the devil's highway -- 10/30/15

In today's selection -- from the Copper Crucible by Jonathan Rosenblum and U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway? by Richard Weingroff. Route 666 was originally so named as the sixth branch of U.S. 66 in early August 1926. Because of the association of '666' as the 'number of the beast' or Antichrist, it was later nicknamed as the 'Devil's Highway' and a 'Beast of a Highway.' In the Christian New Testament, the Book of Revelation 13:18, it states: 'Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.' Because of the controversy associated with the number, the highway's designation was later changed to Route 491:

"Route 666 rides the rugged eastern seam of Arizona from the Petrified Forest, south, across the Zuni River, through the Apache National Forest, and into the mountain mining towns of Clifton and Morenci. Unlike the straightforward, gentle passage of retired Route 66 ('America's Highway'), U.S. 666, its descendant, is tortuous, wild, and as strange as its name. In little more than one hundred miles, the surrounding altitude ranges from twenty-nine hundred feet to more than eleven thousand feet. With some four hundred twisting curves in one sixty-mile stretch, the road has sent more than its share of travelers crashing off cliffs. If, as Nat King Cole sang, drivers get their kicks on Route 66, they take their risks on 666.

"From the time it was numbered, people who lived along the road worried over a possible connection between ancient symbolism and their modern fate. For those nearest the Phelps Dodge copper mines in Morenci, the allusion was obvious: the beast in the Book of Revelation rose from a pit with the markings '666' to signal the apocalypse. ... At the road's dedication in the 1920s, local Apaches reacted with curiosity to the white people's numerology; they performed a ceremony called 'the Devil's Dance.' Residents regularly wrote the highway department and their congresspeople to change the highway number. After all, an Arizona car owner cannot even purchase a vanity plate with the number '666' on it - the state won't permit it. But highway routing follows its own science (666 indicates that the road is an extension of Route 66) ... (Copper Crucible 13)

"The association with the 'beast' earned U.S. 666 the nickname 'Devil's Highway.' USA Today quoted a State trooper who recalled one drunken-driving suspect on U.S. 666 who told him, 'Triple 6 is evil. Everyone dies on that highway' (August 4, 1990). The Wall Street Journal titled an article 'Beast of a Highway: Does Asphalt Stretch Have Biblical Curse?' (August 3, 1995). Referring to the highway's dangers, the article quoted a resident who 'blames Satan. After all, "the highway has the devil's name." ' It was also the subject of a cartoon in The New Yorker's issue of February 23/March 2, 1998 (a Corvette-type open top sports car is passing the U.S. 666 sign; the driver and his passenger are depicted as satanic figures). ...

"This association is a result of gematria, a system of numerology that assigns a value to each letter of the alphabet. A word can, thus, be counted by adding the value of each letter. Through gematria, '666' is the biblical 'number of the beast' because the letters comprising the name of the 'beast' add up to 666. The identity of the 'beast' is unclear, although the Roman Emperor Nero is a possibility. (U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?)

"In fact, the highway does have a hellish [geological] past. From the Painted Cliffs near New Mexico, rising to Alpine, Arizona, and plunging again to Morenci, the highway traverses millions of years of lava flows, shifting tectonic plates, and what geologists call 'plutonic bodies.' ... (Copper Crucible 14)

"The dark and ill-fated U.S. Highway 666 that, for three-fourths of a century, switched back across New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado [was renamed in 2003] ... The New Mexico Legislature passed a joint resolution literally begging the U.S. Department of Transportation to shed and shred the numeration. The Legislature resolved, among other things that,

WHEREAS, people living near the road already live under the cloud of opprobrium created by having a road that many believe is cursed running near their homes and through their homeland; and
WHEREAS, the number "666" carries the stigma of being the mark of the beast, the mark of the devil, which was described in the book of revelations in the Bible; and
HEREAS, there are people who refuse to travel the road, not because of the issue of safety, but because of the fear that the devil controls events along United States route 666; and
WHEREAS, the economy in the area is greatly depressed when compared with many parts of the United States, and the infamy brought by the inopportune naming of the road will only make development in the area more difficult.

"Based on these considerations, the Joint Memorial Resolutions requested a new numeric designation as quickly as possible, adding that, 'changing the numeric designation of United States route 666 would provide an added degree of comfort for those using the road.' " (U.S. 666: Beast of a Highway?)

'U.S. 666: "Beast of a Highway"?'
Author: Richard Weingroff
Publisher Highway History, U.S. Department of Transportation
Revised 06/18/03


Jonathan D. Rosenblum


Copper Crucible: How the Arizona Miners' Strike of 1983 Recast Labor-Management Relations in America


ILR Press an imprint of Cornell University Press


Copyright 1998 by Jonathan D. Rosenblum


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