Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

May 12, 2001

Which of the following states have towns named Waverly? (See below for the answer ­ but don't peek.)

Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota (Duh!!), Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, or Washington.


Only two provinces in Canada have a town called Waverly, but they spell it the British way ­ Waverley. (A British Kelly is Kelley. I don't know why they are so fond of the "e" or the "u," for that matter, as in "humour.")

Nova Scotia and Ontario are the two provinces which named towns after the fictional Edward Waverly, the hero of a novel by Sir Walter Scott.

Those two provinces have such large Scottish populations that many of the people there may have been literate enough, in a Scottish sort of way, to honor Sir Scott the Walter.

There are so many Scottish people in those provinces, in fact, that bagpipe playing is considered to be music, no matter the shame of the many lovesick moose lured into the provinces by the empty promise of romance conveyed by the bagpipe.

And no matter the loss of revenue from the many tourists who detour hundreds of kilometers every summer just to avoid the bagpipes.

Scottish-Canadians continue to blow into them until their cheeks burst. (As a side note, I can't stand bagpipe music even when bagpipes are played well, which they never are.)

Q: Why are bagpipers always on the march?

A. To get away from the sound.

But I digress.

The Waverly, of whom we speak, was a man in Scott's first historical novel, published in 1814, a boring account of the Jacobite uprising in 1745. Purple prose all the way.

In the eighth grade, under the sway of cruel nuns, we had to memorize the prologue to Scott's "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" ("O'er his keys the musing organist plays, beginning doubtfully and far away . . . the village smithy stands." (No, that's not it.)

I digress again, and this time it is by way of a distant aside to my main topic, which I think has to do with names.

I want to point out that the Waverly novels are as much over-rated as are the bagpipes. Bagpipes are a dirty Irish trick on the Scots, truth be told.

The Irish invented the bagpipe for a joke and shipped it north, and the Scots took it serious. They even used it to call out the troops, as in the pipes calling Danny Boy to go to war, leaving behind a stricken father.

Since the novels are so over-rated, and since Sir Walter Scott is the shining light of Scottish literature, it raises the question of why it is that Scotland and Ireland, two nations with the same gene pool, are so very different when it comes to authors?

The Scots have Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, and that's it.

The Irish have so many poets and writers that they are drinking the country dry. It can't be just because the Irish have Gaelic in their background, Gaelic being a big advantage to a writer since Gaelic has no passive voice. This makes every writer who is Gaelic-based sound like Hemingway.

The Scots also have a Gaelic base, but there are no Scots who can write. So why can't the Scottish write?

If anyone can answer this question, a Ph.D. thesis may be written, in the passive voice.

It was not a Scot, however, who named us Waverly. It was a man named M. Duffy, a surveyor who liked the lay of the land around what is now Waverly lake. He was able to interest some St. Paul investors, one of whom was reminded of a town in New York named Waverly. So, here we are.

Someday, perhaps, someone, somewhere, will name something Waverly because it reminds him or her of, well, Waverly.

And there is a town in Nova Scotia named O'Leary. A Scottish town called O'Leary? Maybe the Scots are just not a very bright people. After all, they export their best product, their single malt whiskey. The Irish keep their whiskey for themselves.


(Or how much money does it take to get a town named after you?)

We saw, above, that surveyors have a leg up on naming towns, since they plat them. (Hence the name Platteville?) Historians bribe librarians to find out the why and how of other towns' names, which were not named after surveyors' wives or children.

Muleshoe, Texas, is in the Panhandle. That was named after a muleshoe, but not even a librarian can find out why.

Outside of Muleshoe is a sign that says "Welcome to Muleshoe. Hometown of Lee Horsley." I stopped for gas in Muleshoe, asked who Lee Horsley was and nobody knew. I asked around some more, never finding out.

(Readers: Please help. If you don't care about me, you owe it to the residents of Muleshoe.)

Sweetwater, Texas, is in the Panhandle but Agua Dulce, which means "sweet water" in Spanish, is in South Texas.

Hereford, Texas can be detected from miles away because there are feeding pens and cattle chutes all over the town. (It ain't only Herefords that are stinking up Texas. It's oil and gas and lots of putrid politics.)

Alice, Texas, just south of here, was named for the mayor's wife, Alice.

A town starting up a few miles away couldn't come up with a name, so they called their town Ben Bolt, after a sentimental song at the time called "Alice Ben Bolt." ('And do you remember sweet Alice Ben Bolt, sweet Alice whose hair was so brown . . . ')

Java, SD, is west of Bowdle on Highway 12, and was named by the train crews. Don't ask me how Bowdle got its name. The depot agent in what was to become the city of Java made good coffee, which the locomotive crews tanked up on while their steam engine was getting tanked up on water (hence, the origin of the term "tank town"). Java is now the site of a huge truck stop where the coffee is horrid.

Down the road a piece is Mobridge, SD, so named because the depot agent filed his dispatches from the bridge over the Missouri River (Mo-Bridge. Got it?)

Each town's name has a story, and each story has a lesson from history, I suppose.

I will bet, though, that some towns get the names they get just for the hell of it. Like Waverly.


So long as we are on the subject of names, I should alert any Catholics who may be lurking, as readers of this column, to a new phenomenon in the Church.

You all know that the tradition of Catholics naming their children after saints, like they are supposed to, went out the door about the same time the Church threw out Christopher, and maybe, about the same time good Germans stopped naming their offspring Adolph.

Some of the hierarchy have attempted to revive the custom, and while they have given up the struggle at the Baptismal font, where Catholic children are now brought, kicking and screaming, to be branded Megan or Nathan or Brittany, the clergy are making a last-ditch stand at Confirmation time.

Bishop Harrington, of the Winona Catholic diocese, makes a big deal over names. And those of you who plan to be confirmed in the Winona diocese should take heed of this peculiar concern of his.

At a ceremony last Sunday, in a parish in Rochester, during which 84 young persons were confirmed, the bishop asked each of the 84 to stand up in front of the impressive congregation, announce the name of the saint chosen as his or her patron for the purpose of Confirmation, give a biography of the saint, and then the reason why the confirmand picked this saint in the first place. The ceremony may still be going on for all I know.

The impressive thing was the number of young people who had found a saint's name on the Internet. (And you thought they just played games there.)

So my tip is: Get on the Internet, if you know what's good for you.

So far as this reporter knows, Bishop Harrington is the only bishop on record given to such torture.

When another reporter asked Bishop Harrington what his Confirmation name had been, Bishop Harrington, supposedly, said it was none of his business.

I would tell you my saint's name from Confirmation, but I can't remember it. The fact I do not remember does not mean I am not devout.

There are many things I can't remember, including why I decided to write about all this.

Next week will be better. I promise.

Just stay tuned.

Oh, and the answer to the trivia question above about towns named Waverly ­ all of them!

Back to Waverly Star menu
Howard Lake-Waverly Herald & Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal
Stories | Columns | Obituaries
Community Guides | Special Topics | Cool Stuff | Search | Home Page