What’s in the name of a town? That’s a great question, and judging by history, no town name is written in stone. Especially if there is a chance to put that town on a map.
Probably one of the earliest examples of this is Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. A town of less than 5,000 people north of Philadelphia, it was known as Mauch Chunk until the 1950s. While other towns, states and even countries are typically named after government leaders or war heroes, Jim Thorpe got its name simply by agreeing to build a monument and be the final resting place of famous athlete Jim Thorpe, who had died in 1953.
Nowadays, towns might change their name, but usually only for a day, and more ceremonially than officially. That was the case for Huntsville, Alabama, a city with very close historical ties to NASA and space flight in general.
During two days in September 1996, Huntsville was not known as Huntsville. Instead, the town was known as Star Trek, Alabama.
Although the city was not changing signs at city hall or reprinting letterhead, the new Star Trek, Alabama, took these changes seriously, because it was part of what was then the 30th anniversary of the franchise.
A convention was held at the civic center. Speed limit signs were changed to “Warp 5.” And it attracted some 150 reporters to town, according to the Huntsville Times.
“Not since proud Huntsvillians carried rocket pioneer Dr. Wernher Von Braun on their shoulders downtown to celebrate the 1969 Moon landing has the city saluted space with such hoopla,” the newspaper said at the time.
And the celebration attracted celebrities. Nearly the entire original cast was there — William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and James Doohan. Even cast members from the spinoff series showed up as well, representing “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager.”
This was a joint celebration, however. Many of the famous faces of NASA also were there. Alan Shepard. Buzz Aldrin. Fred Haise. The place was packed.
Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since we’ve celebrated the 30th anniversary of the franchise. But that’s the reality.
Read more about how Huntsville has celebrated Star Trek over the years by clicking here.