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11 Treasure Hunting Tales

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There’s a reason countless tales have centered around the search for buried treasure. Not only do tales like Indiana Jones and Treasure Island appeal to our desire for wealth and adventure, sometimes they’re based in truth. Here are a few times intrepid explorers have struck it rich—and a few priceless hoards that are still out there for the finding.


1. Nuestra Señora de Atocha

In 1622, a fleet of Spanish ships battled a hurricane and lost, settling at the bottom of the sea among the Florida Keys. This included Nuestra Señora de Atocha, “Our Lady of Atocha,” which was carrying copper, silver, gold, tobacco, gems, and jewelry. The Spanish tried and failed to recover the lost valuables, so the wreck remained in the deep until 1985, when treasure hunter Mel Fisher found it after years of searching. The “Atocha Mother Lode” amounted to more than 40 tons of silver and gold, including Colombian emeralds, 1000 silver bars, artifacts made of precious metals, and more than 100,000 pieces of eight. So far, the spoils have reached about 450 million dollars—and they’re still excavating.

You can actually search the Atocha for yourself. For a fee, Fisher’s family leads dives of the wreck, letting divers take home “up to $3000 in authentic shipwreck treasure.”

2. The S.S. Central America

Photo courtesy of

Two hundred and thirty five years later, the S.S. Central America also fell victim to a hurricane, this one off the North Carolina coast on September 11, 1857. Roughly 425 people sank to a watery grave, as well as 21 tons of gold valued at about $2 million. It stayed there for 131 years, until an Ohio treasure hunter named Tommy Thompson found the vessel with his crew in 1988. Gold that later sold for $50-$60 million was recovered, but those involved say that only 5 percent of the ship was excavated, leaving untold riches left on the ocean floor. In 2012, amid disputes over who or what company the gold really belonged to—39 insurance companies have put in claims—Thompson disappeared. His lawyer has said that Thompson is “at sea” and will be notified of impending charges and warrants when he returns.

Just for context as to how much this wreck is worth, an anonymous man identified only as a “Forbes 400 executive” bought an 80-pound brick of gold recovered from the wreck for $8 million in 2001.

Found, Sort Of

3. The RMS Republic

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Had the Titanic’s future passengers been paying attention to the White Star Line’s track record, they could have avoided their fateful trip. Three years before the “unsinkable” luxury liner set sail, the White Star Line lost the RMS Republic when it sank 50 miles off the coast of Nantucket after it was struck by the SS Florida. With the exception of three unlucky passengers, everyone on the Republic made it safely off of the ship. The cargo did not, however, and treasure hunters have been searching for it ever since. Though the exact contents are unknown, legend persists that $3,000,000 in freshly-minted American Gold Eagle coins lay at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Why that much money was on the ship is another unknown, but theories include earthquake relief for Messina, Italy, and payment on a loan from the Imperial Russian government.

The lost ship was rediscovered by Captain Martin Bayerle in 1981. Though they’ve attempted recovery efforts several times, the money has yet to turn up. Bayerle does have a legal claim to the wreckage and its contents, so although millions of dollars worth of coins could legitimately be there for the finding, they’re not really there for you to take.

Still Missing

4. Yamashita’s Gold

The Nazis weren’t the only ones hiding precious metals and art during WWII. It’s rumored that Japanese forces stashed large amounts of gold somewhere in the Philippines in the early 1940s, where it has remained hidden for the better part of a century. Named after Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita, the loot allegedly consists of a wide variety of valuables taken from banks, churches, museums, and private homes, among other places. After a brief stop in Singapore, Yamashita’s gold was ferried to the Philippines, where higher-ups believed it would be safe until the end of the war. It wasn’t. Some researchers believe that the American military was able to recover most of it and used it fund Cold War operations. Others say there’s no evidence to suggest that there’s any booty at all, let alone the massive quantities purported to be hidden.

Stories were still swirling as late as 1992, when Imelda Marcos claimed that her late husband's wealth came from finding Yamashita’s gold, not from embezzlement or kickbacks. According to a man named Rogelio Roxas, that’s true. In 1988, he filed a lawsuit saying that he found Marcos’ stash, then was incarcerated and badly beaten for his trouble.

5. The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

Photo courtesy of the USDA Forest Service

There's gold in them thar hills. Maybe. The Lost Dutchman is arguably the most famous lost mine in the U.S. It’s so lost, in fact, that people can’t even seem to agree what state it’s in—could be Colorado, California, or Arizona. If some intrepid explorer could pinpoint its location, though, the gold vein there could be very lucrative. Many believe the mine can be found somewhere in the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix, but who it belongs to and how it was discovered is where the story veers wildly off course. Some say the Apache tribe claimed it 150 years ago; another tale has a Dr. Thorne stumbling upon the mine while he was under Navajo captivity. A third version says a couple of U.S. Army soldiers discovered it, then mysteriously turned up decapitated shortly thereafter. Several other semi-mysterious deaths have been recorded over the years, including one as recently as 2012. If you head out to the Superstition Mountains to seek the vein out for yourself, don’t let your guard down.

6. Treasure of the Llanganatis

Back in the 16th century, Spanish commander Francisco Pizarro captured an Inca king named Atahualpa (pictured). Atahualpa swore that he would fill an entire room full of gold and gilded treasures if Pizarro would let him go. Pizarro agreed. While the gold was en route, Pizarro went back on his word and had the king garroted on July 26, 1533. When the gold couriers heard that their journey was worthless, they dumped the treasure in a secret mountain cave to be concealed for hundreds of years.

