CLOSE
iStock
iStock

25 Things You Should Know About Anchorage

iStock
iStock
Situated at the end of the Cook Inlet, where coastal lowland gradually rises up to the Chugach Mountains, Anchorage is a city on the edge of civilization. And that’s exactly what locals and visitors love about it. Here are a few facts about this northern outpost.  1. Before Russia owned the territory and Seward had his folly, the original inhabitants of Anchorage were the Dena’ina, a matrilineal tribe of Athabascan Indians that had hunted and fished in the area for more than 1000 years.   2. Anchorage didn’t begin as a port or mining town but rather as a railroad hub. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson authorized construction of the 500-mile-long Alaska Railroad, stretching from coastal Seward up to gold-rich Fairbanks. By 1915 a tent city for rail workers had gone up in the muddy land around Ship Creek, where the railroad company’s headquarters were located.  [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_full_width","fid":"185400","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"784","title":"","width":"620"}}]]  3. In 1915, the federal government outlawed gambling, prostitution and the sale of alcohol in Anchorage. Which of course meant that all these things flourished in the frontier town. As one fed-up official noted, “The only thing more prevalent than the fine dust which clogs the air is the raw whiskey with which they wash it down.”     4. Early Anchorage was filled with gamblers, swindlers and assorted other opportunists. The most brazen of them all, though, was Joe Spenard, a cigar-chomping businessman who brought the first car to Anchorage—a bright yellow Model T—and turned it into the city’s one and only taxi service. He also cleared out 160 acres of forest preserve around Jeter Lake, which he renamed Lake Spenard, and built a popular dance hall. Federal officials were none too pleased by any of this, but before they could crack down, the dance hall went up in flames and Spenard skipped town. In all, Spenard spent just over a year in Anchorage, but his legacy lives on in the Spenard neighborhood of Anchorage.   5. The man credited with turning the Alaska Railroad into a successful enterprise was a hard-charging Swedish colonel with a penchant for green suits. Otto Ohlson spent decades managing railways throughout Europe and America before coming to Alaska in 1928. In addition to improving the railroad itself, Ohlson ran successful campaigns to draw farmers into Alaska’s interior, thereby increasing agricultural demand for the railroad. To monitor progress along the rail line, Ohlson had an automobile specially outfitted to drive on the tracks. In at least one instance, the car met with the business end of a locomotive.  6. Realizing Anchorage’s strategic location as a staging and refueling hub, the U.S. built two major military bases there in the early 1940s: Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson. Between 1940 and 1945, the city’s population jumped from 2,500 to 70,000. 7. At 5:36 p.m. on March 27, 1964, the strongest recorded earthquake in North American history (and the second most powerful ever recorded) struck Anchorage. Measured at magnitude 9.2, the quake buckled highways, collapsed roofs, and created landslides that claimed dozens of homes in the city’s Turnagain neighborhood. The Four Seasons apartment complex in downtown Anchorage was reduced to rubble. All told, the Good Friday Earthquake lasted nearly four minutes and claimed 115 lives.    8. Alaska’s early growing pains as a state caused many to call for the capital to relocate from Juneau to Anchorage. The publisher of the Anchorage Times, Robert Atwood, mounted campaigns that helped introduce ballot measures in 1960 and 1962. Both measures failed, but in 1974 voters approved relocation of the capital to Willow, just north of Anchorage. When the $1 billion funding proposal came in two years later, though, voters rejected it.  9. It’s a lot bigger than you think: Anchorage’s 1961 square miles place it squarely between Rhode Island and Delaware in terms of size.  10. If you’re driving through Anchorage, be on the lookout for moose. There are approximately 250 that live in the area during the summer, and more than 1000 that take up residence during the winter. Drivers kill more than 100 of them each year.   11. The city is also home to around 250 black bears and 60 grizzly bears. Sightings are a part of daily life for residents, though harmful encounters are rare. A few years ago, scientists tracked nine area bears using GPS collars, and the resulting data shows that Anchorage—just like the rest of Alaska—truly is bear country.
iStock  
