By Linda Artlip Weinstein
When D. N. Smith of Burlington, Iowa, gave our town its name in the 1850s, he probably never stopped to consider the variety of ways in which the word “Villisca” would be spelled in the coming years.
An article in the Jan. 24, 1907 Review complained of spellings such as “Valisca” and “Vallisca”and like “Valiska” and “Valliska”. But this report certainly wasn’t the only newspaper article to detail the misspelling of the name of the town. An entire column in 1876 was devoted to all the variations the local Post Office had seen in the nearly 20 years the town had existed. The following are excerpts from that lament.
Villisca Orthographically [as it is spelled]
“A few ways of Spelling the Name of the “Beautiful View.” [Which is what Mr. Smith claimed the Native American word Villisca meant, although there are those who have since taken issue with that translation as well as the existence of any word even approaching Villisca in native languages.]
“We do not hesitate to affirm after duly examining into the various sources of information, that of all the towns along the B. & M. R. railroad the town in question—Villisca—is subject to the most frequent and most varied ORTHOGRAPHICAL OUTRAGES.
“We believe, as does the worthy postmaster of this place, that not more than one postal clerk, one clerk of a wholesale house, or one shipping clerk in 500, could direct his letters, packages, etc., to this place a dozen times and spell the name twice in the same manner. “
The column goes on to list amusing combinations of which eight letters are possible. Most of the spellings were taken from the addresses on letters received at the Villisca post office the previous winter:
The Review’s writer noted that the first two variations were the most common, but the most extreme spelling had been: VEYLISQUA!
Then there were mild misspellings, such as:
One addresser outdid himself with the succinct: VLISK.
The author then listed ten spellings that must have resulted from what he considered a severely “DISORDERED IMAGINATION:”
Honestly. Who would know that those letters should be sent to Villisca? Amazing. But not as bad as the last five attempts, according to the column, “We now present a list of five attempts to [spell] our beautifully named town which separately and severally should win the writers undying fame”which he called “these SPELLICISMS, these terrible specimens of spellographic idiosyncrasies” were:
Pilluca, Waliska, and
The winner: WEILITYSKE!
Apparently things improved over the years although an 1907 column recounted an attempt earlier that year by a New Yorker to write to a Villisca businessman. The writer’s spelling of the town’s name on the envelope was so far out that the postal clerks gave up even trying to figure out what he meant and returned the letter to him. The writer tried again, and got closer when he crossed out his first attempt and tried again with “Valeskie.” That one was delivered.
Although the complaints from the postal clerks seemed to have merit, perhaps it wasn’t just the fault of writers who had never before heard of Villisca, Iowa. The post office itself, in issuing a commission to the first appointed Post Masterin 1863, spelled the name of the town to which the new post master was appointed as “Valliska.” And two years later in the Iowa State Gazeteer the name of our beautiful place was spelled Valeska.
Zip codes, computerization and spell check should have put an end to the problem. But in checking the archives of The Review, “Vallisca” shows up in a 1964 article. But not really. An ink smear near the first “I” in the name confused the algorithm which reported the town’s name as Vallisca. So if the name can trick a computer, what chance does a human being have?
But as we know today—whether you spell it Villisca, or Valliske, or Villisk, or Vallasca or even WEILITYSKE—there’s only one!
(Originally published in the Villisca Review and Stanton Viking on July 24, 2014)