Snake Alley: The Crookedest Street in America. Burlington’s most famous street has long advertised that claim. After all, Robert Ripley bestowed that title upon us years ago. Right?
Perhaps. Proving the claim, however, has been a challenge.
Edward Meyer, Vice President of Archives and Exhibits at Ripley’s Believe it or Not!, has enjoyed a long tenure at the Ripley’s family of companies. Few know more about the history of the company and Mr. Ripley than Edward. As he tells the story, it was commonplace for a reporter from The Hawk Eye, an employee at Burlington’s City Hall, or even a staffer at the Convention & Visitors Bureau to call him every few years in attempt to verify the urban legend.
The answer has always been the same: after a thorough review of Ripley’s personal diaries and the company’s archives, evidence has never surfaced to prove Ripley bestowed fanfare on our beloved street.
Then Fireball Run, the Amazon Prime streaming series, entered the picture.
The show’s producers were in town scouting attractions to feature on its 11th season. Naturally, Snake Alley was a top contender, and the connection with Ripley’s began to surface. Both Ripley’s and Fireball Run are headquartered in Orlando. The two entities have partnered in the past, and the legend surrounding Snake Alley provided an opportunity to work together again. One could say it was a made-for-tv moment. In late September, Meyer traveled to Burlington to see Snake Alley for himself.
So- is Snake Alley the ‘crookedest’? At issue is something called sinuosity, or more specifically, the sinuosity coefficient. For those of you having painful flashbacks to high school math, sinuosity is the ratio of the curvilinear length along a curve to the straight line distance between the end points of the same curve. In laymen’s terms, I refer to it as curvature per linear foot.
When it comes to sinuosity, the larger the ratio, the better. We have long known Lombard Street was a competitor. However, the tougher contender has actually been San Francisco’s lesser-known Vermont Street.
Ultimately, an engineering firm was commissioned to answer the question definitively, and here are the results:
Lombard Street: 1.2 . Vermont Street: 1.56. Snake Alley: 1.607.
As a matter of fact, Snake Alley, has the highest sinuosity score with room to spare. The evidence was enough to capture Ripley’s attention and encourage Meyer to bestow an official honor on Snake Alley.
Of course, Ripley’s Believe it or Not! does not award world records; that is up to its sister company, Guinness World Book of Records. So for now, Snake Alley is Unbelievably Crooked, and we are thrilled to have an official plaque commemorating the designation.
Ripley’s is a global brand, and the partnership with the company and its Odd Spots in America promotion will last for a number of years. It gives us a great opportunity to increase the awareness of our attraction and gives potential visitors yet another reason to check it out.
Jason Hutcheson serves as the President & CEO of the Greater Burlington Partnership. This column first appeared in the Partnership’s monthly newsletter.