Whenever my dad wanted to speak metaphorically about Podunks — places that were remote and sparsely populated — he often cited Broken Elbow, Indiana, and Frozen Dog, Iowa.
I always assumed they were real places, and recently I dug around to find out how they got their colorful names. Internet research truly is the best!
Googling “Broken Elbow, Indiana” yielded a few promising results: a juicy lead about an Indiana Pacers player (Chris Copeland) who broke his elbow; an informational site for medical elbow and shoulder providers in Indianapolis; another site for orthopedic surgeons in northwest Indiana; and a news alert about an Oakland A’s player (from Indiana) who broke his elbow throwing a pitch this weekend.
My search for the origins of “Frozen Dog, Iowa” also seemed rife with possibilities: a TV news story about a man discovering a frozen (human) body while out walking his dog in Des Moines; another self-explanatory headline “Frozen Dog Found in Trash in Iowa” and a pet food site (for dogs, cats, and ferrets) called “My Pet Carnivore” which, among other things, sells frozen pet food in Iowa.
But where should I go from there? Some hard thinking was necessary. I mean, really, would anyone name a town after a medical practice? Crazy thought! On the other hand, what if the town’s most distinguished citizen had benefited from special treatments after an elbow break? Well, uh, still unlikely. Then, digging a little deeper on the Interwebs, I discovered the shocking factoid that the Pacers player broke his elbow in a stabbing incident. The kind of thing that generates sympathy, compassion, and yes, the desire to commemorate. The unavoidable conclusion: Broken Elbow, Indiana, was named for Copeland’s injury.
On to Iowa! Why would anyone name a town after unfortunate mammals of the two- or four-legged variety who had frozen to death? Much too sad to commemorate in the name of a municipality! But My Pet Carnivore certainly sparked the imagination — I mean, wouldn’t the very existence of an establishment like this be sufficient to convince the people of a small Iowa town to come together and change the name of their village from something common or overused like Franklin or Springfield or Cedarville/city/falls/rapids/grove, perhaps, to Frozen Dog? What could possibly make more sense?
Delighted with my progress in solving these naming enigmas, I decided to find out exactly where Pop’s Podunks were located. I googled and googled till my fingertips were raw and bleeding, but I turned up no results at all. No online map of Indiana or Iowa showed a town named Broken Elbow or Frozen Dog.
Which leads to an inevitable conclusion: how brilliant that my dad knew of places too small to appear on maps! And furthermore (since Copeland’s stabbing took place last year, My Pet Carnivore was established two years before that, and Pop died in 2002), how amazing that he knew years ago all that was going to happen!
I always knew Pop was a genius. But now, after this thought-y intellectual exercise, I am finally following along in his footsteps. Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the squeaky wheel!