12. There’s great salmon fishing right in downtown Anchorage. During late spring and summer months, anglers line up along Ship Creek as they try to land king and silver salmon. It’s not uncommon to see workers rush out during their lunch breaks, throw on a pair of waders, and cast their lines out.  13. Anchorage is located within a nine-and-a-half-hour flight of 90 percent of the world’s population. That’s made it a leading air freight hub, with nearly six billion pounds of cargo ferried through Ted Stevens International Airport each year.  14. Getting into and out of Anchorage by car is pretty simple, as there’s only one route: Highway 1. South of Anchorage it’s known as the Seward Highway, and has a reputation as one of the most scenic drives in America.  
iStock
15. During the height of the summer solstice in June, Anchorage basks in up to 22 hours of daylight every day. To celebrate, businesses stay open late and festivities stretch into the wee hours. The Anchorage Zoo extends its hours until midnight, while the city’s minor league baseball team, the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, start their games at 10 p.m.      16. The flipside of that geo-celestial coin comes every winter when Anchorage copes with less than six hours of sunlight each day. But hey, at least it’s not far northern Barrow, Alaska, which has 67 days of complete darkness.  17. Keen on seeing the Northern Lights but not willing to stay up past your bedtime? Not to worry. Hotels in and around Anchorage, like the Hotel Alyeska, offer a special wake-up call should the winter sky light up.   18. Anchorage is quite the caffeinated city. It has the second most coffee shops per capita of any city in the U.S. (only Seattle has more). Espresso stands are a dime a dozen, and local chains like Kaladi Brothers have taken off in the past few years. Since 2011, according to the state’s labor department, the number of jobs in the coffee industry has jumped 20 percent.   19. Like most of Alaska, Anchorage has no sales tax. And if locals have anything to say about it, there won’t be any in the near future. In 2001 and 2005, nearly three-fourths of voters rejected sales tax bills of 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively.  20. It’s a premier destination for skiing—cross-country skiing, that is. Anchorage has more than 100 miles of tracks and frequently hosts international competitions. Trails range from a few miles to nearly 40 miles long, with numerous outfitters offering rental equipment to visitors. Just be on the lookout for moose and bear. 21. The Iditarod, the legendary 1000-mile dogsled race that starts in Anchorage every March and ends in Nome, began as a supply trail to mining camps and remote villages. In 1925, teams of mushers used the trail to transport vital medical supplies to Nome during a diphtheria outbreak, making headlines across the globe. It took 40 years and the advocacy of a local historian, though, for the world-famous sled dog race to begin.  
iStock
22. Forget confusing names or acronyms. Anchorage’s public transit system’s official name is the “People Mover.” Started in 1974, it runs 14 routes throughout the city, with an average daily ridership of around 14,000.  23. In 1966, a local grocer named Jack Snyder won a catchphrase contest put on by the Crown Zellerbach paper company. The prize was $3,000 or a baby elephant, and to the surprise of many, Snyder chose the latter. After the elephant arrived, Snyder put her up at a local ranch that had a heated stall. Annabelle, as the elephant came to be known, was a popular draw for locals, so in 1968 the city incorporated land near the ranch as the city’s first zoo, with Annabelle as the star attraction.   24. Feeling hungry? Humpy’s Alehouse offers Alaska’s most formidable food challenge, the Kodiak Arrest. It includes 14 inches of reindeer sausage, three pounds of crab legs, crab nuggets and a host of side dishes. Take it down in less than an hour and you’ll get a free T-shirt (not to mention massive indigestion). 25. Anchorage has a very active competitive beard and moustache community. So naturally, the city played host to the World Beard and Moustache Championships in 2009. The event saw the American competitors win 12 out of 18 categories, shifting dominance away from the once-mighty German contingent. The event’s grand champion, David Traver, won the freestyle competition (yes, really) by fashioning his beard in the shape of a snowshoe.
nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Neighborhoods
How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names
iStock
iStock

Inhabited by native people for thousands of years and colonized by white settlers in the 1860s, Phoenix has developed a booming economy based around “the Five Cs”: cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper. It's grown from a once-dusty desert town to the state capital, as well as the nation's fifth-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million and counting. Here’s the story of how eight of the city's neighborhoods ended up with their current names.

