The Dolphin that Roared

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
In the heart of the Caribbean, there is a tiny little island called Anguilla. And I mean tiny. At its widest point, it’s only about 16 miles across. But while it’s small, its white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters have made it one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the Caribbean. It’s got all-inclusive resorts and you can swim with dolphins. The island is the ideal place to film an episode of “The Bachelor.” In fact-

[TONIGHT ON ‘THE BACHELOR.’]

Roman Mars:
They did. Season 15, week 7.

[WOO HOO, ANGUILLA!]

Roman Mars:
But back in the 1960s, Anguilla didn’t have any of the beachside villas, or luxury spas, or golf courses that it has today.

Emily Oberman:
It had dirt roads, no electricity, one stoplight in the middle of town.

Roman Mars:
That’s Emily Oberman. She used to visit the island on family vacations as a kid.

Emily Oberman:
When you wanted to get a message to someone, you pinned it to this very specific mahogany tree, in the center of town, in the valley.

Roman Mars:
Emily’s parents were successful graphic designers from New York City, and they liked to travel off the beaten path. This was particularly true for her father, Marvin.

Emily Oberman:
My father was incredibly gregarious, and charming, and smart, and quick-witted, and a total wise ass. And he always was ready to take someone in his arms and dance with them.

Roman Mars:
You can tell Emily loves her dad a lot. Both her parents really. She is an extremely successful graphic designer in her own right, but she gives her parents the credit.

Emily Oberman:
Abs-a-frigging-lutely. I am a graphic designer because of my parents.

Roman Mars:
After her dad passed away in 2018, it was actually a graphic that he helped design that got Emily thinking about Anguilla again.

Emily Oberman:
My father had recently passed and so I had gone through a bunch of his stuff and came across a small flag.

Roman Mars:
The flag was all white, with a thin strip of brilliant turquoise blue at the bottom, and three orange dolphins arranged in a continuous circle in the center. Almost like a recycling sign, but, you know, with dolphins. Emily knew that her father had gotten involved with the design on one of their trips to Anguilla. And that it had actually flown there for a couple of years. So four decades, later inspired by this keepsake. She decided to take a trip back to Anguilla, to honor her father and show her own family this place that had been so important to her childhood.

Emily Oberman:
I hadn’t been there in 40 years. So it was going to be an adventure and an experience for me. But I thought probably an emotional one because it had been so meaningful to my family.

Roman Mars:
In April of 2019, Emily packed up her husband and sons, and they schlepped through the cold to Newark airport. Hopped on a plane to St. Martin, where they boarded a ferry.

Emily Oberman:
And as we were approaching, there was a big sign, welcoming you to Anguilla. And it was on a white building with orange and turquoise typography. And I looked at it and thought, “Huh, that’s cool. I recognize those colors.”

Roman Mars:
They were the same colors as her father’s flag: orange, white, and blue. And she noticed them a lot.

Emily Oberman:
I suddenly began to see the color scheme was everywhere. The pylons along the highway had those three colors painted on them. And the color theme was just everywhere. So it was a little bit of a surprise and a delight.

Roman Mars:
Emily’s father was an amateur writer. So when Emily returned home from her trip, she looked through his folder of stories to see if she could find out more about this flag.

Emily Oberman:
We looked through his stories and sure enough, there was the story of the Anguillian flag.

Roman Mars:
It turns out that her father’s dolphin flag was a bigger deal than Emily had realized. And that her parents, a couple of graphic designers from New York City had played a very small, but not insignificant role in a key moment in the island’s history. Because this flag, that had been collecting dust in the family attic, was a symbol of one of history’s strangest political revolutions.

Timothy Hodge:
When I was born, there were dirt roads, no running water, no telephone.

Roman Mars:
This is Timothy Hodge, former president of the Anguilla Archeological and Historical Society. Like Emily Oberman, He was a kid in the 1960s and he remembers the island a lot like she does.

Timothy Hodge:
None of the comforts that we have today. Very little commerce, very little employment.

Roman Mars:
Anguilla had been one of Great Britain’s many overseas colonies since the 1650s. But unlike many of Britain’s other territories, Anguilla was missing a lot of essential services, like electricity, paved roads, proper schools. Mostly because the British neglected it.

Timothy Hodge:
Basically, if you read the historical records, it was not recognized as having any value to the British Crown. So nobody paid any attention to it.

