This is the story of a totally made-up place that suddenly
became real — and then, strangely, undid itself and became a fantasy
again. Imagine Pinocchio becoming a real boy and then going back to
being a puppet. That's what happened here — but this is a true story.
It's about a place in upstate New York called Agloe. You can see it here, circled in blue ...
... just up the road from Roscoe and Rockland.
In the 1930s (I learned from Frank Jacobs' excellent blog,
), there was no town on that stretch between Rockland and nearby
Beaverkill — just a dirt road. This wasn't an important or often visited
place, which made it a perfect spot for what's called a "paper town,"
or a map "trap."
that create maps get their work copied all the time. You hire a
draftsman. You check spellings, you work on the colors, you get all the
cities in the right place, and along comes a gas company, or a tourism
agency; it takes what you've done, slaps its own name on it. You cry,
"Piracy!" and take it to court.
The pirates say, "Prove it." It's a map, they say. It describes what is. Because
there's a real world out there, obviously maps are going to be
identical. So we're only guilty of describing the same world the other
map described. Jurors think, "Hmm, sounds reasonable," and the pirates
get away with it. Unless the mapmaker runs a little scam.
That's what ,
director of the General Drafting Co., and his assistant, Ernest Alpers,
did in the 1930s. They were making a road map of New York state, and on
that out-of-the-way dirt road, they created a totally fictitious place
called "Agloe." The name was a mix of the first letters in their names,
Otto G. Lindberg's (OGL) and Ernest Alpers' (EA).
A few years later, Rand McNally, the famous map company, issued
its own New York state map, and, guess what? Right there in the same
place — same spelling — was the exact same Totally Made-Up Town,
"Gotcha!" cried Lindberg. "No," said the Rand McNally lawyers. And they offered this totally startling defense.
The Telltale General Store
McNally told the court that its designers went to the official map of
that county, looked up the coordinates, and on the spot called Agloe
they found a building, and that building, they told the judge, is the
Agloe General Store. So there is an Agloe. Otherwise, where'd the owners get the name?
question. Here's the ironic answer. The owners had seen Agloe on a map
distributed by Esso, which owned scores of gas stations. Esso had bought
that map from Lindberg and Alpers. If Esso says this place is called
Agloe, the store folks figured, well, that's what we'll call ourselves.
So, a made-up name for a made-up place inadvertently created a real
place that, for a time, really existed. Rand McNally, one presumes, was
found not guilty.
Then the store closed. It isn't there anymore. Decades passed.
writes Frank Jacobs, you can go to your computer, "Turn to Google Maps,
and type in Agloe ..." and — oh my gosh — there it is!
Jacobs says, "[A]n arrow still lands in the spot where Messrs.
Lindberg and Alpers placed it, long after the general store there has
gone. And long after the General Drafting Company itself has gone. One
of the 'Big Three' in road map publishing, [Mr. Lindberg's company] was
absorbed into the American Map Company in 1992 and its state maps
amalgamated with that company's catalog."
So, as of last week,
when I wrote this post, Google was perpetuating an 80-year-old fantasy
that for a short time turned real, then unreal. But then, just as this
story was to be published, to be extra sure, we went to Google Earth,
typed in "Agloe" one last time, and, whaddya know? It isn't there any
It was removed this week. And so, instead of a Google Gotcha post,
you are now attending an instant online funeral for a town that never
was, then was, then wasn't and now isn't. So, I ask you to stand
silently, think of the late Otto Lindberg and the late Ernest Alpers,
who gave their initials so that Agloe might be; think of the proprietors
of the Agloe General Store, and of the Somebody at Google, who,
apparently, reads Frank Jacobs' blog, Strange Maps, and reacts faster
than I do. Damn that Google guy. And let us say ... Amen.