Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Phantom Settlements

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 fish.

But these guys had vision! With more people taking to the roadways, and recreational driving becoming popular, they saw a bright future in foldable maps. They’d also invested a lot of research and time into creating their map of New York State. The last thing they wanted was for a competitor to come along and copy their work, but what to do?

The two men put their heads together and hit upon the idea of creating a fictitious town using letters from their names and scrambling them. They dropped “Agloe” onto a dirt road intersection in the Catskill Mountains—trap set. Years later, Rand McNally produced a map that included Agloe—bait taken. Or so, Lindeberg thought.

He cried foul, citing the phantom settlement, but Rand McNally protested it had gotten the coordinates for Agloe from county records. Those records indicated the Agloe General Store occupied the spot on the map.

How is such a thing possible? Turns out someone had spied the name Agloe on a GDC map, decided to build a store there, and named it after the “town.” The store eventually went out of business in 2008, but if you Google Agloe General Store, you’ll find a Facebook page devoted to it, along with numerous references.

In the case of Agloe, Lindberg and Alpers created a phantom settlement that became an actual place, then later vanished once again. While you can’t step foot in the General Store anymore, you can still visit the area where it stood.

Should you decide to take a drive, you can always use your GPS, but you may want to get there the old-fashioned way and use a paper map. After all—that’s how Agloe was born. πŸ™‚

89 thoughts on “Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Phantom Settlements

    • My pleasure, Staci. The novel I read used Agloe in the plot, but I can see so many possibilities with this one and other “paper towns.” I suspected you might enjoy such an odd “curiosity! ” πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! They are such complex creatures when you try to refold them, Priscilla. I still use a paper map in conjunction with a GPS when hubby and I travel. I’m the navigator, and I still like tracking on a foldable paper map. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve never heard of phantom settlements either – fascinating. When I was young, I can remember my parents arguing over one of those foldable maps every summer when we’d go to the beach. We got lost every year. Never failed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL! I actually used to create ad panels that went on Chamber of Commerce maps and gas station maps, Teri. Still brings back memories.
      And I still like to use a foldable map (in conjunction with a GPS) when hubby and I travel. At least these days, we have the GPS to rely on too. I suspect they’ve saved many couples from arguments! 🀣

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an amazing story, Mae. I’ve been to the Catskills a few times but didn’t know about Agloe. Now I want to visit! Thank you for sharing this hidden nugget.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve actually heard about phantom settlements. That’s funny about Agloe though. That is a story I hadn’t heard. I bet that might have happened in other states too. I can totally see how it could. Excellent post, Mae!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tessa, I’d never heard of phantom settlements before. I think the whole concept is so fascinating. And yep, I bet there are all kinds of them out there, strewn over maps. I might have to start scouring the PA map! 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating! I’ve never heard of phantom settlements or any of these mapmaking issues. I almost hate that their plan backfired with someone building a general store there. Lindberg & Alpers could have sued for a small fortune, I’m sure. Thanks for sharing, Mae!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Had Rand McNally truly stolen there Lindberg & Alpers research, rather than doing they’re own, the “big guys” would have really been in the hot seat. It sounds like RM did actually research records and draft their own map, but it makes you wonder how many other phantom settlements exist. I’ve also heard of other types of copyright traps being used in encyclopedias and reference manuals. It’s such a clever idea—and fun, too! 😁

      Like

  5. Fascinating, MC. Too bad the idea didn’t work for its creators. Proving plagiarism is a very difficult thing to do. A friend of mine had his textbook copied and sued the plagiarist, only to discover that since less than 80% of his book had been copied, he had no recourse.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, that’s awful, Noelle! While researching copyright traps, I learned they are also used in reference books.I would have thought them pretty foolproof. How sad to learn there is a caveat to plagiarism. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m like your husband, Judi. We still use a GPS when we travel, but I’m always the navigator, and I like to have a paper map to follow along, in addition to the GPS. I great up using those things and I guess old habits die hard, LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting! What a prudent way to copyright one’s work!! When I read such stories, I am filled with gratitude for those who made our life so easy with all the technology around us at the touch of our digital devices!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Isn’t it amazing how much times have changed, Balroop? Technology has definitely changed the way we navigate. My CPS has saved me more than once!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I thought it was such an interesting and creative way of proving plagiarism!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Learning of phantom settlements is a first for me, how interesting! I miss the days of pulling out the tattered Perly’s or spreading out a foldable map. Travelling was much more of an adventure with these directional aids, versus the boring, although convenient, GPS.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The GPS has saved me more than once, Peachy, but I still use a foldable map in conjunction with it when I navigate for me and my husband. I had to look up Perly because I was unfamiliar with it. Looks like Rand McNally took them over. RM is certainly a giant in the industry, but those smaller firms were so nice to have around, to.
      And I agree, it was far more adventurous to travel before the days of GPS. I still consider myself a good map reader! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, Perly’s were the go-to here in Canada, and my father was a dispatcher at a delivery company so we had many around. Not surprising that they should get out of the business, with the way technology took over. GPS definitely has helped some industries to the next level, and is imperative in the fast-paced world we are in these days. I’m forever old school in my heart, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m pretty much old school in a lot of areas, too, Peachy. Thanks for the lesson on Perly. Yet even more I’ve learned thanks to a phantom settlement! πŸ™‚

        Like

  8. Pingback: *Press This* Mae Clair’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Phantom Settlements #232 | Its good to be crazy Sometimes

    • Yep, it was a fun rabbit hole, Sue. I would love to visit Algoe, too. I think the sign for the general store is still there.

      And no worries about being late. Except for an SE post, I have been online in weeks!
      I hope you had fun teaching. πŸ™‚

      Like

  9. Wow. How fun and fascinating. I make up places all the time, but I doubt they’ll ever become real places with a general store. Lol. I hope you’re doing well, Mae, and taking some time to hug those you love. ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for those wishes, Diana. They are much appreciated right now. Hope you and yours are doing equally well. β€οΈπŸ’•

      I thoroughly loved the concept behind Agloe. It’s kind of like carrying childhood into your adult years! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

I love comments, so please scribble a thought or two!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.