Roman Mars:
Even though the island has a history of slavery, Anguilla’s soil wasn’t fertile enough for large scale agriculture. And according to Hodge, if the British couldn’t establish widespread slave plantations on Anguilla, then they didn’t have much use for it. And so for decades, centuries even, they basically ignored the island. Which meant Anguilla got very little funding for development.

Timothy Hodge:
It was this island that was unto itself, existed unto itself. And this is the Anguilla that existed up until from 1650, when it was settled initially, to 1825.

Roman Mars:
But in 1825, Britain decided just to throw some of the smaller islands together to form a single colony. Anguilla would be treated as one part of a multi-island colony, along with St. Kitts, which is also known as St. Christopher, and eventually with Nevis, with St. Kitts in administrative control of the union. Suddenly Anguilla went from essentially independent self-governance to having to answer to St. Kitts for everything.

Don E. Walicek:
Without consulting the people of Anguilla, Britain decided to lump it with St. Kitts and Nevis.

Roman Mars:
This is Don Walicek he studies Caribbean history at the University of Puerto Rico. He says this was a common move for the British in the Caribbean.

Don E. Walicek:
Just like it lumped together other countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Carriacou and Grenada, so there were other examples of this.

Roman Mars:
But there was one huge problem with lumping Anguilla with St. Kitts.

Don E. Walicek:
The Anguillians didn’t like the Kittitians.

Timothy Hodge:
It’s just a match that was never made in Heaven.

Roman Mars:
St. Kitts and Anguilla were two very, very different islands with very different relationships with Great Britain.

Timothy Hodge:
One of the gripes that the Anguillian people had was that the aid that came to the colony always ended up in St. Kitts. So that St. Kitts had electricity, and running water, and telephones, and the things that we spoke about that Anguilla didn’t have.

Don E. Walicek:
And at the time, Anguilla’s leaders were calling for things like piers and a better port.

Roman Mars:
There was a story going around at the time that the leader of St. Kitts had been given money by Britain to build a much needed Anguillian pier. But instead of building it on Anguilla-

Don E. Walicek:
He actually built the pier in St. Kitts and called it the Anguilla pier.

Roman Mars:
Tension between the two islands simmered for over a century until 1967, when Britain made a decision that would turn their feud into an open conflict. Rather than separating the two islands, as Anguillians wanted, the British government decided that St. Kitts, Nevis, and Anguilla wouldn’t be a single colony anymore, but an official, self-governing associated state with St. Kitts in charge. Which, I know, basically sounds like the same thing. But Hodge says this arrangement was much worse.

Timothy Hodge:
At least with the colony status, they could complain to somebody, they could complain to Britain. But after that, they would have nobody to complain to.

Roman Mars:
Anguillians were now entirely at the mercy of St. Kitts. And they started protesting immediately. The entire police force on Anguilla was made up of 17 Kittitians and they became the symbol of Kittitian authority. So in February of 1967, Anguillian rebels rounded up all 17 officers and booted them off the island.

Timothy Hodge:
They took the police, they took their weapons, and they put them onto the vessels and shipped them off to St. Kitts. And said, “Well, we are forever free of you. And we are separate and independent from you.”

Roman Mars:
This was the first act in the Anguillian revolution. One of many revolutions that were happening throughout the British Empire at the time.

[JAMAICA BECOMES THE FIRST NATION IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE TO GAIN INDEPENDENCE.]

[AUGUST THE 15TH, 1947 INDEPENDENCE DAY FOR INDIA.]

[THESE ARE AMONG THE LAST PICTURE HAS TO BE TAKEN IN THE CAPITAL OF THE GOLD COAST. BUT WHEN THIS DAY IS OVER…]

Roman Mars:
And now Anguilla too, was declaring their independence, kind of.

Timothy Hodge:
The Anguilla Revolution in 1967 caused a lot of historians and others to scratch their heads.

Roman Mars:
Because Anguilla was calling for independence from St. Kitts and dependence on Great Britain. The island wanted to go back to being ruled directly by the British.

Timothy Hodge:
Really and truly what the Anguillians had asked for was to be ruled directly from Britain.

