-held hole punch.

6. The city’s most famous invention is the game of basketball. Canadian transplant James Naismith created it in the winter of 1891. At the time, he was employed by the Springfield YMCA as an instructor. His boss, Luther Halsey Gulick, assigned him to a class of young men who desperately wanted to play some kind of indoor sport during the colder months. One brainstorming session and 13 rules later, Naismith unleashed basketball. Appropriately, Springfield is also home to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which has been educating fans since 1968.

SPRINGFIELD, NEBRASKA

7. Lady Gaga’s “You and I” music video was shot in and around this city of 1600 in July 2011. Why’d Mother Monster pick this locale? Her then-boyfriend, Lüc Carl, is a Springfield native whose parents still lived there.

SPRINGFIELD, NEW JERSEY // UNION COUNTY

8. New Jersey has two Springfields, the larger of which is a township in Union County. On June 23, 1780, an important Revolutionary War battle occurred there. Hoping to strike George Washington at his encampment in Morristown, 5000 British and Hessian men marched into town. The invaders were repelled by some 1500 Continental soldiers and 500 New Jersey militiamen. For the Americans, this was a great victory, but it came at an awful price: Before the British left, they burned down most of Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD, VIRGINIA

9. On her first visit to the U.S., Princess Diana and her husband, Prince Charles, took a break from political banquets to check out the Springfield Mall. In their honor, the resident J.C. Penney set up a “Best of Britain” display. Judging by this photo, the royals seemed to enjoy themselves. (Diana bought an $8 silk scarf.)

SPRINGFIELD, MANITOBA // CANADA

10. Unlike the previous entries on our list, this Springfield isn’t any kind of city, township, or village. Instead, it’s a “rural municipality”—the oldest in Manitoba—that contains several small towns. If you like flowers, Birds Hill Provincial Park should be your first stop. Located primarily in Springfield, it's a safe haven for the western silvery aster. Recognized as a threatened species, the perennial is easily identified by its gorgeous violet to pink petals. Canada’s biggest population of them can be found at Birds Hill, where around 4200 now take root [PDF].

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS

11. When Illinois entered the union in 1818, Kaskaskia became its first capital. Then, in 1820, Vandalia became the seat of government—a role it might have kept if not for a state senator named Abraham Lincoln. In 1837, Lincoln organized a coalition with eight other legislators. Since these men were unusually tall for their time (each one was at least 6 feet in height), newspapers took to calling them “The Long Nine.” Together, they pushed through a bill which turned Springfield—Lincoln’s home—into Illinois’s capital.

12. You can’t turn your head in Springfield without seeing something Lincoln-related. America’s 16th president lived there for 23 years, during which time he became a husband and father. Lincoln is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery; less than two miles away is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where you can buy an Abe Lincoln bobblehead doll. History buffs can also visit the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the church his family attended, and Abe’s old law offices.

13. This particular Springfield's signature dish is the horseshoe sandwich. Originally conceived at the Leland Hotel, the sandwiches are open-faced and typically include two thick slices of bread and either a fried ham steak or huge hamburger patties. Piled atop the whole mess is a heap of French fries—which supposedly represent the “nails” of a horseshoe—covered in mouthwatering cheese sauce. Put your diet on hold and try one someday.

14. Did you know that Santa Anna, the self-described “Napoleon of the West,” had a prosthetic leg? He was forced to abandon it during the Mexican-American War. His fake limb was quickly snapped up by the 4th Illinois Infantry and brought to Springfield, where it’s now occasionally on display at the Illinois State Military Museum.

15. On December 15, 2007, 97-year-old Polly Roesch became the oldest singer to debut with a symphony orchestra, performing “Silver Bells” at the Springfield Sangamon Auditorium. Her solos were part of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra’s annual Holiday Pops Concert. Roesch returned for an encore at the 2008 show. Then, in 2010, she celebrated her 100th birthday with yet another Holiday Pops performance. “The worst thing you can do is be inactive,” she told The Illinois Times. “Get out, and get busy.”