1. ALHAMBRA

Best known as the founder of Glendale, Arizona, William John Murphy was a pioneer, contractor, and the impresario of the Arizona Improvement Company, created in 1887 to sell land and water rights south of the Arizona Canal. Murphy also greatly contributed to the early development of Scottsdale and Phoenix, and he was responsible for splitting a large chunk of his land along the western border of Phoenix, next to Glendale, into smaller subdivisions [PDF]. He also came up with the subdivision's names; Alhambra stemmed from the 13th-century palace and fortress of the same name in Granada, Spain. Today, the neighborhood is known for large homes and its Murphy Bridle Path, named after its former landowner.

2. AHWATUKEE

The word Ahwatukee—an “urban village” in the East Valley region of Phoenix—has roots in the Crow language, but theories about its translation differ. Before it was a village, the name referred to a single estate built in 1920 that sat at the modern-day streets of Sequoia Trails and Appaloosa Drive. The original builder, William Ames, first named it Casa de Sueños ("house of dreams"), but he died three months after moving in. His widow, Virginia Ames, owned the house until her death in 1932, and it was eventually sold to a rich Midwesterner named Helen Brinton, who had an interest in the Crow tribe. Her attempt to translate “house of dreams” into Crow was Ahwatukee, but the tribe says there’s no such word in their language. The name caught on regardless, being used to refer to the house as well as the area that developed around it.

3. SUNNYSLOPE

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Southwest was a place where sick people would travel from all across the U.S. to recuperate from pulmonary illnesses—especially pulmonary tuberculosis. The hot, arid climate was thought to dry out one's lungs, while the year-round sunshine was believed to have healing properties in general. In the early 20th century, Sunnyslope—and Sunnyslope Mountain, marked by a 150-foot-tall white S near its peak—became known as an area where ill people could get well. California architect William Norton built a subdivision in the area in 1911, and it was his daughter who came up with the name Sunnyslope after admiring the sun glinting off the slope of the mountain.

4. F. Q. STORY HISTORIC DISTRICT

The F.Q. Story district is named after Francis Quarles Story, who purchased the land it’s on back in 1887. Formerly a wool merchant, Story moved to Los Angeles County for health reasons and became a citrus farmer before investing in land in Arizona’s Salt River Valley and promoting agricultural development there. He never lived in Phoenix, but he did have a hand in the development of its major thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, as well as its subsequent streetcar line. The F.Q. Story neighborhood was built as a “streetcar suburb,” with newspaper ads in 1920 calling the grand opening "one of the big real estate events of the season." (Unfortunately, a flood at nearby Cave Creek caused a temporary halt in construction the following year, but the area rebounded after a dam was constructed in 1923.)

5. WILLO

Willo started out as a planned community, an idyllic suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, although today it lies near downtown. A man named J. P. Holcomb acquired the southern part of the neighborhood in 1878 and then the northern part in 1886, using the land mostly for farming for the next 20 years. In the early 1900s, several homes were built on long, narrow lots, and 41 more were added in the '20s, but the area was still isolated from the city and it was difficult to attract buyers. Developers decided it needed a snappy name, and came up with Willonot from the willow tree, but from combining the two nearest voting districts: Wilshire and Los Olivos.

