Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Zero Stone

Milestones interest me.  I suppose I first encountered them in that odd card game Mille Bornes:
But the French just took them over from the Romans, who used them as mile markers along their extensive network of roads.  You know the old saying, "All Roads Lead to Rome".

Supposedly this was based on fact, with a Golden Milestone, the Milliarium Aureum in the middle of the Roman Forum acting as the starting point from which all Roman roads were measured.

Actually the Golden Milestone was probably just gilded bronze, and most Roman milestones do not mention distance from Rome, but it was still an interesting idea.  It was later copied by the Byzantines with a marker called the Milion at Constantinople, and dubiously by a stone artifact called The London Stone, in central London.

So it stands to reason that eventually somebody in Washington D.C. would figure we needed an official central milestone there.  I am just a little surprised it took until 1919 for it to happen.

And here it is, the official United States Zero Milestone.  It is just across the street from the White House, on the south side and near the National Christmas Tree.  It was intended to be the measuring point for all road distances until it became evident that the mileposts would be getting a little awkward down there by San Diego.  It was also the starting point for a couple of early experiments in the military use of motor vehicles in cross country travel, but otherwise seems mostly to serve as a backdrop for Japanese tourists.  They take pictures of themselves standing next to this.  After, of course, they take pictures of themselves with the White House in the background.

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