Hoping to make your next trip especially inspiring and informative? Try following this simple rule (with all due deference to our pals at 99% Invisible): Always, always, always, always, always read the plaque.
All over the world, there are modest plaques and humble historical markers that recount often fascinating histories. They’re less showy than statues or monuments, but plaques can offer just as much joy and fascination—if you can find them. We recently asked Atlas Obscura readers in our Community forums to tell us about their favorite unsung plaques, and they showed us dozens of incredible little markers.
Check out a selection of some of our favorite overlooked plaques below, and if you know of a terrific unsung plaque that you’d like to share, head over to the Community forums and keep the conversation going! Plaques can be easy to miss, but these are unforgettable.
Triangular Jog Marker
“1780s surveying technology had its limits when marking the long, imaginary line separating Tennessee and Kentucky. Combine that with iron ore in the ground affecting compasses, and bad weather, and you get a problem that lasts most of the next century. The issue was destined to come to light as plots of land are surveyed and sold. Imagine finding out that your 100-acre farm is not in the state you thought it was in and trying to resolve that with two different states. Slightly ironic that a parcel that was technically supposed to be in Tennessee is now home to a horse-racing facility with gambling that would be illegal there except for them letting it slide by in 1859.” — KenJ
Fountain of Youth Plaque
The Bronx, New York
“From what I can tell from this garbled newspaper transcription, it was a failed scam by the pipe owner/monument maker to turn the Bronx into a pilgrimage site. In fact, it’s been so overlooked that there doesn’t seem to be much other documentation of the plaque, despite its place inside one of the Bronx’s most famous attractions!” — larissa
The Emmy’s Old Home Plaque*
Los Angeles, California
“This is behind some shrubs at my local Home Depot.” — scott9
Stage Coach Route Marker
“On the 11000 Block of Imperial Highway in Norwalk, California, sits this plaque marking the Stage Coach Route between Los Angeles and San Diego. I could not find any other information through the City of Norwalk regarding the plaque. Interestingly, a short time after seeing the plaque, I had visited the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and was surprised to see a display cabinet with the same type of plaque, which only had the vague description of ‘concrete address milestone.’ I have a feeling the museum description of the plaque misses the mark on the history and purpose of the plaque.” — brockwarwick
Godfather of Bizarre Magick Plaque
“A plaque dedicated to the former location of the Edinburgh Wax Museum and Count Dracula Theatre, located at the entrance to New Assembly Close.” — SEANETTA
“I stopped at a truck stop in Indio, California, to use the bathroom and found a plaque commemorating Jimmy Swaggart’s 1991 arrest for soliciting a prostitute.”— Vidalia
Editor’s note: You’ve got to appreciate the pun here too, since the Coachella Valley is famous for its date farms.
Mrs. Humphrey’s House Plaque
“I always liked this one in Stromness, Orkney!” — clarissal
Karl Malden Plaque
Los Angeles, California
“Because I live in L.A. and things like this happen and it’s kinda funny. (A post office, by the way.)” — tralfamadore
King Ecgbert Plaque
Dore, South Yorkshire
“In a quiet suburb of Sheffield called Dore, there is a plaque that shows it is the place where the country England was first established. I am a teacher in Dore and we are going to discuss whether our little village should be a much better-known tourist site!” — richard
Blind Fred Plaque
“In a hidden corner of St. John’s Church grounds in Hackney, London, hides a brief memorial to Blind Fred. He is said to have been ‘shabbily but neatly dressed in an overcoat and bowler hat, and sat all day long, in all weathers, in the depths of that gloomy churchyard, reading a braille bible and selling matches and bootlaces.’ He died in 1933 and is remembered as ‘a sunny soul.’” — deadnot
End of the Transcontinental Railroad Marker
“Sitting between two unassuming benches on the sidewalk in front of a gas station in Alameda, California, the end of the Transcontinental Railroad!” — bona2vada
First Mention of Baseball Plaque
“First written mention of baseball in the U.S. All over a few broken windows.” — benbee036
Ladies of the Night Plaque
“This plaque is located about a foot above the sidewalk on West Church Street, Ukiah, in Mendocino County, California. It’s easily overlooked.” — acard
Kier Refinery Marker
“First commercial refinery. How about that?” — anodyne33
Los Angeles, California
“I’m a huge plaque reader. It annoys my wife sometimes. I have to stop and read everything. Here’s one that unsettled me. So, back in the ’80s, a plaque was placed at the location of Buster Keaton’s former studios in Hollywood. In perfect Keaton-esque fashion, they got the location wrong. It was actually on the other side of the street. So just a few months ago, a new set of plaques was added, correcting the older plaques (and also noting that Chaplin filmed some significant work there). Across the street from this location is a theater company I’ve done a lot of work with. When we were at a former location, we did a show about Keaton, called Stoneface. My job was to sit at a piano on the corner of the stage and score the play as if it were a silent movie. The show got a lot of notice, and one night Dick Van Dyke censors showed up in our little 80-seat theater and enjoyed the hell out of it. A couple years later, we moved to the new location across from Buster’s old studio. Van Dyke is now a fan of the company and will occasionally show up to other shows. So after one such show, one of our Stoneface cast members approaches him to tell him how much it meant to everyone that he showed up to see our play. He said that he was such a huge Buster Keaton fan that he had wouldn’t have missed it. ‘Have you seen the plaque?’ my friend says. ‘What plaque?’ says Van Dyke. My friend takes him around the corner and shows it to him. Van Dyke had no idea about it, and was a bit awestruck. So my friend had this marvelous little moment of standing in a quiet corner in Hollywood with one of his comedy heroes who himself was dumbfounded to be in the zone of his own comedy hero. How cool is that?” — tralfamadore
Responses have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified a plaque in L.A. as marking the former home of the Oscars—it is the Emmys.