FAYETTEVILLE, AR–Local resident Carl Sutton was recognized by Fayetteville officials Monday for his "unique and patriotic" ability to name all 50 United States.
"I am proud to call Carl Sutton one of Fayetteville's own," said Mayor Gordon Semple, who awarded Sutton a special citation at the city's American Legion Hall. "Very few people possess the skill to name all 50 states of the Union without consulting reference materials. Yet, relying only on his intellect and his powers of retention, Carl has achieved the near-impossible. He is a true American hero."
Sutton's state-recitation aptitude has drawn national attention, resulting in guest spots on TV talk shows, lecture dates in elementary and secondary schools, and goodwill visits to hospitals, nursing homes, and military bases. However, the 46-year-old delivery driver for Tyson Foods remains modest and somewhat bewildered by the acclaim.
"I only graduated from high school and never attended college, so when people say I'm a hero or a genius, I have a hard time believing them," Sutton told reporters. "I did not have the advantages others have, so I'm just grateful to God for endowing me with this gift. I do not take it for granted, because I know how much it means to so many people."
Sutton then concluded his remarks with his customary, keenly anticipated recitation of the 50 states in alphabetical order.
"Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware," Sutton said. "Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine."
Added Sutton: "Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi... uh... Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York–no, wait–New Mexico, then New York... North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio."
Following a 10-second lapse accompanied by a pained expression, Sutton said, "Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania... er... Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington... um... West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming."
Reporters in attendance then broke into enthusiastic cheers and gave Sutton a standing ovation as he left the room.
Those who have heard Sutton's celebrated recitation inevitably express wonderment.
"I have a hard time just remembering which states border my own," said Joseph Russo, an insurance-claims adjuster from Harwich, MA. "Heck, I can't remember how to spell my own state. But this Sutton guy, he's amazing."
"I want to be just like Mr. Sutton when I grow up," said 8-year-old Wendy Sperling of Casper, WY. "Right now, I know California, Florida, and New York. Oh, and Wyoming!"
But for all the adulation, Sutton refuses to rest on his laurels. Not content to dazzle others with his perfect state recall, he has taught himself the names of the territories currently under U.S. jurisdiction.
"Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands," Sutton told Katie Couric during a recent appearance on Today.
With Sutton's rise to fame has come a growing number of rivals eager to challenge his throne. Danielle Claussen, a bartender from Amherst, NY, claims to have memorized not only all 50 states, but also their capitals. A 12-year-old Taiwanese-born, San Francisco-raised prodigy named Yan-Zhou Li is rumored to know all the major American rivers and their tributaries, as well as the number of congressional representatives per state.
Despite the competition, Sutton received more good news Monday, when he learned that he has won a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant." He said he plans to use the $500,000 prize to study and memorize all the state mottos, nicknames, and birds.
"It seems overly ambitious, but with this financial assistance, I think I can pull it off," Sutton said. "I already know Montana's state bird is the Western Meadowlark, and that Arizona's motto is Ditat Deus, which is Latin for 'God enriches.' And that Connecticut is known both as 'The Constitution State' and 'The Nutmeg State.' Now I can afford to take an extended leave of absence from my job to devote the proper time and attention to this project."