Roman Mars:
They figured it was better to be loosely ruled by a country, half a world away then tightly policed by your next-door neighbor. As all this was going on, a young Emily Oberman and her family were on one of their trips to Anguilla. Emily’s father Marvin learned about the conflict over breakfast, when he overheard two men recounting a raid on the police station.

Emily Oberman:
They said that there was an attack on the police station. And one of the guys apparently was very proud that he had shot two bullets. But the police station was closed at the time. So there was… He was just shooting two bullets at an empty building.

Roman Mars:
Curious, Marvin Oberman started asking around.

Emily Oberman:
What were these guys talking about? Why would there be a raid on the police station? What’s going on?

Roman Mars:
He was eventually introduced to a man named Jeremiah Gumbs, who was able to explain the revolution. Because he was involved.

Alan Gumbs:
I mean Jeremiah Gumbs, I say, Jeremiah Gumbs was a colossus.

Roman Mars:
This is Alan Gumbs, son of Jeremiah Gumbs.

Alan Gumbs:
He was as strong as any man I’ve known. Physically, the closest thing to his physical statue was the American athlete Jim Brown. But I mean, he was like solid steel and, he can run, and can do everything in the world.

Roman Mars:
Jeremiah had moved away to the U.S. In his twenties, but had come back to Anguilla with his wife, Lydia, to open up a hotel. He didn’t have any official role in the government, but he became deeply involved in the politics of the island. They even gave him the nickname, The Roving Ambassador.

Emily Oberman:
He was very involved in where the revolution was going and how it was going to be handled. And I think he had a better eye for even publicity.

Roman Mars:
Jeremiah and Lydia knew that if this revolution was going to capture people’s imagination, they needed a good flag.

Alan Gumbs:
The original idea was for Anguilla to… It was going to break away. And so they had to have a flag.

Roman Mars:
It isn’t entirely clear whether the Gumbs reached out to Marvin, or if Marvin reached out to them. But one way or another Emily’s father helped create a whole new flag for a whole new political future.

Emily Oberman:
The idea behind the flag was that he wanted it to be incredibly simple.

Roman Mars:
As any good flags should be. Marvin drew inspiration from the colors of the island itself.

Emily Oberman:
Pretty much wherever you are on Anguilla, you can see this beautiful turquoise of water. And the idea of there being a long band across the bottom certainly felt like what a flag should have. In the vocabulary of flags, there should be a big wide band of something and an iconic image of something else.

Roman Mars:
Lydia Gumbs and Marvin settled on three colors: white, blue, and orange. White for peace and tranquility, the blue base representing the surrounding sea, and also faith and hope. And the three orange dolphins at the center, which symbolized endurance, strength, and unity in a perpetual circle. You know, the recycling circle. Marvin coordinated with Lydia from his office in New York and mocked up a prototype. But since he was technically working for a government in revolt, he had some concerns.

Emily Oberman:
My father was so nervous about designing this flag. He was petrified that he was being followed by the FBI because he was working for a foreign government in revolt. So he was sure that MI5 was following him, or the FBI. And he would keep the shades drawn in his office. And it was actually hilariously charming.

Roman Mars:
It turns out that the FBI had very little interest in Marlin’s flag project, and he was able to get the prototype printed without issue.

Emily Oberman:
And they made the flag, which my father then wrapped in something, wrapped in something, and brought to Jerry and Lydia Gumbs. And that was the first flag.

Timothy Hodge:
The flag with the three dolphins, that flag certainly caught on and it has remained loved and beloved by the Anguillian people.

Roman Mars:
The flag was raised over the administrative office, along with the Union Jack, a clear declaration of independence, and dependence at the same time.

Emily Oberman:
As a graphic designer, my father had been really proud of the work that he had done for the island.

Roman Mars:
But Alan Gumbs remembers it a different way.

Alan Gumbs:
It was my mother, was the art… had the imagination. And she was the one that came up with the three dolphins. And there was somebody that helped her draw it. And that was it.

Roman Mars:
Gumbs is positive that his mother, Lydia, was actually the designer of the famous dolphin flag of Anguilla.

Alan Gumbs:
If she wasn’t, then she might’ve been working with Mr. Oberman, not impossible.

Roman Mars:
Most Anguillians who know the revolutionary history will probably tell you that Lydia designed the flag. While flag nerds who read the September 1991 issue of the Flag Bulletin will probably tell you that Marvin was the designer. The truth may actually lie somewhere in between. But as a successful graphic designer herself, Emily has a healthy perspective on the debate.