SPRINGFIELD, OREGON

16. Before he made it big as a movie star, teenage Clint Eastwood worked at a Springfield pulp mill, where he earned $1.80 an hour.

17. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In 1972, city employee Russell Ziolkowski built a replica of Springfield’s official seal using nothing but items that he’d found in local sewers. His mosaic features more than 5200 assorted objects, including earrings, marbles, and dentures. Check out the masterpiece for yourself at City Hall, where it’s proudly on display.

SPRINGFIELD, NEW ZEALAND

18. To publicize The Simpsons Movie, 20th Century Fox gave this town an 11.5-foot fiberglass doughnut statue. Unfortunately, an arsonist set fire to it in 2009. A pink truck tire was used as a temporary replacement before Fox sent over a new and improved concrete replica.

SPRINGFIELD, OHIO

19. While superintendent of schools in Springfield, Ohio, Albert Belmont Graham decided to start an agricultural club for the area’s children to teach them some of the scientific aspects of crop growing. This club is generally credited with growing into the modern 4-H.

SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI

20. World record enthusiasts have never verified this, but Springfield insists that it’s got the largest fork on planet Earth. The 35-foot-tall, 11-ton utensil was originally built to promote a long-gone restaurant; it now sits in front of an ad agency’s headquarters on Chesterfield Boulevard.

21. One hundred and fifty years ago, Missouri was considered a “western” state. In 1865, Springfield even gave birth to a quintessential piece of old western lore: the showdown. That summer, an argument erupted between Civil War veteran Dave Tutt and “Wild Bill” Hickok, a professional gambler. While the exact events have changed in the retellings, an 1867 account explains that on July 20, Tutt and Hickok had a disagreement over gambling debts that led to Tutt stealing Hickok’s watch. The next day, the two faced off against each other in Springfield’s town square—as Tutt was wearing the watch. They pulled guns and fired near simultaneously; Tutt missed, but Hickok didn’t. “Wild Bill” rapidly became a folk hero immortalized by dime novels and the press. All this media fanfare convinced the American public that shootouts happened all the time in the old west. In reality, however, they were a rare occurrence.

22. Get your kicks on Route 66! America’s favorite highway received its legendary name at a 1926 meeting in Springfield, Missouri. Accordingly, the city bills itself as “The Birthplace of Route 66.”

23. Come for the giant fork, stay for the poultry. Restaurateur David Leong created Springfield-style cashew chicken to make Chinese food more appealing to Midwesterners. “When I moved here in the 1950s, people kept telling me about fried chicken,” he says. “I did what they wanted. I gave them fried chicken with Chinese oyster sauce and cashews.” An iconic blend of Oriental and Ozark cuisine, the Springfield staple is now available in over 70 local restaurants. But which one serves the best cashew chicken? Every year, chefs compete to answer that very question at Cashew Craze, a beloved festival that raises money for children’s charities.

SPRINGFIELD, VERMONT

24. The Green Mountain State’s oldest one-room schoolhouse resides in Springfield. The Eureka Schoolhouse opened in 1790 and closed in 1900. After a half-century of neglect, it was disassembled plank by plank in 1958. The building was then painstakingly put back together—with some needed renovations—at a more visitor-friendly location nearby.

25. In 2007, 20th Century Fox pitted 14 towns named Springfield against each other for the right to host the world premiere of The Simpsons Movie. Every participant submitted a video that somehow connected their city to Homer and Marge’s fictional hometown. A few participants really went all out: Springfield, Massachusetts even threw in a cameo from Senator Ted Kennedy, who inspired the Mayor Quimby character. But it was Springfield, Vermont, and its 9300 residents that came out on top. Governor Jim Douglas couldn’t have been prouder. “This is an exciting, exhilarating moment for Vermonters,” he said. “To all the other Springfields, I say ‘Don’t have a cow, man.’”

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How a Scottish Swindler Lured His Countrymen to a Fake City of Untold Riches
Courtesy of Chronicle Books
Courtesy of Chronicle Books

Mythological mountain ranges, illusory oceans, and apocryphal islands crowded the maps of early navigators. Some imaginary features, though, remained on charts well after satellite imagery and GPS should have confirmed their nonexistence. As Edward Brooke-Hitching writes in his new book, The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies, and Blunders on Maps (Chronicle Books), some fake places made a lasting impression simply because their promoters were so brazen. In this excerpt, Brooke-Hitching describes one scoundrel's scheme to lure settlers to a fictional Central American city of untold riches—with disastrous results.

There are shameless liars, there are bold-as-brass fraudsters, and then there is a level of mendacity so magnificent it is inhabited by one man alone: ‘Sir’ Gregor MacGregor. In 1822, South American nations such as Colombia, Chile, and Peru were a new vogue in a sluggish investor’s market, being lands of opportunity, offering bonds with rates of interest too profitable to pass up. And so, when the charismatic ‘Cazique of Poyais’ sauntered into London, resplendent in medals and honors bestowed on him by George Frederic Augustus, king of the Mosquito Coast, and waving a land grant from said monarch that endowed him his own kingdom, he was met with an almost salivary welcome.

Perhaps if he had been a total stranger there might have been more wariness, but this was a man of reputation: Sir Gregor MacGregor of the clan MacGregor, great-great-nephew of Rob Roy, was famous from overseas dispatches for his service with the ‘Die-Hards,’ the 57th Foot regiment that had fought so valiantly at the Battle of Albuera in 1811. As a soldier of fortune, he had bled for Francisco de Miranda and for Simón Bolívar against the Spanish; the man was a hero. And now here he was in London, fresh from adventure, with the glamorous Princess Josefa of Poyais on his arm, looking for investment in his inchoate nation.

And the tales he told of his new homeland! Some 8 million acres (3.2 million hectares) of abundant natural resources and exquisite beauty; rich soil crying out for skilled farming; seas alive with fish and turtles, and countryside crowded with game; rivers choked with ‘native Globules of pure Gold.’ A promotional guide to the region was published, Sketch of the Mosquito Shore: Including the Territory of Poyais (1822), featuring the utopian vista below and further details of ‘many very rich Gold Mines in the Country, particularly that of Albrapoyer, which might be wrought to great benefit.’ Best of all, for a modest sum you too could claim your own piece of paradise.

Map of the imaginary Territory of Poyais
Courtesy of Chronicle Books

For a mere 2 shillings and 3 pence, MacGregor told his rapt audience, 1 acre (0.4 hectares) of Poyais land would be theirs. This meant that, if you were able to scrape together just over £11, you could own a plot of 100 acres (40 hectares). Poyais was in need of skilled labor—the plentiful timber had great commercial potential; the fields could yield great bounty if worked properly. A man could live like a king for a fraction of the British cost of living. For those too ‘noble’ for manual labor, there were positions with prestigious titles available to the highest bidder. A city financier named Mauger was thrilled to receive the appointment of manager of the Bank of Poyais; a cobbler rushed home to tell his wife of his new role as official shoemaker to the Princess of Poyais. Families keen to secure an advantage for their young men purchased commissions in Poyais’s army and navy.

MacGregor himself had got his start this way in the British Army at the age of 16, when his family purchased for him a commission as ensign in 1803, at the start of the Napoleonic Wars. Within a year he was promoted to lieutenant, and began to develop an obsession with rank and dress. He retired from the army in 1810 after an argument with a superior officer ‘of a trivial nature,’ and it was at this point that his imagination began to take a more dominant role in his behavior. He awarded himself the rank of colonel and the badge of a Knight of the Portuguese Order of Christ. Rejected from Edinburgh high society, in London he polished his credentials by presenting himself as ‘Sir Gregor MacGregor.’ He decided to head for South America, to add some New World spice to his reputation and return a hero. Arriving in Venezuela, by way of Jamaica, he was greeted warmly by Francisco de Miranda and given a battalion to help fight the Spanish in the Venezuelan War of Independence. He then fought for Simón Bolívar when Miranda was imprisoned. Operations extended to Florida, where he devised a nascent form of what he was later to orchestrate in London, raising $160,000 by selling ‘scripts’ to investors representing parcels of Floridian territory. As Spanish forces closed in, he bid farewell to his men and fled to the Bahamas, never repaying the money.

