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Geodetic Survey marker for “Cheehahaw, Alabama”.

At the top of Alabama’s highest point is a brass marker placed in 1941 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. It notes the location as “Cheehahaw”.

If you look on any modern map of the state, you won’t find any mountain peak named “Cheehahaw”, but you will find Cheaha Mountain.

Cheaha Mountain (pronounced “chee-ah”) is located about 60 miles east of Birmingham, at the southernmost end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the ranges collectively called the Appalachians.


Bunker Tower atop Cheaha Mountain in Cheaha State Park, Alabama

It rises 2,407 feet above sea level, but the view from Bunker Tower (a fortress-like stone building built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corp) at the mountain’s peak seems much higher. The surrounding farmland and distant forested ridges are fairly low-lying. (And despite a relatively low “highest point”, Alabama’s Mt. Cheaha comes in higher than the highest point in 15 other states.)

The name Cheeha is (according to the Cheeha State Park website) derives from the Creek Indian word “chaha”, meaning “high place”.

So how did we get from “cha-ha” to “chee-ha-ha” to “chee-ah”?

European explorers and their American descendants struggled with standardized spelling in general.  Spelling for Native American words (which were generally spoken but had no written forms) varied considerably from writer to writer.

For example, the same Creek work is spelled “Chehaw” when referring to the state park near Albany, Georgia. Albany is barely above sea level, so it’s hardly a “high place”, but the Creek Indians who lived there were called “Chehaw” or “Chiha” people.

According to the Alabama State Department of Archives and History, the Alabama Indians (who lived in the center of the state that eventually bore their name) were called “Alba Amo” by the Choctaw, meaning “the thicket clearers”. The Alabamans practiced agricultural farming…without the benefit of plows or livestock to pull them. Early variations on spelling “Alabama” included almost anything that ended up sounding right.

Still, why the marker uses “Cheehahaw” to mark a place in Cheaha State Park (which was founded before the marker was placed) is still a mystery to me. If I find any more information, I’ll update this post.

Admission to Cheaha State Park is $3 (current as of 2014), and includes access to Bunker Tower. There are also hiking trails and a restaurant to visit, and cabins for rent.

Plan your trip!

Cheaha State Park at the Alabama State Parks website :

The “Warmest Day of the Year” – Summer 2014 Recap

US-Warmest-Day-of-the-Year-MapEarlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA is the parent agency of the National Weather Service) released a map showing when each area of the U.S. typically sees its “warmest day of the year”.

The map reflects averages of 30 years of data, from the years 1981 through 2010.

NOAA’s map show that the metro Memphis area’s hottest day of the year usually comes during August 6-10.

This is toward the end of the six-week period when we experience our hottest average daily high temperatures. From July 5 to August 18, our daily highs average 92ºF.

Averages being what they are, we occasionally see midsummer days that come in several degrees higher or lower than that average.
—In July 2012, we had 7 days that reached 100ºF. (July 5, 2012 reached 103ºF!)
—In July 2014, we had two days that had daily highs that set records for being unusually cool. On July 18, we only reached 69ºF and the following day we only reached 79ºF.

Our hottest days for summer 2014 came during August 20 – 25. Usually, this is a period when we see some break from what is typically several weeks of dry, hot weather that begins in late July.

This year, we reached 96ºF for the first time on August 20, with temperatures peaking at 100ºF on August 24.

So August 24 was our “warmest day of the year” for 2014.

Despite this, we’ve generally had a slightly cooler, somewhat rainier summer than on average. (This in a year in which much of the U.S. was deep in drought and the world as a whole was experiencing the hottest July on record.)

For meteorological summer (June 1 – August 31) we saw only of 33 days (of 92) exceed their daily average high, and only 22 days exceeded 92ºF.

June July August
June 21 – 93ºF (90ºF avg.) July 12 – 94ºF (92ºF avg) August 5 – 94ºF (92ºF avg)
June 22 – 94ºF (90ºF avg.) July 13 – 93ºF (92ºF avg) August 6 – 94ºF (92ºF avg)
July 14 – 95ºF (92ºF avg) August 10 – 93ºF (92ºF avg)
July 23 – 94ºF (92ºF avg) August 19 – 93ºF (91ºF avg)
July 26 – 93ºF (92ºF avg) August 20 – 96ºF (91ºF avg)
July 27 – 93ºF (92ºF avg) August 21 – 96ºF (91ºF avg)
August 22 – 97ºF (91ºF avg)
August 23 – 99ºF (91ºF avg)
August 24 – 100ºF (91ºF avg)
August 25 – 97ºF (91ºF avg)
August 26 – 93ºF (91ºF avg)
August 27 – 94ºF (90ºF avg)
August 28 – 95ºF (90ºF avg)
August 29 – 95ºF (90ºF avg)

Historic Memphis: Crosstown Sears Building

The Sears Crosstown building at its zenith.

The Sears Crosstown building at its zenith.

Friday, April 4, 2014 — Friday night saw the world premiere of a new operetta, Ghosts of Crosstown. The production was commissioned by Opera Memphis as a way to tell the story of the people who worked and shopped at the historic (and long-vacant) Sears tower.

The 17-storey art deco building opened in 1927 at the intersection of Cleveland Street and North Parkway. Situated on the western edge of Central Gardens (the most affluent area in Memphis at the time), the building was in an area of town that seemed somewhat remote from downtown (a full 2 miles away!).

But automobiles were quickly redefining the city’s boundaries past the three parkways, and the site offered free parking and a wealth of glittering merchandise ready to go.

(The nearest store that offered as wide a selection of products was 400 miles away, in Atlanta, at the virtually-identical Sears built the year before on a similarly “remote” area on Ponce de Leon Avenue.)