Emily Oberman:
I have always believed. And I usually think about this in terms of my team. But I can say this in terms of clients as well. To me, a project that is successful is one where everyone who worked on the project thinks that they were 100% responsible for it.

Roman Mars:
Regardless of who designed it, the Anguillians had a flag and a revolutionary spirit. But they were still stuck in this confusing tangle of colonial bureaucracy since they were fighting for independence from St. Kitts, but not from Great Britain. Revolutionary leaders tried to negotiate a direct relationship with Britain, but Britain refused to deal with Anguilla without going through St. Kitts first. Anguilla did not want to do that. And so the tension just continued to escalate. But even with this tension, it remained a bloodless conflict.

Don E. Walicek:
The man who eventually became known as the father of the nation in Anguilla, Ronald Webster said, “Oh, the revolution was really a war of words.”

Roman Mars:
Here’s Don Walicek again.

Don E. Walicek:
He meant that he won a lot of battles with words, with threats, with conversations with reporters.

Roman Mars:
The media was captivated by the story of this tiny island in a territorial dispute with one of the most powerful nations in the world.

Ronald Webster:
“One can only die once. He can only die once, and we are prepared to die for our freedom.”

Roman Mars:
This is the voice of revolutionary leader, Ronald Webster, who, along with Jeremiah Gumbs, petition the United Nations to back the Anguillian cause. They failed to convince the UN, but their story was in papers all over the world.

Alan Gumbs:
The press were now following my father. Because Anguilla had become “the mouse that roared” and they were in the New York Times every day for months.

Roman Mars:
“The Mouse That Roared” was a satirical novel by Leonard Wibberley, about a tiny nation that declares war on the US. The reporters couldn’t help but see an ironic similarity between the two situations. Anguilla was this surprisingly ferocious island that refused to back down.

Don E. Walicek:
Anguilla was this small place lurking in the corner that no one thought could produce such a giant powerful political movement. And it surprised everybody. Their movement was heard all over the world.

Roman Mars:
More than anything, the revolution marked a huge shift in what it really meant to be an Anguillian. And it united Anguillians behind a single purpose, under a single flag. But despite this new unity, St. Kitts still had the power, and they were withholding everything from postcards to pensions. The leader of St. Kitts, Robert Bradshaw, even reportedly said, “I must get Anguilla back on their knees.” And Britain had no intention of separating the two islands and Anguillians were losing their patience.

Alan Gumbs:
They realized they were being strung along and they realized that Britain wasn’t particularly invested in allowing them to determine their own destiny.

Roman Mars:
So in February of 1969, two years after Anguilla declared independence from the associated state. It took a more drastic step and declared independence again, but this time it was from the British. As a tiny nation with no diplomatic recognition this was an incredibly risky move. But Anguillians voted 1,739 to four to end all ties with Great Britain. The Union Jack that had flowed alongside the dolphin flag since the start of the revolution was taken down because they decided they would rather try to make it entirely on their own bend to have any connection with St. Kitts.

Don E. Walicek:
They will never negotiate that. They said they will never be part of the associated state, end of discussion.

Roman Mars:
But Britain wasn’t ready to let go. And they attempted a last-ditch effort to save the associated state. They sent a British representative to Anguilla, named William Whitlock to try to negotiate with the Anguillians.

Alan Gumbs:
You have to understand you’re dealing with the dead and dying vestiges of the British Empire. They didn’t necessarily send their brightest people out to the Caribbean.

Roman Mars:
The accounts of what happened next tend to vary, depending on whether you’re asking an Anguillian or a British person, but according to Walicek, the Anguillians welcomed Whitlock at the airport with a stirring rendition of God Save The Queen. And as a sign of respect to Whitlock, Ronald Webster, the Anguillian leader came dressed to the nines.

Don E. Walicek:
He was actually wearing… What do you call it? A dinner coat? A very formal sort of… I’m not British. Right? This thing that British people know what it is, right? He’s dressed in this… Like, it had a tail.

Roman Mars:
But the courtesy wasn’t returned. Apparently Whitlock blew off an invitation to have lunch with Webster and instead ate with another British official stationed on the island. Feeling disrespected, the Anguillians asked Whitlock to leave the island.

Timothy Hodge:
But he says, “Well, you can’t throw… I represent the Crown, so you can’t throw me… You can’t tell me to leave.”

Roman Mars:
But the Anguillians were having none of it.

Don E. Walicek:
I believe they fired some guns into the air to signal that they were serious.

Roman Mars:
Whitlock jumped on a plane with his tail between his legs and headed straight back to Britain.

Don E. Walicek:
Whitlock was humiliated. He shared his humiliation with his peers and his superiors. It’s not really clear if he exaggerated what happened but he really portrayed the islanders as villains who were extremely violent and about to kill him.

Roman Mars:
Britain decided the only way to respond was by mounting a full-scale invasion to restore order.

Alan Gumbs:
So the British invasion… Such as you want to call it actually occurred. They sent a frigate down there.

Don E. Walicek:
Two Royal Navy frigates arrived and 330 paratroopers. People talk about seeing Jeeps coming out of the sky.

Roman Mars:
British forces parachuted onto the island and stormed the beaches. Probably expecting armed resistance, but all they found were reporters snapping photos, and some very confused Anguillians. Because the declaration of independence from Britain had been so recent a lot of islanders thought that maybe the British were there to make Anguilla a direct colony, again, like they had originally wanted.

Don E. Walicek:
There were also locals who thought that the troops were actually there to help them. They thought to themselves, “Oh, they finally came to settle all this ridiculous controversy. We finally have direct colonial relations.” There’s stories that some women were taking food out to the soldiers, a sign of solidarity, and then they realized it was an aggressive invasion.

Roman Mars:
The Anguillians didn’t put up any resistance. There was very little violence and certainly no casualties. Once word got out about the so-called invasion of Anguilla, the British became a punchline.

Timothy Hodge:
The foreign press, the press, the national press all over the world were basically making fun of the British invasion.

Roman Mars:
The official name of the invasion was Operation Sheepskin, but it later became known by a different name.

Timothy Hodge:
They call it the Bay of Piglets.

Roman Mars:
The Anguillians allowed British troops to search their homes for weapons, and watched as they replaced the dolphin flag that flew over the administrative office with the Union Jack. Anguilla had been taken without a fight, but in a way, Anguilla won the war.

Timothy Hodge:
Anguilla won the war because it had essentially achieved what it wanted to achieve in the first instance.

Roman Mars:
It came at the hands of an unnecessary and aggressive invasion, but Anguilla was technically under colonial rule again. And more importantly, they were no longer under the thumb of St. Kitts, which was exactly what they had been originally fighting for. And because the British had gotten themselves into a PR nightmare, they had a lot of damage control to take care of. They started development programs to pave roads all over the island and a new runway for the airport. They also trained a new police force made up of locals. They didn’t just have to make up for a disastrous military move, but for centuries of colonial neglect.

Don E. Walicek:
Anguilla received more support than it ever received in all of the hundreds of years of British colonization. Britain established Anguilla as a colony in 1650. This is 1750 1850, 1950 — 300 years, more than 300 years. So in a matter of a couple of years, it began to have infrastructure, schools, there was a mobile library built. Health professionals were stationed there.

Roman Mars:
Anguilla was given the support that it needed to develop its economy and create a thriving tourism industry. It took over a decade to negotiate the terms, but by 1980, Anguilla had achieved full separation from St. Kitts and was officially a direct territory of Great Britain. It isn’t technically correct to say that Anguillians achieved independence. But today the country has its own constitution and government.

Don E. Walicek:
Anguillians describe Anguilla today as independent. And when I first started going there, I kind of thought it was an independent nation. And then finally I started checking things out and then I would go to my Anguillian friends and I’d be like, “Anguilla’s not technically independent?” And they would sort of flare up on me. They’re like, “We had a revolution. We were invaded. We had two declarations of independence.” There’s this parallel, very powerful, and convincing narrative. And maybe, a small place with such a different history. Maybe they should be allowed to have sort of their own understanding of what independence is.