The gold allegedly turned up in 1850, when English botanist Richard Spruce said he had discovered written directions and a map to the cave. In 1886, treasure hunter Barth Blake (the perfect name for a treasure hunter, don’t you think?) used the documents to locate Atahualpa’s gold, writing, “There are thousands of gold and silver pieces of Inca and pre-Inca handicraft, the most beautiful goldsmith works you are not able to imagine.” He wrote about priceless jewelry and vases full of emeralds, so many riches that a thousand men couldn’t carry them out. Blake presumably took what he could carry, but mysteriously disappeared on his way back to New York.

Modern-day archaeologists agree that the map Spruce found does send explorers to a cluster of mines in the Llanganate mountains, but aren’t sure that a real-life Cave of Wonders really exists. The real find, says the National Geographic’s explorer-in-residence, would be discovering Inca sites and and learning more about their presence in the mountains—which is exactly what happened last year

7. The Beale Ciphers

Whether you’re a Nicolas Cage fan or not, National Treasure may have been on to something. The Beale Ciphers are a set of three ciphertexts that, when solved, will reveal the secret location of a cache of gold, silver, and jewels worth up to $63 million. As legend has it, Thomas Jefferson Beale and a couple of cohorts found a cache of gold and silver while on expedition in the American southwest. They hauled it all home to Virginia, hid it somewhere in Bedford County, then left a box containing an encrypted text with a local innkeeper, instructing him to open it only if none of them returned for it in 10 years. After a decade passed, the innkeeper opened the box and had a friend help him with the ciphers inside. The friend was able to decode one, which is where National Treasure comes in. The innkeeper’s buddy somehow realized that cipher #2 was a book cipher, and the words within corresponded to a particular version of the Declaration of Independence. Here’s what it said:

I have deposited, in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford's, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number 3, herewith. The first deposit consisted of one thousand and fourteen pounds of gold, and three thousand eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited November, 1819. The second was made December, 1821, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight pounds of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange for silver to save transportation, and valued at $13,000. The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number 1 describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.

The other two ciphers remain a mystery to this day. Though some believe the whole thing is an elaborate hoax, feel free to give decoding it a shot. It could be worth your while!

Cipher 1
Cipher 2: (Already decoded)
Cipher 3

8. The Barber Dimes

Photo courtesy of Cointrackers

In 1907, a shipment carrying six barrels of fresh Barber dimes left Denver, headed for Phoenix. They never arrived. No one knows what happened to the dimes or the men driving the wagons, but some believe the wagon tumbled down into Colorado’s Black Canyon, home to some of the steepest cliffs in North America. Anyone willing to brave those cliffs and crags could be handsomely rewarded, though—it’s estimated that the six barrels of Barbers would be worth at least $3,000,000 today.

9. Oak Island

If you think The Money Pit is just an awesome ‘80s movie starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, you must not be from Nova Scotia. In 1795, a man named Daniel McGinnis discovered a pit, believed to be man made, on Oak Island on the south shore of Nova Scotia. Someone had installed a solid oak floor every 10 feet down in the pit. After 30 feet, McGinnis and his pals gave up the dig. It was the beginning of a mystery that still hasn’t been solved today.

Many people—including a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt—tried to excavate the pit, to no avail. Six people have died trying to get to the bottom of the pit ... and the mystery.

What’s down there that required such elaborate concealment? No one knows for sure, but a cipher found on a slab of stone about 90 feet down declares that “Forty feet below two million pounds is buried.” Some believe the pit holds the pirate treasure of Captain Kidd or Blackbeard; others think Marie Antoinette’s missing jewels somehow ended up there. There’s a Holy Grail theory, and at least one suggestion that the pit contains not real treasure, but proof that Francis Bacon was the author of Shakespeare’s plays.

These days, Oak Island is the subject of a reality show on the History Channel called The Curse of Oak Island. At the end of the first season, the brothers who now own the island supposedly find a Spanish coin from the 1600s. To be continued?

10. Confederate Gold

On May 24, 1865, a couple of gold-filled wagon trains containing the last bit of the Confederate treasury were robbed. Though the “official” story is that Confederate President Jefferson Davis intended to repay the Confederate loan from France, many speculate that the South was just trying to hide the last of its reserves from the North so it could use it to rise again someday.

The wagons were hijacked about 100 yards away from the Chennault plantation near Washington, Georgia, where Davis held his last cabinet meeting. Though Union soldiers searched for the missing stash and even interrogated the Chennault family, the money never turned up. Over time, rumors began to circulate that the gold never made it any further than the property. It’s said that even today, gold coins have been found along the dirt roads near the plantation when there’s a heavy rain. If you're thinking about treasure hunting, though, mind where you're digging: the Chennault plantation is still privately owned, and the owners probably don't care for people aerating their lawn.

11. Dutch Schultz’ Lost Treasure

Shortly before his death in 1935, New York mobster Dutch Schultz loaded $7 million in cash, bonds, and diamonds into a waterproof safe, then buried it somewhere in the Catskills on the banks of the Esopus Creek. He was gunned down by a hitman not long afterward, leaving no trace of his treasure. But that hasn’t stopped folks from looking for it, from hauling shovels up to the mountains to trying to contact Schultz in the great beyond, which one psychic says she accomplished. The mobster refused to give up the whereabouts of his loot even from the afterlife, saying, “If I were to tell you exactly where the treasure is, then there’d be no more search. There’d be no more fun, and I wouldn’t be famous anymore.”

