John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Urban areas show a noticeable trend toward god-revering place names.
Earlier this year, data artist Jonathan Hull brewed up a brimstone-stinking map of America's satanically named landmarks. Obviously the Salt Lake City resident has decided to drop his dark experiments and walk the righteous path, for he's now released a map of place names inspired by all things heavenly – from New York's Christmas Knob to Illinois's Christian County to North Carolina's Holy Ghost Drive.
Hull intended his "Heaven USA Map" to ring in Christmas 2013 (for some reason, the country harbors a significant number of Christmas-themed sites). He plotted the coordinates of more than 3,000 paradisaical places by searching for variations of "heaven," "god," "Jesus," "church," and the like. If nothing else, his cartographic effort proves that Americans, like much of the Western world, love to give geographic shout-outs to the saints. There's the Midwest's copious tributes to the Norwegian Saint Olaf, for instance, and Florida's slightly redundant St. Francis Dead River Run. Hull also found that heavenly appellations tend to cluster in areas colonized by the French and Spanish and also in populated regions, which he notes stands "in contrast to the clustering of devils in remote and rugged terrain of the country."
A couple other things are worth mentioning about heaven on earth in the states, Hull explains at Visualizing. First, there's super-holy California, brimming with San Diegos and Santa Rosas. "I enjoyed several breaks while laying in the data into California," he says, "which clearly holds the highest amount of saints between its size, population, and history." In terms of the entire nation, he has this to declare:
[T]here were a few names, usually on streets, that did stand out in the layout, including God’s Bath, Angel’s Trumpet Road, Angel Tear Way, In God’s Hand Way, and 6 Santa Claus Lanes. There are also some titles inspiring an investigation into the venue such as The Angel, a peak in Alaska, Bridge of the Gods across the Columbia, Stairway to Heaven Trail in Hawaii, and Cathedral Caverns in Alabama. Not to mention Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park which I’ve hiked, reminding me that being an Angel is the only way you’re going to land from the top of that redrock peak.
A scan of the map reveals that the Bible Belt, to great surprise, is teeming with odes to the Promised Land. Check out Saint Claire Crevasse in Mound City, Arkansas, and in Evansville, Indiana, sumptuous Angel Mounds (somebody needs to make a separate "Mounds USA Map"):
The Pacific Northwest has a God's Thumb Creek and a God Butte:
Saints are singing all over Texas:
What do these blissful-sounding places look like from the ground? On a sunny day, they can be infused with bucolic glory, as Google shows with Holy Ghost Drive in North Carolina:
Other sites are less transporting, like this dilapidated sector of St. Louis:
For those keeping tally on the battle between good and evil in American geography, Hull has also crafted this atlas of the country showing heavenly place names (blue) against devilish ones (crimson). Once again, the map suggests "trends toward populated places having more heaven with the wilds having a little more hell – identifiable in California where the populated coasts display blue and the Sierra Nevadas cluster red":
Adds Hull: "Nice to see that heaven is winning out."
Maps courtesy of Jonathan Hull