Imagine: it’s 1866, and you’ve just hopped on a steamboat heading up the Mississippi River. Excited, you pull out your newest souvenir, a small spool with a strip of linen-backed parchment twisted around it. You begin unwinding, and see a near-future destination: Memphis, marked by a smart bullseye, and the site of a major railroad junction. You twirl it up again and travel back in time: There’s the Mississippi-Louisiana border, which you crossed just yesterday.
Suddenly, a stiff river breeze churns up, and you lose control of your map, which quickly unspools. The end of it gets caught by the wind and floats across the deck. Before you can say anything, whap!—it hits another eager tourist right in the face.
Such were the delights potentially provided by the Ribbon Map of the Father of Waters. A depiction of the entire Mississippi, from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to northern Minnesota, the map stretched 11 feet long and just under three inches wide, and was meant to be wrapped around a spool and carried in a pocket. Although it never really caught on, it stands as a testament to the many forms maps can take, and as a precursor of how we treat traveling today.
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