We’re the Greatest! Our Quest to Be the World Capital of…Anything—Page 2 By Chris Epting
Park Falls, Wisconsin is the one and only Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World. Remember a TV show called “The Ruffed Grouse Family” starring David Cassidy and Shirley Jones? Of course not. But you do remember “The Partridge Family” and that is what the ruffed grouse is, what we know as the partridge: the plump, chicken-like bird with the black “ruffs” on the side of its head. And just how does Park Falls come into the picture? Well, they boast the “most extensively managed ruffed grouse population in the world” over a 5000-acre area.
It’s also considered to be the most important game bird in Wisconsin and a fun one to listen for, especially during mating season in the spring. See, the males actually “drum” to attract a mate, usually on a rock or fallen log. And this produces a very unique sound that alerts any woods wanderer where the action is. Park Falls made the designation of “The Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World” on May 29, 1985.
Flower Seeds and Cow Chips At one point perhaps, Lompoc, California could have been the “Country Club Jail Capital of the World” given that the former prison there housed many celebrity felons in minimum-security conditions. Inside trader Ivan Boesky and Watergate figures H.R. Haldeman, Herbert W. Kalmbach and several other Nixon aides convicted of Watergate-related offenses all called Lompoc home for a while. The prison has now gone to maximum-security status, and we know Lompoc as the “Flower Seed Capital of the World.”
In the 1920s it was the Mustard Capital of the World (back when the pretty yellow mustard plants were cut and sent to France where they were turned into an array of edible mustards). In the 1930s it was the Apple Capital of the World, but from the ’40s on, it has been all about the flowers. The flowers in Lompoc are grown for seed and then sold in markets and catalogs all over the world. Lompoc has an annual Flower Festival to celebrate their flowers and seeds, replete with a parade and flower-covered floats. The event is held at the Ryon Park, the city’s oldest park.
Beaver, Oklahoma knows what it’s got, and it’s not afraid to use it. Each April, it is here where the World Championship Cow Chip Throw is held. Why? Well, cow chips (a.k.a. dried cow dung) were an important part of the pioneer history in the area. Early settlers used them as fuel to cook food, and burned them to create heat for their homes. Before winter, families would go out tot he fields to collect the hard brown disks, stocking up before the cold weather hit. Somewhere along the way, families began informal competitions to see who could toss them into the wagons with the most accuracy.
In 1970, the town of Beaver realized that it had something special on its hands and actually branded the event as their own. Today, people travel there to experience the World Championship Cow Chip Throw held the third weekend of April. No b.s! Actually, plenty of b.s.—which is what any good cow chip throwing contest needs.
Ice Cream and a Good Book Okay, so it took the Iowa State Legislature to do it, back in 1994, to officially proclaim La Mars, Iowa as this sweetest of the sweet capitals. The only question is, what took so long? Ever since Fred H. Wells Jr. founded the Blue Bunny ice cream company back in 1913, the place has been all about the ice cream. Today, Le Mars makes ice cream for Häagen-Dazs, Baskin-Robbins and General Mills at their massive South Ice Cream Plant, where there is also the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor & Museum. The parlor’s marble ice cream bar was salvaged from the historic M&M Bakery & Café in O’Neill, Nebraska, and visitors can peruse historical photos, interactive kiosks, and exhibits that highlight company history. Another scoop: today, more ice cream is produced in Le Mars by a single company than in any other city in the world.
Tifton, Georgia celebrates what you are doing right now. This town is the “Reading Capital of the World.” It goes back to a November day in 2000 when more than 7,500 Tifton residents filled the local football stadium to celebrate he fact that in just four years the town read one million books. How could they prove it? Each time someone finished reading a book, they had to take a computer test to get credit for it.
After amassing over two million points in the Accelerated Reader program, they became The Reading Capital of the World. The city also earned the Guinness Book of World Records citation for the most people reading together in one place. But they love to read in Tifton, they pride themselves on how they’ve reduced illiteracy rates, and while it may not be as exciting as, say, the Cow Chip Throwing Capital of the World, it’s still a rather novel distinction.
These bold declarations are nothing new to the traveler. They tease and seduce us to slow down and pay attention; the American marketing mojo at its most amazing. I like them because they tell me that places are prideful, and yes, shrewd in how they sell themselves. They act as a sort of national pulse, letting us know that no matter where we happen to wander, something bright, bold, and important awaits —whether we care about it or not.
A pop culture history aficionado,Chris Epting has a lifelong penchant for documenting the exact sites where things both great and small occurred. He is the author 20 books, many of which are based on his discoveries, including James Dean Died Here, The Locations of America’s Pop Culture Landmarks, Elvis Presley Passed Here, Even More Locations of America’s Pop Culture Landmarks, Roadside Baseball, and Led Zeppelin Crashed Here. He is currently working on a book about weird world capitals.
Return to Page 1
Related stories: Born in the USA: an Apple, a Taco, and a Doctor’s Soda Syrupby Chris Epting Really Wild Wildlife in New York City by Ayun Halliday Two Wheels, Two Drinks: Biking through America’s Heartland by Tim Leffel Travel by the Glass by Chris Epting
More USA travel stories from the archives