6. LAVEEN

As early as 1884, Mexican and Mormon settlers were living in what’s now called Laveen Village, in the Southwestern part of Phoenix. The school district was called the Harovitz District, but the community itself had no name for more than 30 years, until Roger Laveen was appointed as its first postmaster in 1913 [PDF]. The post office was located in the back of Laveen’s brother's new general store, which became a cornerstone of the town. Roger only worked in the post office for about two years, although both brothers continued living in the area that now bears their name for decades more.

7. MEDLOCK PLACE

Medlock Place was named after prominent residential developer Floyd W. Medlock, who created the community in 1926 with the idea of giving it a rural aesthetic despite being only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The precocious Medlock—he was only in his early 20s—planned palm tree-lined roads in the new community and sold pre-built houses, a ground-breaking move in 1920s Phoenix. (In an ad, Medlock called his community "the Subdivision Extraordinary.") For his subsequent South Medlock Place addition, he began selling vacant lots instead, with buyers permitted to hire their own builders.

8. ARCADIA

Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain and one of the wealthiest areas of Phoenix, Arcadia started out like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods: as citrus orchards. The first grove was planted in 1899, and by 1920, the foothills were covered in citrus trees—thanks in large part to the Arcadia Water Company, which set up a widespread irrigation system starting in 1919. Soon, farmers and developers began investing in the region and building homes. The neighborhood took its name from the water company, which in turn got its name from Greek mythology: Arcadia was where Pan, the goat god, originated—a region supposedly named for its king, Arcas, the hunter. The association with nature is still apt, since fruit trees abound in the neighborhood even today.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why is New York City Called The Big Apple?
iStock
iStock

New York City has been called many things—“The Great American Melting Pot,” “Gotham,” “The City that Never Sleeps”—but its most famous nickname is “The Big Apple.” So just where did this now-ubiquitous moniker originate?

MAKING A BIG APPLE

Over the years, there have been many theories about how New York City came to be called “The Big Apple.” Some say it comes from the former well-to-do families who sold apples on the city's streets to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Another account posits that the term comes from a famous 19th-century brothel madam named Eve, whose girls were cheekily referred to as her “Big Apples.” But the nickname actually springs from a catchphrase used in the 1920s by The Morning Telegraph sports writer John J. Fitz Gerald in his horse racing column, “Around the Big Apple.” Beginning on February 18, 1924, he began every column with the header, “The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There's only one Big Apple. That's New York.”

At the time, the jockeys and trainers of smaller horses were said to want to make a “Big Apple," which was their term for the big money prizes at larger races in and around New York City.

Fitz Gerald reportedly first heard "The Big Apple" used to describe New York's racetracks by two African American stable hands at the famed New Orleans Fair Grounds, as he explained in his inaugural "Around the Big Apple" column: “Two dusky stable hands were leading a pair of thoroughbreds around the ‘cooling rings’ of adjoining stables at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and engaging in desultory conversation. ‘Where y'all goin' from here?’ queried one. ‘From here we're headin' for The Big Apple,’ proudly replied the other. ‘Well, you'd better fatten up them skinners or all you'll get from the apple will be the core,’ was the quick rejoinder.” Fitz Gerald nabbed the colloquialism for his column, where it quickly took off.

CATCHING ON

Once the term entered the vocabularies of society up north, its popularity slowly spread outside of the horseracing context, and everything from nightclubs in Harlem to hit songs and dances about the city were named after “The Big Apple.” Most notably, New York jazz musicians in the 1930s—who had a habit of using the nickname to reference their hometown in their songs—helped the nickname spread beyond the northeast.

Throughout the mid-20th century, it remained New York City's nickname until it was officially adopted by the city in the 1970s. The New York Convention & Visitors Bureau hoped that using the moniker would brighten the image of an economically downtrodden and crime-ridden city in decline and revive the tourist economy. In 1997, to give Fitz Gerald his (somewhat unjust) due, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed legislation naming the corner where Fitz Gerald and his family lived at West 54th Street and Broadway between 1934 and 1963 “Big Apple Corner.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios