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Felicity: The Town at the Center of the World

I have heard about some of the craziest, most audacious things that people have done and this might be at the top as being one of the boldest things that anyone can do. It is actually quite admirable. Jacques-Andre Istel is known as "the father of American sport parachuting" and in the 1980s, he and his wife moved to California and where he bought a 2,600-acre land decades earlier.

With nothing much around apart from an RV park and some impressively tall sand dunes, the couple’s desert refuge was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. So it made sense, at least in Istel’s fervid imagination, to put it in the middle of somewhere. In 1985, the French-born parachuting pioneer cajoled California’s Imperial County Board of Supervisors into designating a spot on his property as The Official Centre of the World.

But he didn't end here. He decided to build a town around that landmark.

The following year, Istel created Felicity, which now boasts about 15 residents and its own freeway sign. Facing no opposition, Istel got himself elected mayor that same year – apparently for life.

He still wasn't satisfied. Istel wanted to erect a monument with inscriptions honoring people and places important in his life and he wanted it to last for a long time.

The triangular monument went up in 1991; it was 100ft long, about 4.5ft high, and faced with some 60 panels of polished, red granite. The durability came from what was inside: steel-reinforced concrete sunk into trenches 3ft deep.
Istel then decided he would build another monument, this one to honour US marines who fought and died in the Korean War. Then came a third monument, and a fourth, and a fifth. Today, 20 granite monuments, arranged at artful angles across the desert floor, collectively make up The Museum of History in Granite, a sort of open-air bank of knowledge for the ages.

(Image credit: Anne Burke/The BBC)

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