Monday, June 01, 2009

Back to the Salt Mines

Salt Miners, Winsford, England

Quick! Without resorting to Google, can you name the capital of Missouri? Hint: it's not Missouriopolis. But, according to fellow blogger Elektra Tig, Missouriopolis was under consideration as the name of the capital of Missouri around 1821. My home state is unique in being the only state to incorporate its name into the name of its capital--Indianapolis, which lies at the center of the state. Residents of Iowa Center, a town laid out at the center of that state in 1855, had high hopes that their town would be the capital of Iowa. Unfortunately for them, Iowa Center lost out to another city (bonus question: what is the capital of Iowa?), so Indiana remains the only state having the distinction of a capital which both incorporates the name of the state and which lies at the center of the state.

And then there's a town built in the middle of Kansas. It includes only the first three letters of the state's name, but Kanopolis rolls off the tongue more easily than Kansasopolis. The town was built on the site of Fort Harker, an Army base important in the Indian Wars from 1867 till it was abandoned in 1872. After the fort was closed, the land and buildings were acquired by private individuals with the intent of building a city that would become the state capital. Kanopolis was established in 1887, and was laid out to accommodate up to 150,000 residents. The developers had visions of Kanopolis being not just the state capital. Since it also lies in the middle of the country, they thought it should be the capital of the U.S. as well. Alas, neither dream came to fruition. Kanopolis didn't even become the county seat. This honor fell to nearby Ellsworth, which would seem to have had an unfair edge in Ellsworth County.

Like many small towns, Kanopolis was once more prosperous than it is today. The U.S. Census of 2000 counted only 543 residents. Businesses which once thrived have left town, although one industry, salt mining, still has a presence in Kanopolis. The town has the good fortune to sit on a large vein of salt, which brings me (finally) to the topic of this post.

I seldom eat in the doctors' dining room when I work at the hospital these days. I prefer to carry my lunch and eat in the relative peace and quiet and absence of political rhetoric in the radiology department. When I did eat lunch upstairs, I often found myself leaving the room by saying it was time to get back to the salt mines. I never stopped to consider the origin of this phrase until I started researching the salt mining industry in connection with my new-found interest in Kanopolis. In A Dictionary of Catch Phrases from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day, by Eric Partridge (edited by Paul Beale), the author states that the phrase comes "from the Western idea--not far from wrong at that!--that, in both imperial and in communist Russia, political prioners were sent to do hard labour in the salt mines of Siberia." He also writes, "Col. (Albert F.) Moe thinks back to the mines! is the earliest form and attributes it to a play of the 1890s, Siberia, with its dramatic poster of a party of Russians proceeding to Siberia 'under the lashes of the Cossacks.'"

So there you have it. I tried to find a picture of some hapless Kansans toiling in the salt mines, but the closest I could come was the photo of English salt miners at the beginning of this post. They don't look all that miserable, but then I suppose things were a lot worse in Siberia when the only tools available were picks and shovels. Let's face it--almost anything would be worse in Siberia, regardless of the tools available.

Kanopolis History by Jesse Manning


mkreider said...

There's a great book you should read, "Salt". Most interesting.

Rambling Woods said...

I wondered where that term came from..Interesting post..I never liked to eat with my colleagues in the faculty lunch room. I would always stay in my room and read a book. Now does that make me shy, anti-social or was I covering up my krispy creme addiction...