Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why is Epping the center of the universe?

Epping Town Clerk Linda Foley holds up one of the "Epping is the center of the universe" bumper stickers.

If you've lived in the Epping area, you've probably heard the phrase, "Epping is the center of the universe."

Well, I'v always wondered how it got that title, so I decided to do a little investigation. I became even more curious when I found a sign at the Epping Town Clerk's Office last week advertising bumper stickers for sale for $1. It's quite an interesting story, so I had to share it.

Below is the story that appeared in Monday's New Hampshire Union Leader explaining why Epping is considered, at least in some minds, the center of the universe.

By Jason Schreiber
Union Leader correspondent

EPPING - The town clerk’s office has always been the place to go for car registrations, but in Epping, you can get your official “Epping is the center of the universe” bumper sticker as well.
A sign next to the clerk’s window advertises the dark blue bumper stickers with white lettering at a bargain price of just $1.

The stickers have been a hot item since the clerk’s office started selling them a few years ago. In fact, the sample sticker attached to the sign at the clerk’s window has been swiped several times and has had to be replaced.

As many as 134 stickers were sold last year, and sales this year have averaged about 10 a month, according to Deputy Town Clerk Joyce Blanchard, who bought bumper stickers for her sons, but they refused to put them on their cars.

Town Administrator Dean Shankle got two bumper stickers for himself when he was hired earlier this year, but he keeps them at his house.
“I think it’s nice for the town to have an identity,” Shankle said. “It’s a memorable brand.”

The idea for the bumper stickers began in the early 1970s when longtime resident Howard Phelps owned what was then known as Freddie’s BP gas station.
Phelps’ brother-in-law and high school buddy, Rick Wells, worked at the station and is believed to be the first to coin the phrase, “Epping is the center of the universe.” It was a statement he made while joking with a cynical resident who liked to stop by to complain about town politics.
Wells, who lived in Epping at the time but has since moved to New York, later decided that the gas station ought to start selling the phrase on bumper stickers, just for fun. The first batch of stickers was printed up by a printer in Dover.

“We sold quite a number of them and we had to get a subsequent order,” recalled Phelps, who is now 65 and works as a nurse’s aide at the Rockingham County Nursing Home after running the BP for 30 years.

As more and more bumper stickers were sold, “Epping is the center of the universe” was a phrase that stuck and soon it became a sort of motto for the town among locals. But as the stickers were displayed on bumpers and people in other towns began to see them, Epping became known as the center of the universe to outsiders as well.

Phelps will never forget the day when he and his wife were at a supermarket and overheard a conversation between a cashier and a customer about how Epping was geographically the center of the universe.

“We sort of grinned to ourselves, but didn’t say anything,” Phelps said with a laugh.
The bumper stickers eventually sold out and the gas station stopped printing them, but the idea was revived a few years ago by Epping resident Kim Sullivan. He was a selectman then and decided to have the stickers reprinted and sold at the town clerk’s office.

Old-timers who remember the origin of the phrase like to buy them along with newcomers who think they’re funny.

As bumper sticker sales continue, the phrase “Epping is the center of the universe” is making its way to the Internet. The phase now appears on the Web site for the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Epping is listed on the site as one of 16 places around the world that claim to be the center of the universe, mostly as a joke.

Phelps still gets a kick out of the phrase when he hears it around town.
“It brings a little smile to my face whenever it’s mentioned,” he said.

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