Mark Usler loves to go fishing. But what this inquisitive Independence native enjoys more than fishing is scouring the countryside for towns with unusual names, such as Peculiar, Missouri, Hog Eye, Arkansas, or Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky, all of which piqued his curiosity.
So much so that he retired his fishing pole and launched a new hobby: finding towns with unusual names.
“So I just started collecting names,” the 1959 Van Horn High School graduate says, explaining that when he ran across a town with an odd name in his travels, he would stop, talk to the folks about their town and ask them how their town acquired their unusual name.
“And many didn't know,” he says.
Believing folks should know the history and heritage of their communities, he decided it was time to write a trivia book about how America's cities, towns and states acquired their names. So in September 2006, “Hometown Revelations,” the first of five trivia books, was published.
More than 35,000 copies have been sold nationwide, and led to his latest book, “The Big Book of Hometown Revelations – Amazing Stories and Trivia About America's Cities & Towns. It was published last month as the second edition of “Hometown Revelations.”
“There are a lot of new stories in ‘Hometown Trivia,’ and I think the pictures really give the reader a personal feeling for the people behind a town's name,” Mark says, noting half the book is composed of “new stuff,” including all the major cities and how they got their names, plus photographs of people behind those names.
“What the book is all about,” he says, “ is giving (readers ) basically a little more history and heritage from where they came from.”
Mark notes that between between his first and fifth books, he was busy writing two other books: “Hometown Decorations,” which focused on American world capitals, such as the “Halloween Capital of the World” in Anoka, Minnesota, the “Corn Cob Pipe Capital of the World” in Washington, Missouri, and the “Wild Goose Capital of the World” in Sumner, Missouri.
His other book, published in 2010, was “Hometown Celebrations,” focusing on such festivals and celebrations as the Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa; the World's Biggest Fish Fry in Paris, Tennessee; the UFO Festival in Roswell, New Mexico; the Woollybear Festival in Vermilion, Ohio.
“What I did with my latest book on hometown trivia was I took all the information from those two books and put them into a hometown trivial book,” Mark notes. “So I did two books at once.”
Mark believes historical trivia is important because folks should know where they came from.
“When you look at some of these towns, a lot of these towns are proud of a lot different things,” he says. “If you go over to Lenexa, Lenexa use to be the Spinach Capital of the World. To this day, they have a festival and have green water going through their fountains (to celebrate the occasion.)”
“Go up to Lathrop and you are in the Mule Capital of the World. … To this day, they still have mule-jumping contests.”
“You can go to these little towns and they all have their claim to fame,” he says. “It's important for people to hang their hats on something noteworthy. That's what kind of got me started. So I started looking for these kinds of things. And you don't have to look too far, because when you come to a new town, it'll say, “Home of the … .”
What does Mark hope to gain from his infatuation with history and trivia?
“It's not about becoming rich or famous,” he says. “But I would like for our kids to know how great our country is and that the people behind our country and our heritage is what made it great.”
The second-edition book is available for $12.95, and the e-book is $4.99. “Hometown Trivia” is $10.95; the e-book is $3.99. Both books are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble Booksellers.
Mark Usler can be reached at: www.hometownrevelations.com.
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.