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The Best Dive Bar in All 50 States
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Dive bars are the perfect antidote to exorbitant cocktail prices and highfalutin mixologists who insist on putting a dozen ingredients into your whiskey sour. These casual, unpretentious spots serve a variety of inexpensive beers, cocktails, and (occasionally) snacks. Although there are tons of dive bars scattered across the country, we’re choosing the best dive bar in every state, based on the bar’s drink menu, reputation, and overall aesthetic.


Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Founded in 1962, the Upsidedown Plaza might be the ultimate spot for good drinks and good times. It stays open until 2 a.m. every night, giving patrons plenty of time to play pool, dance to oldies, and sing karaoke.


Location: Juneau, Alaska

Sandbar serves Alaskan beer on tap and delicious halibut fish and chips. The friendly bartenders, three pool tables, and golf game machine keep customers coming back.


Location: Phoenix, Arizona

People come to Rips Bar to let loose and forget their troubles. Expect to find killer ales and cocktails, a fun rockabilly vibe, and bar games including pinball, pool, and darts. There’s also karaoke, open mic events, and all-day drink specials.


Location: Little Rock, Arkansas

Head to this hole in the wall for strong whiskey, cheap beer, and live music. The atmosphere is eclectic, with tons of twinkle lights, graffiti on the walls, and a Miller Lite clock behind the bar. There’s also a canoe hanging from the ceiling.


Location: San Francisco, California

Situated in the Mission district, Clooney’s Pub is a casual spot famous for its circular bar and friendly service. Happy hour starts bright and early—at 6 a.m.—and for entertainment, there's a pool table and TV.


Location: Boulder, Colorado

bar back at The Sink
The Sink

With $3 well drinks, $4 drafts, and $5 martinis during happy hour, the Sink knows how to please. Everyone from chef Anthony Bourdain to former President Barack Obama has visited the bar, which has been open since 1923. Order the bar’s legendary burger and pizza as you marvel at the trippy artwork on the walls and ceiling.


Location: Manchester, Connecticut

Originally a soda and ice cream shop, the Hungry Tiger is now a beloved dive bar and music venue. Sunday brunch features cheap Bloody Marys and Bud Light pitchers, and the spot serves delectable burgers, wings, and sliders.


Location: Hockessin, Delaware

With $3 beer and $4 wine and liquor, Famous Tom’s brings the boozy goods. The TVs play plenty of NFL games, so you can watch your favorite teams as you sip your drink.


Location: Miami Beach, Florida

Bartenders pour generously at this Miami Beach bar. After you knock back a few drinks, try the perfectly greasy chicken fingers and fries and relax in front of a sports game.


Location: Atlanta, Georgia

North Side Bar
Daniel B., Yelp

Built in the ‘40s, Northside Tavern was a neighborhood grocery store and gas station before it morphed into a blue-collar bar. With live music seven nights a week and paintings on the wall dedicated to blues and jazz musicians, this dive bar is a music lover’s paradise.


Location: Honolulu, Hawaii

Located in Honolulu’s Chinatown, Hanks Cafe Honolulu is a tiny bar with a big heart. The bartenders are friendly, the walls feature island-inspired portraits, and a jukebox and live music keep guests happily entertained.


Location: Nampa, Idaho

Whiskey River has been around for almost a decade, offering a full liquor bar and tons of bottled beers. There’s a dance floor, darts, pool tables, and a jukebox, and the bar stays open until 1 a.m. every night.


Location: Chicago, Illinois

People rave about the Double Bubble. The neighborhood bar serves craft beers at reasonable prices, and the TVs play plenty of football games. If you’re an Irish whiskey fan, be sure to get a Jameson shot.


Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

Checkered Flag Tavern
Linda M., Yelp

Checkered Flag Tavern has a great selection of draft beers, liquor, and burgers. Named for the Indy 500, naturally, the bar has plenty of non-alcohol related entertainment including a photo booth, pool table, darts, and live music on the weekends.


Location: Des Moines, Iowa

The High Life Lounge is a popular destination for beer aficionados. Lovers of Miller High Life (the “champagne of beers”) will especially love this bar, which has a ‘60s and ‘70s vibe thanks to the vintage beer signs and retro wood paneling. If you work up an appetite, try the fried dill-pickle spears and the cheese curds.


Location: Kansas City, Kansas

Established in 1934, Johnnie’s On Seventh has long been one of Kansas’ favorite watering holes. The retro vibe and friendly regulars will make you feel right at home, and the darts, shuffleboard, and popcorn machine will keep you entertained all night.


Location: Louisville, Kentucky

If low-key bars that serve cheap beer are your thing, head to T. Eddie’s Bar and Grill in Germantown. With 42 craft beers, a fenced-in back patio, and karaoke nights, you can’t go wrong.


Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

Katie D., Yelp

Situated in a dark shack, Snake And Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge gives all who enter it the ultimate dive bar experience. Christmas lights illuminate the tiny space year-round, and the bar serves cheap local beers and shots every night (including Christmas).


Location: South Portland, Maine

Drink specials, good pub food, and live music? Check. Spring Point Tavern serves well drinks and Jell-O shots, and there are darts and pool to help guests unwind from the day’s stresses.


Location: Odenton, Maryland

Walking down the stairs to this basement dive bar will transport you to a simpler time and place. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and the cold beer and homemade spicy chili will make you feel right at home.


Location: Greenfield, Massachusetts

The Vic is the ultimate place to down lagers, fireball shots, and Irish coffee while you watch a Red Sox game. The family-owned and -operated bar also has three big-screen TVs, a jukebox, and darts.


Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Banfield’s Bar opened in 1982 and has been drawing in locals ever since. The hole-in-the-wall serves strong drinks and tasty burgers, and it hosts events such as ‘70s karaoke nights.


Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota

Owned by husband and wife duo Pete and Molly Skinner, Skinners Pub & Eatery is a laid-back bar that serves beer on tap, wine, tacos and pizza. The big TV screens by the bar, plus the low prices, make regulars come back again and again.


Location: Biloxi, Mississippi

Customers rave about the friendly service, strong drinks, and rib-eye steak sandwich at the Project Lounge. The dark, smoky dive bar has an electronic jukebox and is cash-only.


Location: St. Louis, Missouri

The haunt
Terri Daniels

Billed as a tavern for the macabre at heart, the Haunt is a Goth-themed dive bar with $2 well drinks, $11 domestic buckets, a pool table, and live music. If Halloween is your favorite holiday, you’ll love the spooky décor and horror films playing on the TV.


Location: Missoula, Montana

Since 1987, the Rhino has impressed customers with its beer and scotch selections. With 50 beers on tap and more than 50 single-malt scotches, this dive bar also offers pool, shuffleboard, and plenty of good times.


Location: Omaha, Nebraska

Across from Hitchcock Park is Beer City, a bar that offers $2 fireball shots every Monday, $5 pitchers on Wednesday, and karaoke on Friday nights. There are also free peanuts and popcorn, pool and darts, 11 TVs, and mini-golf in the back.


Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

double down bar exterior
Jonathon S., Yelp

Since 1992, Double Down has been a haven for people who want to break away from the pricey Vegas strip. Dubbed the anti-Vegas, this bar serves eye-popping drinks like the original bacon martini (Slim Jim garnish and all). There’s also pool, pinball, and live music.


Location: Concord, New Hampshire

Penuche’s really promotes music and emerging artists. Bands play often and open mic opportunities abound. Whether you order beer or cocktails, this bar will put you in a partying mood.


Locations: Haledon and Oak Ridge, New Jersey

Jimmy Geez
Jonathan M., Yelp

Jimmy Geez dominates the north Jersey dive bar scene. You’ll find more than 20 beers on tap, chicken wings galore, and plenty of TVs tuned to sports games. Jimmy Geez also hosts live music and trivia nights, making it the ultimate hangout spot.


Location: Bernalillo, New Mexico

In 1933, a former bootlegger and moonshiner named Felix Silva opened Silva’s Saloon. Today, the biker bar is the longest continuously running business on historic Route 66. Dollar bills, raunchy photos, and old liquor bottles decorate the space.


Location: New York, New York

Located on Houston Street a few blocks north of Little Italy, Milano’s Bar might be Manhattan’s best old-school dive bar. It’s been open since 1880! All-day-and-night specials include Tecate, Narragansett, and Rolling Rock.


Location: Apex, North Carolina

Local Bar began in the ‘30s as a gas station, but today it serves cold drinks to happy customers. Besides $1 Jell-O shots and Monday movie nights, the bar also has live music, pool tables, horseshoe pits, and dart boards.


Location: Bismarck, North Dakota

There’s something for everyone at Borrowed Bucks, from beer pong on Tuesdays to ladies’ night on Wednesdays (women can get $2 Schooners). Between sips of your beer, munch on the pizza and wings.


Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Although Becky’s Bar is near Cleveland State University, it’s not just for students. Since 1986, Becky’s has served a diverse group of diehard customers who enjoy the PBRs and IPAs, mozzarella sticks, and arcade games. There’s also a jukebox, biweekly karaoke, and multiple big screen TVs that play football, baseball, and basketball games.


Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma

Located in downtown Tulsa, Orpha’s Lounge is a small, welcoming joint with two pool tables and plenty of drink specials. Just be aware that some patrons still smoke inside.


Location: Portland, Oregon

Opened in 1998, The Low Brow might be the best place to unwind in Portland. The dimly lit bar discourages patrons from being glued to their screens, and the menu includes everything from nachos to kale salad.


Location: Enola, Pennsylvania

For more than two decades, James Bar has served cheap drinks to thirsty Pennsylvanians. A neon Bud Light sign in the window greets customers, who can sip beer from Mason jars and play tunes on the bar’s jukebox.


Location: Providence, Rhode Island

Captain Seaweed’s is a true dive bar—and proud of it. The walls of the Fox Point bar feature nautical décor, making it the right place for people who like sipping beer near ship wheels, life ring buoys, pirate paraphernalia, and whale artwork.


Location: Charleston, South Carolina

the tattooed moose
Jimmy S., Yelp

Despite its extensive craft beer selection and tasty food, this downtown dive is down-to-earth and unassuming. Get the grilled cheese sandwich or the bar’s namesake burger, and wash it down with your choice of pale ales, pilsners, and porters.


Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The Thirsty Duck is a popular destination for affordable drinks, great pizza, and live music. You’ll find groups of friends and coworkers singing karaoke, playing pool, and tossing darts.


