Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - November 16, 2018

The 45 x 90 Club

Husband Art and I are now official members of The 45 x 90 Club ... and, no, it’s nothing like the “Mile High Club” that people often snicker about.

We became members last month in a farmer’s soybean field less than half a mile northwest of the tiny village of Poniatowski, Wisconsin. Art had heard about the club while listening to a local TV news report at our North Woods cottage in September.

So what, you might ask, is this all about?

Returning to junior high school science, geographers assign the equator an angle of 0 degrees latitude and the poles as 90 degrees - 90 degrees north at the North Pole and 90 degrees south at the South Pole. They also divide the earth into eastern and western hemispheres of 180 degrees each, starting at the Prime Meridian which passes through Greenwich, England.

The first number in The 45 x 90 Club refers to the latitude while the latter is the longitude. There are exactly four such 45 x 90 places in the world. The one in the northern hemisphere, but east 90 degrees is at an unmarked location in a mountainous region of rural China. The ruggedness makes it difficult for people to visit. The corresponding locations in the southern hemisphere are on water, one in the Pacific Ocean and the other in the Indian Ocean. The remaining point is in Wisconsin and so is exactly half way between the equator and the north pole and exactly a quarter of the way around the world west from Greenwich.

Back in 1963, John Gesicki, the proprietor of Gesicki’s General Store and Tavern and Moonlight Gardens in Poniatowski, began searching for the precise location of Wisconsin's 45 x 90 point. He pieced information together from several maps over a period of about five years before he was confident of its location. He then petitioned the U.S. Geological Survey to mark the spot.

In 1969, Marathon County erected a marker and made the area a county park - the smallest in the state. Gesicki then started The 45 x 90 Club, and began gathering signatures in a registry of people who visited the site.

However, until recently, visiting that had been a bit problematic. Gesicki had discovered that the precise point was in the middle of a farmer’s field. So the original marker was placed instead at the edge of the nearest rural thoroughfare, aptly named Meridian Road. Visitors not choosing to trespass could only visit the roadside marker.

But that changed about a year ago when the private landowner sold a small area around the precise 45 x 90 spot and enough additional land to provide a pathway from the roadside.

So in mid-October, Art and I walked from Meridian Road on a nice crushed-gravel public path alongside the edge of the farmer's soybean field. It was a glorious autumn day and the potted mums decorating the pathway added to the experience. Benches beckoned us to stop and enjoy the setting. About 1,000 feet later, we arrived at the exact 45 x 90 spot.

Today, with Global Positioning System satellites in the heavens and a receiver in hand such as those in a smartphone, anyone could locate the invisible point with ease. Art, in fact, did just that. He first marked the point on his phone’s map and then walked until the circle indicating our position coincided with the one on the map. At that time, we were standing on a round blacktopped surface with latitude and longitude lines marked in blue, and a circular bronze plate inscribed "45 Degrees North latitude, 90 Degrees West longitude, Marathon County, Wisconsin."

After some photos, we began the return trip to the car and met three women coming toward us. Art said, “I see there are other crazy people out today too.”

“Of course," one replied. “We were near and figured we might as well stop.”

Wanting to make our visit official, once we reached the car, we headed for nearby Wausau, the county seat of Marathon County. Gesecki died in 1995, so beginning in 2006, the several-inches-thick binder he began with the names of visitors was transferred to the Wausau/Central Wisconsin convention & visitors bureau.

I asked Jodi Maguire, the visitor services manager, how many signatures were in it. She said she had never stopped to count them, but added that people have been signing it since 1978.

It turns out that it isn’t just locals who seek out the spot. People from all over the world have been drawn to the point just as we were. In just a few minutes flipping through the pages, I noticed signatures from Panama, England, India, Venezuela, Germany, South Korea, France, Chile, China, Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand, Slovakia, Scotland, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden and Ukraine.

As a memento of joining the club, we both received a two-sided bronze commemorative coin.

Later investigation revealed the true half-way point between the equator and the North Pole is a few miles away. Because the earth is spinning, it isn't a true sphere. But geographers aren't worried about that as the lines are all imaginary and are projected onto the earth's surface. But in a touch of serendipity, I also discovered that this week is Geography Awareness Week and the National Geographic website said everyone "should feel free to focus on any or all aspects of geography in lesson plans, events and other activities." Done!

Top-left: Gloria standing on top of the geographic marker; top-right: close-up of the marker; bottom-left: three women we met on the path walking toward the 45 x 90 spot; bottom-right: front and back photo of the commemorative coin, courtesy the Wausau/Central Wisconsin convention & visitors bureau website.

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