PONIATOWSKI, WIS. -- John Gesicki has spent years promoting his hometown, population 111, and its claim to fame as the center of the northern half of the Western Hemisphere.
Actually, Gesicki said, the exact geographical center is located one-half mile west and one-fourth of a mile north of Poniatowski, in the town of Rietbrock, about 200 miles northwest of Milwaukee, but why split hairs?
"We're just a little community," he said recently. "We have to promote what we have, and that's all we have. That place is a point of interest that we can be proud of."
Gesicki's pride resulted in a large wooden sign in a field along a country road. Erected in the 1960s, the sign reads:
"This spot . . . is the exact center of the northern half of the Western Hemisphere. It is here that the 90th meridian of longitude bisects the 45th parallel of latitude, meaning it is exactly halfway between the North Pole and the equator, and is a quarter of the way around the Earth from Greenwich, England."
Mapmakers and surveyors agree that the lines intersect somewhere northwest of Poniatowski, but some question whether Gesicki, who is not a surveyor, found the exact point.
"First of all, believe it or not, we're still arguing over the exact size and shape of the Earth," said state cartographer Art Ziegler at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Ziegler conceded that Gesicki may have come within 40 feet of the true spot.
Gesicki, 66, a former Marathon County Board member, hauled rock to the site to transform a swampy area into one befitting visitors. He struck a deal with the state for highway signs pointing the way to Poniatowski.
The owner of Gesicki's bar and general store has bumper stickers reading: "Where in heaven is Poniatowski?" or "The exact center: Poniatowski, Wis." or "Worldwide center: Poniatowski, Wis."
Gesicki also established the 45-90 Club, with membership conferred on those who visit the geographical marker and visit the general store to sign a register. About 4,000 have signed, he said.
Gesicki said his interest in the spot began when, as a youngster, he heard bar patrons talk sometimes of something special about the area. However, no one then seemed to know what it was.
Now, Gesicki said he gets satisfaction from knowing that Poniatowski has parlayed its claim to fame into a tourist attraction.
"What we have done with a small community here is something a lot of people would like to be able to do with a bigger city," he said.