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Care to sleep in a town called Wide Awake?

Odd town names strike author's fancy

(CNN) -- Why, Arizona and Wide Awake, Colorado would simply have gone unnoticed, except for the occasional lost tourist, if not for the attention of author Frank Gallant. He has catalogued the most unusual names of cities throughout the United States in his new book "A Place Called Peculiar: 501 Whimsical Place Names in America."

Gallant became a collector of names when he was a kid. It all began with a baseball card.

"There was a St. Louis Cardinals pitcher back in the '50s named Wilmer Mizell. His nickname was 'Vinegar Bend' Mizell. Vinegar Bend is a town in Alabama. When I collected that card, it wasn't that he was such a great pitcher that interested me, it was his nickname."
-- Frank Gallant.

"There was a St. Louis Cardinals pitcher back in the '50s named Wilmer Mizell. His nickname was 'Vinegar Bend' Mizell," Gallant told CNN. "Vinegar Bend is a town in Alabama. When I collected that card, it wasn't that he was such a great pitcher that interested me, it was his nickname," he said.

Later, Gallant began noticing unusual place names like Bugtussle, Alabama, during the 16 years that he edited "Rural Electrification" magazine. Three years ago, he began looking into how these places got their names. It was only natural for him to put together a book.


  • Tooting Bec, England
  • Soso, Mississippi
  • Arab, Alabama
  • Climax, Georgia
  • Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
  • Mono, California
  • Why Not, Mississippi and North Carolina

  • Gallant said he hasn't visited many of the unusually named places, but he has stopped in the namesake of his book -- Peculiar, Missouri. The town is located about 30 miles south of Kansas City, and quite ordinary.

    So why is it called Peculiar? Gallant explained: In about 1858 the area had gotten big enough to need a post office. The man seeking the town's first postmaster position requested to the United States Post Office Department the name of Excelsior.

    The postmaster wannabe was told that name was already taken in Missouri. So he chose another name. That name was also taken. This happened 4 more times. "Finally, exasperated, he wrote to Washington and said, 'Listen. We'll take any name. Just send us a name that's a little bit peculiar, and we'll be happy.'"

    The folks in Peculiar learned a very important lesson. Never let the government choose a name.But they seem to be proud of the name, and it stuck.


    The author explains how the town of Hot Coffee, Mississippi, got its name

    480k WAV audio file

    Why, Arizona and Frostproof, Florida

    Why, Arizona, also has a humorous tale behind it, Gallant said. The little desert oasis is located in southern Arizona. Snowbirds -- folks fleeing the chilly states -- flock there during winter. "They got an awful lot of chuckles over the question 'Why would anyone move to a place like this?'"

    Some places were named out of fatigue, such as Wide Awake, Colorado. According to Gallant, the tiny town in the mountains west of Denver is an old mining camp. "A hundred years or so ago, some miners were sitting around a campfire, late at night, passing a bottle, and one of the guys said, 'You know, we need to find a ... name for this mining camp.' And they talked about it, and they talked about it. And then everyone's getting tired and one of the miners says, 'You know, let's just forget it. Let's drop it, and think about it tomorrow when we're all wide awake.' And so one guy said, 'That's it! Let's call it Wide Awake.'"

    Frostproof, Florida, got its name because of a young entrepreneur. A real-estate agent wanted to make his fortune buying and selling citrus groves. He named a the town Frostproof so that northerners would think their groves would be invincible against killer frost, Gallant said.

    "About six years later, there was a terrible frost down there that killed all the oranges," Gallant said. Frost also killed all of the oranges the following year. "The people were so embarrassed to have a name that really was a lie that they tried to change it, but the man who named it Frostproof prevailed. He came from a prominent citrus-growing family, and they got away with that dishonest name."


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