Location: Nashville, Tennessee

Alex W., Yelp

As East Nashville’s oldest dive bar, Dino’s has built a rock-solid reputation as a top-notch spot. Beers include a selection of Coors, Budweiser, Stiegl, Yuengling, Miller High Life, and Tecate. Food options include cheeseburgers, fries, and fish and chips.


Location: Denton, Texas

This British tavern, located in Courthouse Square, has a little something for everyone. From imported beers and ciders to stouts and lagers, the Abbey Underground has an impressive alcohol menu. Different nights have musical themes ranging from big band and funk to disco trash and ‘90s dance.


Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Having fun at X-Wife’s Place won’t break the bank, thanks to cheap beer cans and shots. Customers can play pool inside or head to the big outdoor patio to play cornhole.


Location: Burlington, Vermont

Other place
Matt S., Yelp

Dive bar connoisseurs love Other Place (The OP), where there’s plenty of beer, mimosas, and Bloody Marys to go around. The sports-themed tabletops, pool table, and occasional movie nights make The OP a neighborhood institution.


Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia

Friendly bartenders and a stellar selection of seasonal and Virginian craft beers make Lynnhaven Pub stand out from other bars. The mouthwatering brisket and barbecue tacos are also beloved.


Location: Tacoma, Washington

Although the Mule Tavern serves an abundance of beer and cocktails, Moscow Mules are its specialty. Bartenders make ginger beer from scratch by juicing lemons and ginger, adding cane sugar and water, and carbonating the liquid. Moscow Mules are $4 during happy hour, and well drinks are just $3.


Location: Charleston, West Virginia

At the Boulevard Tavern, craft cocktails focus on bourbon and gin. You can’t go wrong with any of the bar’s signature cocktails, the best of which is the West Virginia Coal Rush, a honey-infused bourbon. Live music and open mic nights, as well as reggae Sundays, keep excitement levels high.


Location: Madison, Wisconsin

Less crowded than nearby bars, Silver Dollar Tavern has been a family-owned bar since 1933. The shuffleboard, darts, and pool are a big hit with loyal customers. The bar is cash-only, but there’s an ATM inside.


Location: Laramie, Wyoming

Buckhorn bar
RunAway B., Yelp

The Buckhorn Bar is older than you. It’s been around since 1900, and today visitors can see the bar’s famous bullet hole, elk, and two-headed calf on display. Tuesday is $1 pint night, Wednesday is karaoke night, and Thursday is the night for $1 jack-and-Cokes.

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Lucy Quintanilla/Mental Floss
The Funniest Town Name in All 50 States
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Lucy Quintanilla/Mental Floss

You can send your Christmas wish list to Santa Claus, Indiana, or get a refill in Hot Coffee, Mississippi. Whether honoring its founders, a local landmark, or its reputation for rowdy bar-brawling, the funniest town names in all 50 states show a sense of humor and personality.


Screamer, an unincorporated community in southeastern Alabama, has a noisy history. According to a local historian, the name may have two origins. In one version of the story, it comes from the fact that 19th century Native Americans used to loudly heckle white train travelers as they passed by what was then a reservation. The "screaming" could have also referred to the din made by local bears, panthers, and wildcats.


unalaska, alaska
Weston Renoud, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Don’t let the name fool you; Unalaska is as Alaskan as it comes. With a little more than 4500 residents, Unalaska is the largest city in the Aleutian Islands. Originally, Unangan residents named it Agunalaksh, a word that means "near the peninsula." As Russian fur traders arrived, the spelling morphed into Ounalashka, which eventually became Unalaska.


Why call a town "Why?" This teeny-tiny community near the U.S.-Mexico border is named after the Y-shaped intersection of two nearby highways. But because of an Arizona law requiring place names have at least three letters, "Y" became the much more existential "Why."


This town of 1800 people in southern Arkansas, at one point one of the nation’s biggest oil producers, was settled by French trappers in the early 19th century. The name Smackover may have come from the French name for the local creek, Chemin Couvert, which means "covered way"—and "sumac couvert" means a covering of sumac trees, a local plant. Alternate theories trace the name back to the legend of oil streaming "smack over the derrick" or a settler jumping "smack over the creek," according to the state’s website.


rough n ready california
Isaac Crumm, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The early residents of Rough and Ready, California, were prepared to get down and dirty for their independence. Named after a mining company with the same moniker, the town—with a current population of about 1581—was the first to secede from the Union and become its own “republic” in 1850 as a protest against mining taxes, prohibition mandates, and laws that weren’t enforced. Though their rebellion was laughably short-lived (the town rejoined the United States three months later), its residents still pay homage to Rough and Ready’s spirited past with a celebration on the last Saturday in June.


What started out as a temporary solution has become a point of pride for locals (currently fewer than 200 in number) in No Name, Colorado. According to reports, a government official first marked a newly constructed exit off I-70 with a sign reading “No Name” as a placeholder. By the time officials got around to officially labeling it, “No Name” had the support of the community and it stuck. Visitors can find the spot near the No Name tunnels, No Name Creek, and the No Name hiking trail.


Hazardville, Connecticut, began as a 19th-century industrial village that made gunpowder. Thankfully, that’s not how it got its moniker: The town was named after Colonel Augustus George Hazard, who purchased and expanded the company in 1837.


It’s rumored that Corner Ketch—an unincorporated community in New Castle County, Delaware—got its name from a rough-and-tumble local bar, whose patrons were so quarrelsome that townspeople would warn strangers, "They'll ketch ye at the corner."


