Tracing the earth are invisible lines. An infinitely fine mesh wrapping around the entire globe.
For many years these perfect pathways, this hidden overlay, was of interest mainly to the sailors, explorers, and cartographers who bet their lives on them. Today we all have access to this ghostly grid via our phones, car navigation systems, and Google Maps. The twin brothers of latitude and longitude have become an intimate part of our lives, guiding us to and from our homes, and marking each step we take with a new number, each inch we shuffle down to, with thirteen figures after the decimal point, an atomic level of specificity.
So what happens at the four magical spots that lie directly in between these most important of geographical ley lines? Stuck halfway between the geographical poles, the equator, the Prime Meridian, and the 180th meridian, what confluence of energy wells up from the Earth in the four corners of the earth found at exactly 45 degrees latitude, 90 degrees longitude? In Poniatowski, Wisconsin something kind of magical happens.
After winding down some country roads, past the junkyard with its pile of 1950s rusting car bodies, and avoiding the horses and buggies used by the Amish in the area, you find yourself in front of a painted brown wooden sign with yellow text that reads
“Geological MarkerThis spot in section 14, in the Town of Rietbrock Marathon County is the exact center of the Northern half of the Western Hemisphere. It is here that the 90th Meridian of Longitude bisects the 45th Parallel of Latitude meaning it is exactly halfway between the North Pole and the Equator and is a quarter of the way around Earth from Greenwich, England.Marathon County Park Commision”
While it isn’t much to look at, Wisconsin’s 45x90 is only one of two of these spots found on land – the others are in the Pacific and Indian oceans – and of the two found on land, it is the only one that is marked as such. (Though, embarrassingly, it is marked incorrectly as a Geological Marker, when it should read Geographical.) The other 45x90 found on land, in rural China, is difficult to get to and it does not currently have a marker noting its significance.
Buried under the snow half the year, a metal marker embedded in concrete in front of the sign designates the exact spot of 45x90. Except that it doesn’t.
Today is easy to look down at your GPS unit and find out just exactly where on the invisible grid you stand, but in 1963 when owner of Gesicki’s General Store and Tavern John Gesicki began researching the invisible point, it wasn’t quite so easy. It took him some “five years to piece together the correct maps to pinpoint the exact center of the Northwest Hemisphere.” He then petitioned the U.S. Geological Survey to mark the exact spot.
The problem, however, was that the real 45x90 was on private farm property and away from the road. So the best place for the marker was some 1063 feet away from the actual 45x90 spot, which is an unmarked piece of dirt in the middle of a soybean field. Of course in the age of GPS, plenty of obsessed visitors (us at Atlas Obscura included) make the trek out to stand in the “real” 45x90 spot.
However what is truly wonderful about the 45x90 spot in Poniatowski, Wisconsin is neither the sign, nor the spot itself, but the degree to which the local area has embraced their unique geographical location.
After visiting the 45x90 spot is is essential that one make the trip into the nearby larger town of Wausau to stop by the Visitors Center. Once run out of Gesicki’s Tavern, since 2006 the visitors center has been the holder of the official “45X90 Club” registration book, on loan from the family. The book at a good six inches thick holds the names and dates of all those who have made the trek to the spot. It turns that a steady flow of people from all over the world care to come stand in an empty field just to appreciate what it represents.
Not only does signing the book make you an instant member of the 45x90 club, you are given a commemorative coin as proof of your visit. Peter & Lou Berryman, Wisconsin folk singers, even wrote a song about it:
PONIATOWSKI 1988 P. & L. Berryman
Exactly half the way from the equator to the pole A quarter of the way around the planet as a whole It’s very hard to find it on a map of county roads Ridiculously easy on a four inch globe
(Chorus) PONIATOWSKI, PONIATOWSKI, PONIATOWSKI
Magellan’s men said, “Captain have we gotten very far? We’re writing to our mothers just to tell ‘em where we are.” The captain said, “Our longitude is 50 on the dot, I don’t know where we are but I can tell you where we’re not.”
A quarter of the way from top to bottom of our earth A quarter of the way around the planet of our birth Speaking cartographically it’s not extreme to say It’s the most important -towski in the U-S-A
What is on the tip of every schoolkid’s tongue What I mean of course besides a wad of gum The name of a location every grownup knows Of a church, a couple of taverns, and a school that’s closed
I asked an old cartographer where he would rather be He mumbled there’s a place that’s always fascinated me I’ll probably mispronounce it he admitted with a sigh, It’s P-O-N-I-A-T-O-W-S-K-I