Why The Center Of The Universe Is In Idaho

By Debra Kelly on Monday, November 3, 2014
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“The arts put man at the center of the universe, whether he belongs there or not.” —Kurt Vonnegut

In a Nutshell

Wallace, Idaho is one of a handful of town in Idaho’s Silver Valley region, famous for not only its silver mining but also for other chemicals and compounds that no one has been able to satisfactorily prove to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are harmless. Since the EPA has said that if things can’t be satisfactorily disproved then they must be, in fact, proved, Wallace has declared itself the Center of the Universe. It’s never been disproved that it’s not the center, so therefore . . . it is.

The Whole Bushel

On September 25, 2004, Ron Garitone, the mayor of Wallace, Idaho, declared his city to be the official Center of the Universe. There’s a plaque and everything. Well, “plaque” is a pretty generous term.

It’s actually an engraved sewer access cover that’s right in the middle of the intersection of Bank and Sixth Streets in the historic district of the Idaho city. It was dedicated in 2004, and every year the locals go the extra mile to re-establish their unique spot in what’s quite the middle of everything. There’s even a Miss Center of the Universe contest, part of a scholarship program that benefits local students.

The whole thing started when the mayor got wind of a pretty questionable way in which the EPA was conducting some of their business. According to the EPA, “if something can’t be disproved, it must be true.”

It’s referred to as the science of probabilism, and it’s been used by the EPA and by the Department of Health and Welfare. Specifically, it’s been used by the EPA against a handful of the towns near Wallace. Once known as the silver capital of the world, Wallace was a booming mining town in the 1890s. While many of the buildings that were constructed at the time were burned down in a massive fire that destroyed a third of the town in 1910, the town remains a monument to the history of the West. (The town is also notable for being on the national Historic Register in its entirety.)

Wallace and the surrounding silver mining towns needed to prove that their streets were a healthy environment for their citizens, or else be subject to more rules and regulations from the EPA. More than one billion ounces of silver have come from the mines of the towns along the Silver Valley, but along with the silver and the mining operations came some less-than-desirable chemicals like lead sulfide. It’s led to a long-standing debate about just how dangerous the compound is, and while the towns say their miners have been working with the stuff for decades with no ill effects, the EPA says that it all needs to be cleaned up—and the town needed to prove that it was a safe place to live.

And since they couldn’t conclusively prove that, the EPA said that their safety value was effectively disproved by a lack of proof.

Understandably miffed, Garitone then declared that since there wasn’t the smallest shred of evidence indicating that Wallace wasn’t the center of the universe, that by the same reasoning, it clearly was. They went so far as to contact scientists as far away as Moscow, looking for some bit of proof that Wallace wasn’t actually the center of the universe. Since they couldn’t find anything, they made it official.

The Center of the Universe, it turns out, sits between the Four Corners of the Universe: Bunker Hill, the Sunshine, the Galena and the Lucky Friday—all mines.

Show Me The Proof

Center of Universe—Wallace, Idaho
Historic Wallace Idaho
Silver Capital Of The World
Merriam-Webster: Probabilism