Places that sort of exist

Here’s an entertaining post: The Imaginary Town That Refused To Stay Fake

If you’re ever in Delaware County, be sure to head over to the tiny hamlet of Roscoe. There’s not really anything to see there (unless you’re into fly-fishing: Roscoe calls itself “Trout Town, USA”). But drive past the gas stations and convenience stores and head just a little north, to where an unnamed dirt road meets NY 206. Stop the car a second, stretch your legs, and look around. Apart from the two roads meeting and a faint shadow of a knocked-down building at the side of the road, it’s nothing but trees, grass and birdsong round here. But trust me. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you’re having right now. You’re standing in Agloe, Colchester: a place which, simultaneously and without contradiction, does and doesn’t exist.

Our maps are filled with imaginary places – and it’s usually the map-makers that did it. …

Here’s where it gets weirder. At some point in the 1950s, some uniquely enterprising soul looked at this eye-wateringly uneventful intersection at the scrag-end of Nowhere, N.Y., and said to themself, “You know, with a few groceries and a lot of love I could make a real go of this place.” They grabbed an Esso map to get the name right – and so the Agloe General Store was born.

Skip forward a few years. The mapping company Rand McNally (one of the other “Big Three”) releases its own state map. And someone at Esso – the company that had bought General Drafting’s map for commercial use – was checking for copyright theft, and spotted the inclusion of “Agloe” on the RM map. They probably thought “aha! Got you, you thieving *******” – and in came the lawyers. In their legal defence, Rand McNally said their map designers went to the official map of the county, found the name of the place, and logically concluded it existed. On what grounds? Well, on the grounds that there were actual people there. Specifically, the owners of the Agloe General Store.

There’s more to it — the town sort of hovered along at the boundary of real/not real, and then John Green picked up this exact semi-fictitious “town” for use in his book Paper Towns, which I had not realized, and well, the whole idea is kind of neat. I do think that a contemporary fantasy novel could make excellent use of fake places that are named on maps …

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1 thought on “Places that sort of exist”

  1. *perk*

    “I do think that a contemporary fantasy novel could make excellent use of fake places that are named on maps …“

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