Roman Mars:
Even though you can still see its presence all over the island today, the dolphin flag of the Republic of Anguilla was only officially flown for about two years. Once Britain invaded, it reverted back to the Union Jack. And then got a completely new flag in 1990. The current design is a blue field with a Union Jack in the upper left canton, with a clashing orange dolphin coat of arms on the right-hand side. Most British overseas territories adhere to this particular style guide. And to be honest, it’s not so good. Those Union Jacks need to go. It’s really only appropriate on the UK flag. But anyway, I digress. The current Anguilla flag is certainly less fun than the dolphin flag created by Marvin Oberman and Lydia Gumbs. But in a way, the design of the current flag is an appropriate, if complicated symbol of what the country is, and what it wanted to be.

Roman Mars:
Coming up after the break, Kurt Kohlstedt and I are going to talk about the first 99% Invisible book it’s called “The 99% Invisible City.” It comes out October 6th, and we’re going to talk about it, and tell you how you can get a copy or 10. You can get 10 copies. We will not stop you. After this.

[BREAK]

Roman Mars:
So we have a huge announcement, the first 99% Invisible book is coming out October 6th, 2020. It’s called “The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design.” It’s written by Kurt Kohlstedt, our digital director, and me. It’s available for preorder right now. So if you go to 99pi.org/book, you can find all the places you can preorder. And preordering is extremely important to new books, especially by new authors. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later.

Roman Mars:
But first, I want to tell you about the book itself. It’s both a culmination of the 10 years of stories and the unique world view of the podcast. And it’s this huge leap forward with brand new stories and insights. Literally, everything we cover was researched and written from the ground up. So even if you know the show backwards and forwards, you listen to every single episode, you might recognize a reference to Busta Rhymes Island, for example. But there are whole parts of that section about the process of naming things that were not in the episode. And then there’s all the stuff that we’ve never covered on the show. And we’re just extremely proud of it. It’s designed to be a reading book, like read it cover to cover, but also it has the look and feel of a “field guide” where you can flip through, find entries for the city artifact that’s, you know, maybe sitting right in front of you and read a cool story about why that thing is the way it is.

Roman Mars:
It’s beautifully illustrated by Patrick Vale and designed by Rafael Geroni. So it’s both this functional object I want you to use, and read, and carry around with you. But also a precious object that you will like to hold in your hands and look at. So to give you a sense of the stories that we tell in the book, the co-author Kurt Kohlstedt is here and I want us to cover one of the stories that I actually used to pitch the book to publishers in New York when I was out there and as I was describing it, I said, “Well, it’ll be like this travel guide, but it will be to all the mundane, boring things that are in every city. Not any one city in particular, but every city. And it’ll have these entries like a field guide. But in the entry for like a traffic light, for example, it won’t necessarily be the origin story of the traffic light”.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
Well, cause the origin isn’t always the most interesting story about a traffic light or anything else in your city, right?

Roman Mars:
Exactly.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
So we want to focus on the ones that are like not just the best example of, but the coolest story about.

Roman Mars:
The most interesting traffic light in the world, as far as I’m concerned, happens to be in Syracuse, New York. So what is so strange about the traffic light in the corner of Tompkins Street and Milton Avenue in Syracuse, New York?

Kurt Kohlstedt:
Well, really simply, it’s upside down.

Roman Mars:
Right.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
So the order of lights is reversed.

Roman Mars:
Right. So the green is above the red, which is unusual.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
You always see traffic lights the same way. I mean, sometimes they’re sideways, right? But it’s always green goes up yellow, goes up to red. Like, that’s the stack. It’s just how we do things. But if you think about it, that had to start sometime, right? And so when that started being deployed around the country, it wasn’t like “this is the way things have always been” because there was no precedent.

Roman Mars:
Yeah, it was brand new.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
So they landed in this one neighborhood in Syracuse, New York, that happened to be very Irish. And Irish-Americans there saw this as an affront to their culture. You know, they’d never…this was a new phenomenon. Traffic lights were new to the area and they were like, well, why is that Union red on top of the Irish green.

Roman Mars:
Right. Like, “That’s not the order of things. Green is above red. That’s how things should be.”

