Monday, November 3, 2014

The fake New York town that became real

Before the Google Maps era, cartographers occasionally inserted fictitious place names into their maps. It was a way of protecting their copyright: if a fake street or town name inserted by a mapmaker subsequently appeared on a competitor's map, the first mapmaker had evidence its competitor had plagiarized.
The fictitious town of Agloe appears on this Google map, although some sources
report that Google removed it earlier this year in the interest of accuracy.

In the 1920s or 1930s (sources differ), the General Drafting Company created a road map of New York State. At a location deep in the Catskills, company director Otto G. Lindberg and his assistant Ernest Alpers inserted the town of Agloe, an anagram of their initials. Such lightly traveled places were ideal for locating a "paper town" or "trap street"; a ruse in a more populous area ran the risk of confusing map users and damaging the mapmaker's reputation.

A few years later, Lindberg spotted Agloe on a map published by Rand McNally. He thought he had caught the famous company red-handed. But Rand McNally, it turned out, had found Agloe in Delaware County records, which showed the Agloe General Store (described as a fishing lodge by some sources) at the spot created by Lindberg on his map. The store owner, it turned out, had taken the name from a map provided by Esso, one of General Drafting Company's clients. Thus did Lindberg's fake place become a real place.

The General Drafting Company and the Agloe General Store are now gone, but Agloe remains—in the virtual world of Google, at least. It also appears in John Green's popular young adult novel, Paper Towns, currently being turned into a motion picture.

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