On the corner of Bank Street and Sixth Street in the quaint mining town of Wallace, Idaho, you will find a manhole. Initially, it may seem like an unremarkable sewer cover, but step a bit closer and you’ll realize it is much, much more: It is the Center of the Universe.
The town of Wallace is four by nine blocks and has a current population of 784 citizens. But in 2004, the mayor made a proclamation: “I, Ron Garitone, Mayor of Wallace, Idaho, and all of its subjects, and being of sound body and mind, do hereby solemnly declare and proclaim Wallace to be the Center of the Universe.”
You may be wondering what this claim is based on. Shauna Hillman, one of the original four behind the idea, explains as follows:
“Why not? That’s the answer to why is it the Center of the Universe.”
The second answer: “Prove it isn’t.”
The real answer, Hillman continues, relies on the theory of probabilism: If you cannot prove that Wallace is not the Center of the Universe, then it must be the Center of the Universe.
If you look closely at the Center of the Universe manhole cover, you’ll see four sets of initials bordering the figure of a miner. These initials–HL, CDE, SRLM, and BHM–represent four prominent mining companies: Hecla Mining, Coeur d’Alene Precious Metals, Sunshine Silver Mine, and Bunker Hill Mining Company. This is because up until it became the Center of the Universe, Wallace called itself the Silver Capital of the World. Since the first mining efforts in 1884, over 1.2 billion ounces of silver have been found in this small town.
But the town did not come up with probabilism on its own. They discovered the theory during an unwelcome visit by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which announced that due to mining, the local water and soil were polluted. They declared Wallace a Superfund site; however they also admitted that they couldn’t prove whether the lead in the water was due to continued mining operations, or whether it was naturally occurring.
Tammy Copelan, who moved to Wallace just two years ago and is now the executive director at the Wallace Mining Museum, says that since none of the causes could be disproved, the EPA expanded the Superfund site from 21 square miles to 1,500, devaluing local homes and businesses.
Every building in Wallace’s historic downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places. (This was part of a very deliberate effort to prevent the district from being completely bulldozed for the construction of the interstate highway.) The town is nestled within 600 miles of national forest, and there are ample opportunities for hiking, biking, snowshoeing, skiing, fishing, zip-lining, and spotting wildlife in the center of the universe.