Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Phantom Settlements

Every so often an unexpected curveball happens 😃

From the Pen of Mae Clair

Stack of books with round eyeglasses on top, brass vintage candle, and carnivale mask in background

Recently, while reading a novel, I happened upon a curiosity I was unfamiliar with—phantom settlements. No, these aren’t communities where ghosts hang out, or locations that disappear (though the latter might be closer to the truth). Also known as paper towns, these are spots that don’t actually exist, but appear on maps. Cartographers included them as copyright traps in order to point to plagiarism if their work was stolen.

One of the most famous phantom settlements is Agloe, New York.

The tale starts in the 1930s when Otto G. Lindberg and Ernest Alpers of the General Drafting Company—a small mapmaking firm—came up with the idea of creating foldable maps for motorists. These were sold at gas stations, and could be conveniently stored in the glovebox. Prior to that, most maps were bound in large heavy books, and weren’t easily transportable. Rand McNally was the industry giant; Lindberg and Alpers, small…

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