Bizarre Travel: Caribbean igloos! Musical road-trips! A really tiny skyscraper!

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(SFX: Steel drum music)

It’s pretty safe to say that Turks and Caicos, an island chain in the Caribbean, is an idyllic tropical destination. There are swaying palm trees, powdery white-sand beaches and, well, it’s warm. Sometimes it’s less warm, sometimes it’s hot, but the average high only ranges about 10 degrees fahrenheit and the low rarely dips below 75 degrees. During the summer the high averages in the upper 80s.

All of which is why it’s so baffling that the flag for this tropical nation once had igloos on it. 

For 79 years. More baffling is how no one noticed. For 79 years. That’s 28,835 times that someone raised and lowered the flag at some government office without questioning why there were homes built out of ice blocks on it (although it’s only 19,750 times if you take out weekends and holidays, so there’s that).

The Turks and Caicos flag today doesn’t have igloos. It has a spiny lobster. And a Queen conch shell. And a Melocactus. For good measure, the nation’s coat of arms sports the same conch, cactus and crustacean, as well as two flamingos and a pelican. That all seems pretty appropriate for a Caribbean nation, although there is some question about whether the lobster is supposed to have 8 legs or 10.

But a pair of igloos? Not so much.

The islands, which have been a British Overseas Territory since the 1700s, are an excellent spot for producing salt. In 1875, Turks and Caicos began using a flag with a blue field, the Union Jack and a round “badge” or seal that depicted the island with a man cultivating salt between two piles of salt, and a ship in the background. When the drawing was added to the Admiralty Flag Book of 1889, the artist in London mistook the salt piles for igloos and he added a door. 

The artist might have assumed the territory was in Arctic Canada, says author Simon Winchester in his book “Outposts.” “So, without asking anyone, he obligingly touched up the sketch by adding a door so that any Eskimo could go in and out at will.”

The flag wasn’t changed until 1968, when the igloo seal was subbed out for the coat of arms, the one with the conch, cactus, lobster, two flamingos and a pelican, which also sounds like the cast of the The Little Mermaid. The flag wasn’t changed again until 1999 when, in a fit of giddy British impetuousness, flagmakers changed the blue background to red. 


(SFX: Didgeridoo music)

Time for some trivia: How many American cities are named in the original version of the road-trip anthem “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Answer: None. Zero. Zilch.

What’s that, you say! Of course, there are American cities. It’s an American classic, especially as sung with American Johnny Cash’s plaintive basso voice. Nope. 

The original song, written in 1959 by Australian country singer Geoff Mack, only included Australian cities and towns. The finished song doesn’t seem so much like a travelogue as it does a really high-scoring game of Scrabble. The first passage, for instance, finishes with: Condamine, Strathpine, Proserpine, Ulladulla, Darwin, Gin Gin, Deniliquin, Muckadilla, Wallumbilla, Boggabilla, Kumbarilla. There are four names with 12 or more letters, including Maroochydore, Murwillumbah, Woolloomooloo and Indooroopilly.

The song was made popular in 1962 by Australian singer Lucky Starr.

What’s often wrongly called the “North American” version (since there are six locations in South America) was made famous later in 1962 by Canadian singer Hank Snow after Mack got out an atlas and rewrote the song with cities and countries in the Americas. Johnny Cash didn’t record that version until 34 years later.

For anyone who felt cheated by the tricky trivia at the start, here’s the answer you wanted: In the Hank Snow version for the Americas, which is 2:45 seconds, the singer has visited 91 places, which works out to one location every 1.8 seconds. To be fair to Hank, tho, each 11.5-second verse contains 22 or 23 places, one every 0.5 seconds. 

But Hank, have you been to Boggabilla?


(SFX: Construction site ambience)

There is a philosophy that some things exist only to serve as a warning to others, a cautionary tale. OK, it’s not really a philosophy so much as something we got off a poster at, but that doesn’t make the sentiment any less true. 

The Newby-McMahon building in Wichita Falls, Texas, is one of those things. 

The four-story brick building is out of the ordinary because of its odd dimensions: 40 feet tall, 11 feet wide and 19 feet long, only 6 inches longer than a 1964 Cadillac De Ville Coupe. It has roughly the same relative shape as if you stacked four shoe boxes, and we’re talking slippers, not work boots. Inside, there’s about 118 square feet per floor and the stairs take up about a quarter of the interior space.

While the absurdity of the building itself is amusing and baffling, the highlight here is the tale behind it. At least one of the tales. There are so many unsubstantiated myths about the Newby-McMahon building, that most published stories and videos start with “Legend has it …”

So here it goes: Legend has it that when the town faced sudden prosperity because of an oil boom before the 1920s, there was an immediate need for office space for all the newly minted millionaires and their companies. In 1919, oil man J.D. McMahon sold $200,000 in stock (a little more than $3 million adjusted for inflation) based on some blueprints for a new office building that investors approved. By the time it was almost done, it was clear the “skyscraper” was not going to be 480 feet. 

It was 480 inches.

Eager investors had not noticed the blueprints were in inches instead of feet when they approved them. And when they went after McMahon, the courts ruled that the blueprints were accurate and investors got what they paid for. 

The building has been through several owners and some renovations, and eventually was dubbed by locals and tourism officials as the “Littlest Skyscraper in the World,” which, it turns out is more of a nickname than a Guinness record. 

It’s considered a local attraction for visitors, although to those who know the tale, it is a 480-inch reminder: Measure twice, cut a check once.

END BUMPER: The Bizarre Travel Tales podcast is part of the Inappropriate Traveler Podcast Network. Find this and other podcasts at, and on social media at @DeathByJetlag. Enjoy the flight.

(Writing, recording and engineering: Spud Hilton. Photos and illustrations: Spud Hilton. Site and its contents are property of the Inappropriate Traveler Podcast Network and Spud Hilton.)