Thursday, July 25, 2013

City of Marengo

Marengo, Illinois (Oct 18, 2008)

I am not sure what is the exact origin of my family name. I do know however that my family is from an area of Piedmont near Spinetta Marengo, which is where Napoleon, on June 14, 1800, defeated the coalition led by Austria. As a consequence of this battle, Napoleon reinforced his position as "first Consul", ultimately leading to his self-coronation as Emperor. My point, however, is not about empires and battles, but rather about geography. It turns out that if Italy has only one town named "Marengo", US has as much as 7 towns with that name. Six of them are in the Midwest, one in the South. For what I could figure out it seems some of these towns were settled by french exiles, after Napoleon was finally dethroned in 1815, closing the circle that starts with Spinetta Marengo and ends in the US (that's me).

Galena, IL
I have been in two of the US Marengo Cities. The photo above shows one of them, Marengo, Illinois (the other being Marengo, Iowa). It is a typical small midwest town: a main street (unusually called "State Street") with craft stores and pubs/diners. Residential suburbs. Flat geography. Of all the towns with that name, Marengo Illinois seems to be the most internet savvy, as it secured the "cityofmarengo.com" address, forcing its sister cities to more awkward web presences. We passed through Marengo, IL while driving from Chicago to Galena, a picturesque town on the Mississippi that made its fortune as a mining town (galena is lead sulfide, the most important mineral ore, once used in radio tuners) and was the residence of Ulysses Grant and other 8 civil war generals. The first to mine the lead were the native american that lived in the area, that were using it for body painting (in retrospect, not the safest use of lead). They were soon followed by french trappers, that settled the area in the 1690s. That was way before Napoleon, which might explain why the town was named Galena, instead of Marengo. Oh well, not all your city are belong to me.

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