Idaho, the Center of the Universe

Flickr user oregon ducatisti
Flickr user oregon ducatisti / Flickr user oregon ducatisti

If you want to learn about someplace, you can always pick up a textbook. But if you want to get to know a place, you're going to have to dig a little deeper. And what you find there might be a little strange. The Strange States series will take you on a virtual tour of America to uncover the unusual people, places, things, and events that make this country such a unique place to call home.

When you think of Idaho, you don’t think weird.  But you might be surprised to learn there are some pretty odd places in the home of the most famous type of potato.

The Center of the Universe

It might surprise you to learn that Wallace, Idaho—a town of less than 800 people—is, in fact, the center of the universe. Don’t believe it? Well, let’s see you prove that it’s not.

The Center of the Universe was declared in 2004 by proclamation of Mayor Ron Garitone. The precise point is slightly off-center from the intersection of Bank and Sixth Streets, marked by a manhole cover decorated with a compass rose, as well as codes for the four major mining companies in the region—the Sterling Mining Company (SRLM), Bunker Hill Mine (BHM), Helca Mining Company (HL), and the Coeur d’Alene Mines Corporation (CDE).  Why is this the Center of the Universe? Because the mayor said so. And because no one can prove him wrong, it must be true.

Now, as you might guess, this proclamation came with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The residents of Wallace and other communities in the region had been battling the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 2002 over the safety of the region’s soil.  It came down to the residents saying the levels of naturally-occurring lead sulfide were obviously not posing a health risk, as it had been there for thousands of years and generations of residents didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects.  The EPA countered by saying that if the people couldn’t prove the lead sulfide wasn’t dangerous, than it must be as harmful as other forms of lead and had to be removed. The Center of the Universe was dedicated as a thumbing of the nose to the EPA’s reasoning on the issue.

The exalted manhole cover has since become the most popular spot in town.  In 2005, British comedian/author Danny Wallace visited and wrote a book about the landmark.  People have even gotten married at the manhole.  During the 2006 Silver Summit, a meeting of the mining companies that helped build the region, the town held a festival to celebrate their Center of the Universe status.  Besides good music, good food, and plenty of photo ops with the manhole, they also crowned a Princess of the Center of the Universe.  Since then, dozens of tourists every year rush out into the busy main drag of Wallace, Idaho and snap a quick picture in order to prove they were, for that brief moment in time, at the middle of it all.

Have the scoop on an unusual person, place or event in your state? Tell me about it on Twitter (@spacemonkeyx) and maybe I’ll include it in a future edition of Strange States!   

Photo courtesy Flickr user Oregon Ducatisti. See all entries in the Strange States series here.