MacGregor was intelligent, persuasive, charisma personified, with a craving for popularity, wealth, and acceptance of the elite. This was the man to whom the prospective Poyais colonists were faithfully handing their every penny. Every detail of his scheme was planned to perfection. They never stood a chance.

On September 10, 1822, the Honduras Packet left London docks, bound for the territory of Poyais, carrying 70 excited passengers, plenty of supplies and a chest full of Poyais dollars made by the official printer to the Bank of Scotland, for which the emigrants happily traded their gold and legal tender.

Having waved off the Honduras, MacGregor headed to Edinburgh and Glasgow to make the same offer to the Scots. The dramatic failure of the Darien scheme in the late 17th century (in which the kingdom of Scotland had attempted to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama) had virtually bankrupted the country, and any indication of history repeating itself would have been met with extreme caution. But MacGregor was a Scotsman himself, a patriot and soldier. Unfortunately, he was also in possession of a tongue of pure silver. A second swath of Poyais real estate was sold off, and a second passenger ship filled. Under the captaincy of Henry Crouch, the Kennersley Castle left the port of Leith, Scotland on January 14, 1823, carrying 200 future citizens of Poyais, eager to join the Honduras Packet travelers in their new home.

Phantom Atlas book jacket cover
Courtesy of Chronicle Books

To their utter confusion, when the colonists arrived at their destination, they found only malarial swampland and thick vegetation with no trace of civilization. There was no Poyais, no land of plenty, no capital city. They had been fooled by a conniving fantasist. Unable to afford the journey home, they had no choice but to unload their supplies and set up camp on the shore. By April, nothing had changed. No town had been found, no help had arrived, and the camp was in total despair. Disease was rife and claimed the lives of eight colonists that month. The cobbler who had been promised the role of ‘Shoemaker to the Princess’ gave up hope of ever seeing his family again, and shot himself in the head.

At this lowest point, a vessel appeared on the horizon—what’s more, it flew a British flag. The Mexican Eagle from Belize had been passing nearby on a diplomatic mission when it had caught sight of the camp. The weak settlers were brought aboard and began their slow and awful journey back to London, via the hospitals of Belize. Of the 270 or so men and women who had set out for Poyais, fewer than 50 made it back to Britain. By this time MacGregor had high-tailed it to France, where he tried and failed to run the scam again. (He was foiled when the French government noticed the rush of applications for visas to a country that didn’t exist.) He was eventually forced to flee to Venezuela, where he later died in 1845, never properly brought to answer for his extraordinary and terrible crime.

From The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps, by Edward Brooke-Hitching, published by Chronicle Books.

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Is This Route in North Dakota the Longest Straight Road in America?
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When planning a road trip, you might scope out the route with the most roadside attractions or the prettiest scenery—or, if you're interested in activating cruise control and giving your feet a break, you might look for something straight. According to Ken Jennings, writing for Condé Nast Traveler, North Dakota claims to be home to the longest straight road in the country.

State Highway 46 covers 124 miles of Midwestern prairie between the communities of Streeter and Lithia. A quick glance at a map suggests that the road does unfold in a straight line as advertised, but closer examination reveals that its status is more complicated than North Dakota would like to admit. There are places where highway 46 diverges off its narrow path slightly, like the spot where it runs over the Sheyenne River, for example. If you're sticking to the strictest definition of the word "straight," 40 unbroken miles of the highway is the longest stretch that qualifies.

Forty miles of driving in the same exact direction is impressive, but for an even smoother ride you'll need to travel west to Utah. There you'll find a 30-mile section of Interstate 80 that crosses the Bonneville Salt Flats. Not only is this route straight, it also falls along one of the flattest spots in the country.

Of course, not every road tripper is looking for the route that takes the least effort to drive. Roads with insane hairpin turns built in treacherous locations aren't hard to find if you know where to look.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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