Two Egg, Florida, got its name during the Great Depression. According to local lore, two young boys were so strapped for cash that they paid a local shopkeeper for sugar by giving them two eggs. These make-do business transactions occurred so regularly that patrons began referring to the establishment as a “two egg store.” Eventually, the name caught on with traveling salesmen, who spread it to other towns.


Founded in the 1880s, the tiny town of Climax, Georgia, got its name from its location: It sits at the highest point on the railroad between Savannah and the Chattahoochee River.


A cozy little burg near Hilo, Volcano is adjacent to several volcano hot spots. (Sorry.) You can walk the dormant Kilauea Iki Trail, the site of a 1959 eruption, and then stop by the Lava Rock Café for a coffee before heading to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.


Near Culdesac, Idaho, sits the multiple-house assembly of Slickpoo, a slice of real estate that may barely qualify as a town but was once a bustling village. Originally the site of a Catholic mission, it was said to have been gifted to the missionaries by landowner Josiah Slickpoo.


No, it’s not named after the cold-cut concoction. Originally called Almon after land developer Almon Cage when it was founded in 1855, Sandwich got its name when a train stop liaison named it after his hometown of Sandwich, New Hampshire. It still capitalizes on the connotation, though: The town holds a Sandwich Festival annually.


santa claus indiana
Doug Kerr, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

It feels like Christmas every day in Santa Claus, Indiana. But the origin of the name wasn’t quite so festive. As the story goes, the town was first named Santa Fe. In 1896, when the town wanted to secure a post office, postal officials told it to pick another name since Santa Fe was already taken. Someone thought Santa Claus was an acceptable alternative, and the post office agreed. To their dismay, children began mailing letters to Santa Claus, Indiana, with regularity.


A former coal mining town in the southeast of the state, What Cheer was christened Petersburg by Peter Britton, who settled here in the 1850s. But enterprising shop owner Joseph Andrews, who created the town post office, suggested calling it What Cheer, possibly after an old English greeting. Britton protested, but the name stuck. Today What Cheer has about 600 residents—down from a peak of 5000—and hosts a seasonal flea market and musical events at its opera house.


The wags in Gas know what you're thinking. "You just passed Gas." "Gas Kan." "Get Gas!" The jokes write themselves. Gas got its name when, no surprise, natural gas was discovered in the area in 1898. Farmer E.K. Taylor promptly sold 60 acres of his land to industrial interests and subdivided the rest into lots, laying the groundwork for Gas (a.k.a. Gas City). Today it's home to around 600 people.


bugtussle kentucky
Brian Stansberry, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

The name of this tiny hamlet on the Kentucky-Tennessee border is an homage to, you guessed it, the local bug population. The town’s oldest residents say that when workers helped out during the harvest, they would sleep in barns—on hay that was infested with doodlebugs. Legend has it that the workers stayed so long that the bugs grew big enough to “tussle” for the prime napping spots.


The Lake Superior Piling Company established a settlement of model farms here in the 1920s, bringing prosperity to this corner of rural Louisiana. The company’s owners tweaked their corporate slogan, “you need us,” into the town’s new name—and apparently, the feeling was mutual. Residents allegedly founded another model farm community nearby and dubbed it Weneedu.


It’s easy to imagine where this island off the coast of Maine got its unusual name—just squint at it. Located near Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, Burnt Porcupine has nearby sister islands with equally intriguing names: Bald Porcupine, Long Porcupine, and Sheep Porcupine.


The village of Boring could have avoided all of the jokes if they had just stuck with the town’s original name—Fairview. But there are a lot of other Fairviews in the U.S., so when a post office was established in the village in 1880, the postal service requested a rename. Residents voted to honor their first postmaster, David J. Boring—and he surely thought the recognition was anything but.


While we had hoped that Belchertown was named for the aftermath of a particularly tasty meal, the real story is a bit less delicious: It’s named after Jonathan Belcher, a colonial governor of Massachusetts.


Yes, there is a Hell on Earth, and it’s 15 miles northwest of Ann Arbor. There are several stories floating around about how this name came to be, but the one the town itself declares official is this: In the 1830s, the town settler, George Reeves, made a deal with local farmers to trade his homemade whiskey for the grain they grew. When the farmer’s wives knew their husbands were off dealing with Reeves, they were known to remark, “He’s gone to hell again.” The name stuck.


Nimrod Minnesota
Lorie Shaull, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s a pretty exclusive group of Minnesotans who can lay claim to being an official Nimrod: just 69 at last count. Though the town takes up just one square mile of the Gopher State, it’s got one big claim to fame: It’s the hometown of Dick Stigman, a pro baseball player who pitched for the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox in the 1960s. As for the name itself, it’s a Biblical reference. In the book of Genesis, Nimrod is described as “a mighty hunter before the Lord” and is credited with overseeing the construction of the Tower of Babel.


Back in the horse-and-carriage days, the spot where the town of Hot Coffee, Mississippi, now sits marked the midpoint between Natchez, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama—two popular travel destinations. In the late 1800s an inn was erected and, recognizing a good business opportunity when he saw one, a man named L.N. Davis built a store to replenish the supplies of weary travelers and hung a coffee pot outside, which advertised "the best hot coffee around.” His secret? He used spring water to brew New Orleans beans, then sweetened the drink with molasses drippings. Though the store is no longer there, Davis’s java made enough of an impression to become the town’s namesake.