Kurt Kohlstedt:
Exactly. And so they did what, you know, anybody would do, I guess. And they just smashed it. They broke and then you’d think, well, that would be the end of the story. They’re going to fix this thing and everything will go back to normal. But no, like, they keep repairing the light and people keep throwing stones at it and breaking it. And it kind of moves all the way up to the state level. There’s all this back and forth. There are these aldermen that come in and say, “Okay. Well, can we negotiate with the city to get this thing to be permanently, you know, upside down? And in the end, kind of remarkably to me, they won. And so to this day, that traffic light is still upside down. But then, you know, it’s one of those stories whereas you dig into it, you find all these fun details. And I love it. Like, if you go there to this spot today, you don’t just see the upside-down traffic light. There’s an entire memorial park on the corner and it’s got, you know, an Irish flag, it’s got this sort of shamrock embedded fence. It’s got these bricks, which you can kind of picture representing, like the bricks that maybe were thrown at the light with the members of, you know, community owners who helped make the park. And then there’s this statue and it’s a statue of a family. And the father is pointing at the light and the son, if you look closely in his back pocket, there’s a slingshot. And, you know, it’s kind of this memorial to this very strange, seemingly low stakes little battle. But that ended up bringing this community together and got everybody really enthusiastic about a traffic light, of all things.

Roman Mars:
And so that is indicative of the type of story that we’re telling in the book, in addition to stories about, you know, manhole covers and towers and the grid system and cities and a bunch of things that you may know a little bit about as a regular listener of the show. But a bunch of stuff that I guarantee you do not because when we did the research there was a bunch of stuff that was new to me. And it’s all put together in a new way.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
One of the things I love about the sort of challenge of the book – an opportunity of the book – was to say, well, we have all these stories, but we want to tell a larger story. You know, we want to make this into chapters. We want to tell this overarching story of the city. So the existing episodes that we wanted to include became the kind of framework around which we infield all these other stories to tell a larger story. So we have, you know, a section, for example, on heritage, and it contains certain things that are topics we’ve covered in episodes, but we do it in a kind of order. And we bring you through it so that it tells this larger story about how we think of heritage and old buildings and our built environments.

Roman Mars:
Right. Like what does all the thinking behind preserving things and keeping things the way they are, restoring them to a certain state and not others or tearing them down even, and how that relates to preservation and heritage. And then the whole book is organized around bigger concepts on the design of cities. But it also functions as a field guide that you can just kind of flip through. If you see something, you can open the entry on, I don’t know, utility graffiti, the little spray paint markings on the street and we’ll tell you, like, what the different colors mean and what that means for what tubes and cables and piping is underneath the street in front of you. But we’ll also tell you the big story of the explosion in Culver City, which codified all of these markings to make sure that the streets were safe when workers were digging underneath the ground. So the book really has all these little ways that you can use it and enjoy it.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the beauty of it, is that we made it so that each story really is independent. Each entry can be read by itself. But if you are interested in that kind of thing, you might go to the next entry and the next and the next, because in a lot of cases, you’ll find that the story keeps going beyond the sort of thing that you’re looking at, at the moment while you’re looking at that entry.

Roman Mars:
Totally. The joke of it is it’s a field guide to the city. So it’s a field guide to all cities in this way because it has stories from all over the world. But there’s probably some analog in the city that you’re in to the thing that we’re talking about. But we do travel the globe with the book. And one of the things that’s kind of interesting about releasing it in this time period where travel is limited is that if you’re looking to be engaged in the world and you can’t travel, this is actually a beautiful travel guide to the place where you are. You know, you can go outside and find the depth and the history of a thing that is on your corner that maybe you’ve, you know, just ignored before. You’ve never thought about before. But there’s this rich history there. And this book will be your guide to your own city. When you can’t travel right now, you can find all this joy and pleasure and curiosity in the city that you’re in. And that’s, I think, is sort of a beautiful moment to have this book.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
Yeah, I completely agree, and I’ve been telling people that for a while now, too. It’s just like, you know, you can use this book both to think back to places you’ve been, but even just within a few blocks of your home, you’ll find things that we talk about in this book. I mean, that’s the kind of crazy thing, right?

Roman Mars:
Yeah.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
It’s like you think this is sort of specific to a place. And our stories are anchored in places.

Roman Mars:
Yeah.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
But at the same time, they’re kind of placeless.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. They’re real stories that take place in a place. So, like, we take you to Syracuse, New York. We take you to Old Town Warsaw. We take you to Barcelona. Like there’s all these stories in there. But most of these stories lead to big lessons about why the grid is the way it is in your city, even if you’re, you know, 10,000 miles away from the one that we’re talking about. And that’s the nature of the show. It’s very much the nature of the book. And I’m just really proud of how it all came together. And it’s also just like, lovely.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
It is really beautiful. And we’re very lucky to be paired with a really talented designer and a really talented and just very hardworking illustrator who went above and beyond in a lot of cases to just bring stories to life and that’s something kind of unique and amazing about the book too, is, you know, normally we can’t show you these things.

