RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

The Birthplace Book: A Guide to Birth Sites of Famous People, Places, and Things, by Chris Epting

The title of Chris Epting's latest book is a bit of a departure from the light-hearted puns on the covers of his earlier books: Led Zepplin Crashed Here, Elvis Presley Passed Here, or my personal favorite, Marilyn Monroe Dyed Here. I wondered a little about what I would find in this latest compendium of American pop culture,The Birthplace Book: A Guide to Birth Sites of Famous People, Places & Things. I needn't have worried -- this new book is great fun and chock full of stories and factoids great for entertaining and impressing your road trip companions. Unlike Chris Epting, I've never been particularly taken with learning about the birth place of any of the presidents, or any other celebrity. But the birthplace of ideas and companies - now that's something I will always find fascinating.

The book is divided into eight regions: New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Mid-South, Midwest, Central, West and Pacific. There's at least one "birth" from each state. I think it interesting that some states, like Ohio, have as many as 20 notable nativities, while my home state of Nevada has only one. Clearly, Mr. Epting needs to do some more research here -- if his book has room to detail the creation of the Kermit the Frog (in Leland, Mississippi) perhaps there will be room in a future edition for a discussion of the origins of the top-secret Area 51 or the birth of the world-famous Hoover Dam.

But I digress… I loved finding out that "motel" concept was dreamed up and brought into reality by architect Arthur Heinemen in 1925 in San Luis Obispo, California. Basketball and volleyball came on the scene in Massachusetts over a century ago and share a common lineage with the YMCA. One of my favorite toys of all time was invented by accident in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. Back in 1943, Richard James conducted some experiments with tension springs, and ended up creating the Slinky. I was surprised to learn that the very first cellular phone call was made on April 3, 1973, in New York City-seems like that technology has existed a lot longer than that, even if it wasn't always so ubiquitous.

Do you have any idea when the first public school was born? Read this book, and you'll discover that it happened all the way back in 1635. Did you know that there really was a "Murphy" that led to the infamous "Murphy's Law?" Captain Edward A. Murphy was an engineer for the Air Force in 1949 at Edwards Air Force Base in California. A single curse levied against a technician led to his long-lasting legacy. Dozens more fascinating creation stories pack the pages of this book. I know I said earlier that I didn't care about celebrity birthplaces, but the truth is that I really enjoyed reading about the places where such famous folks as George Custer, John Wayne, and Loretta Lynn arrived on the planet.

Epting's new book is fantastic for "random paging" anywhere, but I'm going to be keeping my copy in my car. A road trip is infinitely more enjoyable when you can check out a location as you're driving by and see if anyone or anything notable was born or created there. An ordinary garage door in Menlo Park, California, for example, is suddenly riveting when you learn that Google was born behind it!

This really is a fun book. Buy several, because they make great gifts. Just don't forget to keep one for yourself.

Mark Sedenquist

Fuel Cost Calculator