Approximately 30,000 people visited the two-floor,  53,000 square-foot store on opening day, August 27, 1927. Chamber of Commerce representative Phil Canale described the building as being like a pyramid in relative size, but was “a living thing for the living and not a tomb for the dead.”

(Yeah, that’s an odd statement to make in opening a store/warehouse, but Memphis has long had a fixation on all things Egyptian. Canale’s son, Philip Canale Jr., was the Shelby County district attorney responsible for prosecuting James Earl Ray for the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. This is worth mentioning because *Ghosts of Crosstown* premiered on the 46th anniversary of King’s death.)

Above the mammoth retail store sat a catalog order fulfillment center, regional corporate offices, and later, a telephone ordering site. The building was expanded four times over the decades, eventually bringing it to 1.5 million square feet.

With suburban Sears stores ringing the city, the Crosstown store’s retail sales faltered, and closed in 1983, becoming a catalog clearance center. (It outlasted the Atlanta Sears, which for the same reasons had already transitioned to a catalog clearance center, but even that was closed in 1979.)

The distribution center’s operations ended in 1993, and the store has been vacant since. Sears sold the property in 2000, and the Sears name is nowhere to be seen on the property. Still, the architecture of the three-floor parking deck, seen at Sears locations across the country, is a tell-tale of the building’s origins.

After nearly two decades of silently sitting, virtually invisible despite its bulk, the Crosstown building is about to undergo a renaissance.

A group of partners, led by organizations as diverse as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Rhodes College, and Crosstown Arts (among others, see below) is about to begin renovation of about a third of the building’s space. This first phase is expected to open by the end of 2016. (Long-term plans will complete the building’s renovation over time.)

The new Crosstown building will be a “mixed-used vertical urban village” housing medical care facilities and offices, student housing, and space for artists to perform their crafts. The vision is to revitalize the building and the neighborhood by creating reasons for people to work, visit and live in the building.

Similar projects to repurpose these types of huge buildings (many of them built by Sears) are happening all over the country, but none of them have the potential impact as this project in Memphis.

The city’s place=as a national leader in medical research and treatment, medical device manufacturing, and medical education is ever-expanding. Crosstown’s role as an engine for a higher-educated, higher-paid workforce is crucial to the region’s future beyond warehousing and transportation.

(The list of partners who have committed to tenancy include: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, ALSAC (the fundraising arm of St. Jude), Crosstown Arts, Gestalt Community Schools, Memphis Teacher Residency, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Church Health Center, Rhodes College Christian Brothers University and the Southern College of Optometry.)

Sight of the Day: Elvis in Tupelo

Elvis Satue at Fairpark in Tupelo, MS

Elvis Statue at Fairpark in Tupelo, MS

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 — Tupelo’s Fairpark district is built on the old fairgrounds, a block from the historic downtown that lines the railroad tracks.


Elvis is reaching for you!

Fairpark centers on a public plaza, and the center of that plaza features this statue of Tupelo’s most famous native, Elvis Presley.

The statue was inspired by a well-known photograph of Elvis performing at the fairgrounds in 1956. The photo by Roger Marshutz, popularly known as “The Hands”, shows Elvis leaning over his microphone just out of reach of the outstretched hands of his fans.

The statue was dedicated on August 9, 2012 in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Elvis’ death in 1977.

This visit to the Elvis Presley statue at Fairpark was just before attending a concert by Elton John at the BancorpSouth Arena across the street.

This photo by Roger Marshutz, of Elvis performing at the Tupelo fairgrounds in 1956, was the inspiration for the statue at Fairpark.

This photo by Roger Marshutz, of Elvis performing at the Tupelo fairgrounds in 1956, was the inspiration for the statue at Fairpark.


Long Range Forecast for March 9, 2014 – A Case Study (Conclusion)

On Sunday, March 9, 2014, the Memphis area National Weather Service recorded the following weather observations:

  • Sunrise — 7:19 AM (DST)
  • Sunset — 7:03 PM (DST)
  • High Temperature — 53 (1:54 PM DST)
  • Low Temperature — 41F (11:54 PM DST)
  • Conditions/Precipitation — Overcast, cloudy. No precipitation

45 days ago, AccuWeather forecast was: Rain – High 53 / Low 35

Ultimately, AccuWeather got the day’s high exactly right in that initial forecast on January 23.

However, it significantly underestimated the day’s low by 6 degrees. (I use “significantly” because temperature differences of 5 or more degrees are noticeable, the kind of difference people will comment on.)

It also incorrectly forecast rain. Although the day wasn’t rainy, it was overcast. Combined with the cooler-than-typical temperature, AccuWeather’s initial forecast was a pretty good indicator of the day: not great for outdoor recreational activities.

In that regard, I’d grade AccuWeather’s 45-day projected forecast to be a B+ effort: Correct in most of the essentials.

Still, AccuWeather offered so many different forecasts over the six weeks that this seems to be more a matter of random luck than accurate forecasting…more like getting the answer right on a multiple-choice exam.

Over the 45 days, AccuWeather’s forecast high ranged from 53F to 67F. The forecast low ranged from 35F to 48F.  Weather conditions ranged from “windy with rain” to “sunny” and every variation between.

It might have been more impressive if AccuWeather had made the forecast and then stayed with it more consistently. If it had made only minor adjustments, or deviated once or twice before returning to the same forecast, there might be a more compelling case for the 45-day forecast’s value.

The only way to more scientifically assess the value of AccuWeather’s 45-day extended forecast would be to repeat this exercise on a recurring basis.

Since the Washington Post and the meteorological community of professionals have already done that, I’ll trust their assessment that the forecast is unlikely to be accurate any other educated guess. (That is, combining historical averages with recent climate conditions…weather that’s been cooler or wetter than typical.)

Here are the essential previous entries in this study: