GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – So who is the most famous person from your hometown? Go ahead, guess.
If you are from Randolph County, NC, you likely would scream “Richard Petty.” After all, he is The King.
And surely there are many automatics, like Elvis from Tupelo, Miss. He’s a king, too.
Or Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay) from Louisville, Ky. He was called the “Louisville Lip.”
Or Warren Buffet from Omaha, Nebraska. He is called the “Oracle of Omaha.”
Dolly Parton from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee? She owns the place.
No matter where you are from – burg to borough – you probably know of someone you think is the most famous person from your region.
Maybe it’s you. Or are you like me think of a person who you believe is the most famous from your speck on the map and then, come to find out, there is this brilliant academic who grew up on a family farm within sight of your front door (in my case, still a few hundred yards away)?
I had no idea. And if you don’t – or if you want to argue about what you do know – now you can look such names in a pretty spectacular way.
A computer developer named Topi Tjukanov has created a virtual globe that you can turn, scan and zoom and find out the biggest names in a region (they are large and bold) to someone obscure from your hometown of fewer than a thousand.
At the broadest level of scanning, you catch names like Pablo Picasso or Muhammad (not the Louisville one) or Winston Churchill or Nelson Mandela or Marilyn Monroe or Jimi Hendrix or Donald Trump or Barack Obama.
But then you can click to zoom, and each time you zoom a level, the map becomes more defined, and more names are added.
An article for InsideHook, a web technology magazine, says Tjukanov used Wikidata (think Wikipedia) and a mapping software called Mapbox.
The entries are based on places of birth, and the database is said to be cross verified and includes 2.39 million entries of people born between the years 3500BC and 2018. That’s a lot of cross-verifying, although hardly everyone born during those roughly 5500 years.
Keep on clicking
Each click is fascinating, and you can sort the data by sports, culture, discovery and science and leadership (we would love to see that precise definition), sort of a “Jeopardy!” board in front of your very eyes.
When you click a name, it gives you a thumbnail of info that includes a “notability rank,” a gender ID, a living/dead determinant and a link to the Wiki file, which can be important.
When I was looking around my home in the middle of Kentucky, I found a name of which I had no knowledge. So the educational tutorial this provides is valuable, too.
Sadly, the first name that emerges in North Carolina is not, oh, Andy Griffith or Richard Petty but Edward Snowden, appropriately of Wikileaks fame. He was born in Elizabeth City.
The next is Andrew Johnson of post-Lincoln presidential impeachment fame. The third click gives you singer Tori Amos and a few others. See it’s not perfect.
You have to drill a ways to find Our King, Petty, as being from Asheboro. His home in Randleman/Level Cross is designated by his son Kyle Petty.
There is rank in the ranks
You can go pretty low on the food chain of notoriety, and, like a lot of things involving Wikipedia, you have to wonder at how clearly the information was sorted and reported.
Griffith of Mount Airy showed up on the same level as Zach Galifianakis and Sugar Ray Leonard and Virginia Dare and Jaime Pressly. Ava Gardner, Billy Graham and even Julianne Moore are more prominent than Petty and Elizabeth Dole. Thomas Wolfe was the man from Asheville, BTW.
InsideHook notes that Honolulu-born Obama ranked No. 1 in Hawaii, but Jesus from Bethlehem was No. 204.5 on the notability rank. He also gets a “nope” under “is still alive.” See, points to argue.
I never did find Michael Jordan in his birthplace of Brooklyn, N.Y. Maybe the data – like I did originally – thought he was from North Carolina. LeBron James certainly was in Akron, Ohio, though.
The parallel levels were interesting, too, based on regions, but some of them made you shake your head in wonder.
In the Triad?
So other than Petty and Griffith, who else would you tab from the Triad?
How about O. Henry for Greensboro? Pam Grier and Chris Paul for Winston-Salem and Forsyth County? Fantasia Barino from High Point?
Here are some names. Can you name their birthplaces and why they are famous? Jon Nunnally, Wil Myers, Robert Sink, Dennis Byrd and Joe Frazier.
Alas there was no Daniel Boone listed from Yadkin or Wilkes counties, but no Junior Johnson, either. That’s just wrong.
I grew up on a farm outside a town that for decades listed its population at 225 (it was more) and now is about 4,000. The county isn’t all that populous, either. I thought I had a pretty good idea of the famous people from my neck of the woods, like the guy who invented the Hubble Telescope.
But I was wrong.
Right in the middle of my county was a man named Augustus Owsley Stanley. I scratched my head. No street or building named after him. Who was he? Well, apparently he was a Democratic congressman of some regard. I must have failed that unit.
And from my little town? Why that notable person would be Frances Smith Strickland, George Frank and Annabelle’s girl, Barry’s sister. She was known as an educational psychologist and the wife of former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
And one of her accomplishments is to have written a book about someone from my home county who truly was famous: Martha Layne Collins. The name of the book was “The Little Girl Who Grew Up to Be Governor.”
Martha Layne was the first woman in Kentucky to do so. She belongs on the map.