Roman Mars:
Right.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
We have to walk you through what they look like or, you know, and sometimes that’s an advantage to storytelling, but sometimes it’s really helpful if you could just immediately see on the page, okay, this is what we’re talking about. We don’t really have to describe it any further. We can just jump right into what it means.

Roman Mars:
Right. So needless to say, we want you to buy the book. And right now, you can preorder it. You can go to 99pi.org/book to find all the relevant links. We also have a link in the show notes. I’ve learned so much about the book publishing industry as we’ve been going through this process. And one of the keys to our success is a large number of preorders. So all the preorders of the book and the first week sales are all collapsed into one number. And that determines if the book premieres on the New York Times bestseller list, for example. And that, of course, is a big deal. But also, the preorders determine if big stores will stock the book and how many copies booksellers will order for their shelves. So you preordering now greatly increases the chances that a person who has never heard of the show will see a copy randomly and flip through it and fall in love with it and buy one. So you, the current 99pi fan who orders right now, are the fuel for that whole engine.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
Yes. And once you buy one, I mean, you might as well buy two. And if you’re buying two, you could just buy three. I mean, you have family and friends, and they’re nerds.

Roman Mars:
It comes out October 6th. You could buy 10 and you’re shopping could be done for Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate or, like, birthdays. It is a very good gift for all kinds of people who are just curious about the world and especially curious about the world that they live in every day. And so we think this is a lovely evolution of the show. And if the book does well, we might get the opportunity to do more. So 99pi.org/book is the place to go to get your copy the day it comes out on October 6th. Do not wait. Get it today. Thank you, Kurt.

Kurt Kohlstedt:
Thank you, Roman.

———

Roman Mars:
99% Invisible was produced this week by Vivian Le. Mix and tech production by Kevin Ramsay and Sharif Youssef. Music by Sean Real. Kurt Kohlstedt is the digital director. The rest of the team is senior editor Delaney Hall, Emmett FitzGerald, Joe Rosenberg, Chris Berube, Katie Mingle, Abby Madan, Sofia Klatzker, and me, Roman Mars.

Special thanks to Michael Beirut and Nisha Dupuis.

Our technical producer Sharif Youssef is leaving us this week to go on new adventures. We want to thank him for all his hard work on the show, making things sound so beautiful for us and so beautiful for you the listener. He’s a true artist and will be missed.

We are a project of 91.7 KALW in San Francisco and produced on Radio Row, which is now distributed in multiple locations around North American, but our heart it will always be in beautiful downtown Oakland, California

We are a proud member of radiotopia from PRX, a fiercely independent collective of the most innovative, listener-supported, 100% artist-owned podcasts in the world. You can donate to the collective at radiotopia.fm, just like these fine people did: David Otaguro, Usama Hajj, Brian Chesney, Eugene Gilbert Park, and Mike Garrett. Thank you so much.

You can tweet at me @romanmars and the show at @99piorg. We’re on Instagram and Reddit too… but we have links to the 99pi book and pictures of the 99pi book and how to pre-order the 99pi book at 99pi.org/book.

Credits

Production

Producer Vivian Le spoke with Emily Oberman, Partner at Pentagram; Timothy Hodge, former President of the Anguilla Archeological and Historical Society; Don E. Walicek, Professor of English and Linguistics in the College of Humanities at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras; Alan Gumbs, business owner on Anguilla.

  1. Anguilla in italian means “eel”, and that´s what the island was apparently named after, for its long shape (according to the internet, by Columbus himself). A flag with eels going in a circle would also have made sense I guess.

  2. GotAheadache

    Sounded interesting, but couldn’t listen to it because of the background “bzzzzz” that was playing behind the main track. Please never do that again – it was awful!

  3. Peter Varley

    This comment is not about Anguilla but the discussion at the end about the new book and in particular traffic lights:

    Check out the lights in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil which are a far superior design to the standard red/amber/green as they give a “time left” indicator. We only saw them in Foz do Iguacu though that was 2015 so maybe that has changed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpnAvwHk41A

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All Categories

Playlist