Most legends surrounding the town’s name tend to trace it to a postmaster who was upset with a cheapskate watermelon farmer who sold a promised melon out from under him for an extra 50-cent profit. But these days, the main draw to this tiny town in central Missouri is its bank—customers from all over the country open accounts here just to be able to send checks with the Tightwad logo on them.


While it’s true that you’ll likely spend more time staring at the heavens while in Big Sky Country, the town of Pray, Montana, wasn’t named as a religious suggestion. Founded in 1907, it was named for then-state representative Charles Nelson Pray.


magnet, NE
z2amiller, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

After mapping out a town in northeast Nebraska, settler B.E. Smith was tasked with naming it. He wanted an attractive name for the community that would draw visitors across its borders, so he christened it Magnet in 1893. Today the locale is home to about 75 residents.


About 30 miles south of Elko, Nevada, sits the small town of Jiggs. In 1918, businessman Albert Hankins owned the local hotel, dance hall, and general store—which basically meant he owned the whole town. Looking for a new name for the place, he took a suggestion from his kids. “Jiggs” was the top hat-wearing, Irish-American protagonist of their favorite comic strip Bringing Up Father. Following the name change, the women’s organization in town dubbed itself Maggie’s Club after the character’s wife.


The Fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montague, did more than invent a lunchtime staple. In 1763, he chartered a town between the Lakes Region and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And just like the edible kind of sandwich, the town of Sandwich was named after him. The earl also lent his title to the nearby Sandwich mountain range and Sandwich dome.


loveladies new jersey
Lauren Spinelli

The town of Loveladies, New Jersey, was actually named after a man, not a group of women. Located on Long Beach Island, it got its start as one of the life-saving stations that appeared on the Jersey shore in the 1870s. The station borrowed its name from a nearby island owned by Thomas Lovelady, a local hunter and sportsman. When the community grew into a town it tested out several new titles, including Club House and Long Beach Park. In 1952, the early name of Loveladies became official.


Sandwiched between Zuni and Navajo reservations in western New Mexico, Candy Kitchen Ranch purportedly got its name when a local moonshine distiller needed a front to hide his illicit operations during Prohibition. To secure the sugar necessary to concoct barrels of hooch, the moonshiner established a confectionery that produced pinion nut candy on the side. Candy Kitchen isn’t the only sweet-toothed locale in this neck of rural New Mexico, either: 85 miles down the dusty trail sits a place called Pie Town!


The old town of Neversink is currently sunk under about 175 feet of water. Named for the Neversink River, the longest tributary of the Delaware River, the city of 2000 was one of the unlucky Catskill towns flooded in the 1950s to create reservoirs that would provide water to New York City. Luckily, the town relocated in the 1950s shortly after its old Main Street was sunk for good. Not all neighboring locales were so fortunate, though. The flooding forced locals to give a bittersweet goodbye to the now-underwater town of … Bittersweet.


whynot, north carolina

Around 1860, residents living in the fertile heart of central North Carolina had no name for their home. But when the United States Post Office planned to put down roots in the area, the townspeople convened to decide on a name. Debate ensued: Why not name it this? Why not name it that? The discussion dragged on until one frustrated local butted in and said, “Why not name the town Why Not and let’s go home?” Ambivalence won the day.


Cannon Ball, North Dakota gets its name not from a battle, but from geological curiosities called concretions. Millions of years ago, sediment naturally cemented around plants or shells in the Peace Garden State and hardened into rock, forming unusually perfect spheres that—you guessed it—resemble cannonballs. While these round rocks dot the local Cannonball River, you can ogle at more if you drive 170 miles west to the northern stretches of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


Though nobody can quite pinpoint when the town of Knockemstiff acquired its odd name, they can at least agree that it certainly earned it. Most of the stories about the area’s early days, before it got its foreboding name, involve bar brawls, moonshine, and other types of delinquency. The most famous origin tale, though, centers on the advice of a preacher. When approached by a woman asking him how to keep her cheating husband home and faithful, the preacher responded simply: “Knock ‘em stiff.” Take that advice however you want. The town received mainstream attention in 2008 when author Donald Ray Pollock, a native of Knockemstiff, published a book of 18 short stories that shine a gritty light on life in this rough Midwestern community.


The community formerly known as Berwyn, Oklahoma, took on the name of the famous singing cowboy after the man himself came to town and purchased a 1200-acre ranch that he would turn into the headquarters of his Flying A Ranch Rodeo. A few years after the purchase, Cecil Crosby, the deputy sheriff of Carter County, where Berwyn was located, suggested the town change its name to honor Autry. The town’s 227 residents all signed a petition in favor of the change, with the post office and railroad agreeing to alter their names soon after. On November 16, 1941, the town of Berwyn officially became Gene Autry, Oklahoma. Though Autry sold the Flying A Ranch after World War II, the town that bears his name still recognizes the late cowboy actor with a museum and film festival in his honor.


The unincorporated community of Zigzag, Oregon, is a scenic spot that rests in the middle of Mount Hood National Forest. The community itself is named after the Zigzag River, which drains from the Zigzag Glacier. Though the history of the name is unknown, it might be traced back to Joel Palmer, a pioneer of the Oregon territory, who described the erratic movements needed to descend through a ravine near Mount Hood: “The manner of descending is to turn directly to the right, go zigzag for about one hundred yards, then turn short round, and go zigzag until you come under the place where you started from; then to the right, and so on, until you reach the bottom.” Though it was used to describe one particular ravine, the name stuck, and it eventually morphed into becoming a local community. In addition to a town, river, and glacier, Zigzag also lends its name to a volcanic mountain and canyon.


