Why a Small Town in Idaho Claims Manhole Cover Is ‘Center of Universe’

You may have never heard of Wallace, Idaho, but if you have, you’re certainly familiar with the quirky town and its outrageous claim — that it is the probable center of the universe.

“Here’s what’s funny to me about being at the center of the universe,” NBC correspondent Harry Smith said when “Today” visited the town last year. “You would think it would be a little busier, right? And — not so much.”

To understand why and how this claim came about, you have to dig a bit into the history of the small town in northern Idaho.

Wallace has been known for its tenacity and strong will. The town was originally a silver mining town, and according to “Today,” survived strikes by the miners.

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A forest fire in the early 1900s couldn’t destroy it.

The government couldn’t cow them either — and it tried several times.

Apparently, plans were made to run an interstate right through the heart of the historic little town.

But the residents were crafty, and they quickly went about getting their historic little town’s buildings listed with the National Register of Historic Places, thereby protecting their home and forcing the interstate off to the perimeter.

The “center of the universe” claim was borne out of a similar tiff with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Health and Human Services, which discovered “probable” lead pollution in the soil in 2002, according to Roadside America.

Wallace residents claimed the lead sulfide levels hadn’t had any negative effects on them, but according to Mental Floss, the government countered that since the people couldn’t prove the lead wasn’t dangerous, then it must be dangerous and needed to be removed.

Enter the center of the universe on Sept. 25, 2004.

Using the same logic, then-mayor Ron Garitone dubbed a spot on the intersection of Bank and 6th streets “The Center of the Universe” — because if it couldn’t be disproven, it must be true.

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“If scientists could not provide proof that Wallace is not the center of the universe, then the absence of such proof must compel us to conclude that Wallace must therefore be the center of the universe,” Garitone explained at the time, according to the Idaho Senior Independent.

The spot is marked by an elaborately designed manhole cover displaying the codes of the region’s four mining companies, a compass rose and the claim itself.

Richard Shaffer has become the town’s prime minister, and every year in the autumn they read a proclamation and celebrate their advantageous location.

“Being of sound body and mind, I do hereby solemnly declare and proclaim Wallace to be the center of the universe,” Shaffer told the Senior Independent earlier this year.

“We were further able to pinpoint the exact center of the universe, to wit; a sewer access cover slightly off-center from the intersection of Bank and 6th streets.”

The spot is well-marked, and tourists make the pilgrimage to the center of the universe every year — which is a lot closer than some of us might have initially suspected.

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