Ken Lund, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, village of Intercourse knows what you’re thinking. “It’s okay, you can giggle!” the village’s website says. “We’re happy with our name. It’s the perfect conversation starter.” Just how did the town come by its unusual moniker, which it adopted in 1814? There are several possibilities. According to one theory, the name came from the fact that the town—which was originally called Cross Keys after a local tavern when it was founded in 1754—was at the intersection of two major roads. Another theory posits that the name is an evolution from “Entercourse” because, at the time, the town was located next to the entrance of a racetrack. The final theory revolves around the original meaning of the word intercourse: “connection or dealings between persons or groups; exchange especially of thoughts or feelings.” The sexual meaning of the word intercourse didn’t come into popular use until the late 18th century. Intercourse isn’t the only Pennsylvania town name likely to delight 12-year-olds: Less than 20 minutes up the road is the town Blue Ball. It was named after an 1850s inn.


The sixth largest city in Rhode Island was historically known as la ville la plus française aux États-Unis, which translates to “the most French city in the United States.” Although during the Depression three-quarters of Woonsocket’s residents were of French-Canadian descent, by the 2000 census, that number had dipped to 46.1 percent. “Woonsocket,” though, does not come from French. Historians agree that the town’s whimsical name is a corruption of a word from a Native American language, but they don’t agree on the language, much less the word, from which it derives.


This Horry County town got its name from a country store built by Herbert Small in 1927, but not because of the condiments it sold. Every week, farmers would flock to Small’s store to “catch up” on news and gossip. As a town grew up around the store, the name stuck.


Mud Butte was named for a nearby barren butte—that is, an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top. In 1981, archeologists digging around in Mud Butte unearthed the sixth Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, after a local rancher finally got around to calling a museum about the dinosaur bones he’d seen jutting out of a cliff on his property for years.


There are competing theories on the genesis of Difficult’s name. One holds that when town residents applied for a post office, the U.S. Postal Service responded, “your name is difficult,” referring either to its pronunciation, spelling, or the handwriting on the application. Residents took the letter as an order, and accepted the name Difficult. The other theory goes that the town named itself Difficult out of spite after a postal official suggested its name was too hard to pronounce.


Upon learning that the town of Ding Dong is located in Bell County, Texas, you might reasonably conclude that the two facts are related. But you’d be wrong. The community was named after its founders, the Bell family—but they’re unrelated to Governor Peter Hansborough Bell, in whose honor the county was named.


Visitors to Mexican Hat, Utah, never have to wonder how the community got its name. The answer is as plain as day: a 60-foot-wide, sombrero-shaped rock formation on the northeast side of town.


If New England town names are any indication, Satan’s been awfully busy. The prince of darkness evidently has franchises in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont—the latter of which was purportedly named by a resentful settler who "expected fertile, rolling acres and had received rocks and hills instead."


It’s pronounced “bump-iss,” the locals will tell you—if they tell you anything at all. Many Bumpass residents have developed a no-talking-to-strangers policy. Maybe they're just tired of being the butt of every joke.


humptulips washington

This tiny town, located about 25 miles north of Aberdeen (famous as Kurt Cobain's birthplace), was once a major logging center. Today it's better known for its unusual name, which comes from a local Native American word meaning "hard to pole." The phrase is a reference to the nearby Humptulips River, which Native Americans used to canoe by propelling themselves along with poles. The unusual-sounding term has brought the area a bit of fame: Humptulips is mentioned in the books Another Popular Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins and The Long World by Sir Terry Pratchett.


While the name of this unincorporated community might whet your appetite, it's likely named for a nearby salt lick, which was probably more appealing to horses and wild animals than humans. There's a Lick Fork creek, road, and more nearby, so there's no shortage of photo opportunities.


This Richland County, Wisconsin, community reportedly takes its name from William Henry Dosch. Nickname: Boss. According to The Romance of Wisconsin Place Names, Dosch was sick as a boy, and he got so used to the attention he received while ill that he later became rather bossy with his family. Later, he owned a store on the site of an old saw mill.


It’s Chug-water, not Chug-water. The land that this tiny Wyoming town calls home was once the territory of the Mandan tribe, whose chief was reportedly injured during a buffalo hunt and sent his son to lead the hunting party in his place. According to Chugwater’s website, the son determined that the easiest way to kill the buffalo was to drive them off the local chalk cliffs. “The word ‘chug,’” the town’s website notes, “is said to describe the noise that the buffalo or the falling chalk made when it hit the ground or fell into the water under the bluff, depending on which version of the legend you wish to believe. Indians began to call the area ‘water at the place where the buffalo chug.’” When white settlers came to the area, they used the Native American terminology for the land, dubbing it Chug Springs. A local stream was named Chugwater Creek (after Chug Springs), and that’s where the town gets its name.

By Erika Berlin, Stacy Conradt, April Daley, Michele Debczak, Kirstin Fawcett, Shaunacy Ferro, Kate Horowitz, Kat Long, Bess Lovejoy, Erin McCarthy, Jen Pinkowski, Lucas Reilly, Nico Rivero, Jake Rossen, Jay Serafino, and Jenn Wood.


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