Life Imitates Borges

“Centuries and centuries of idealism have not failed to influence reality.” — from “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

Years ago, I learned about the phenomenon of phantom towns — fake landmarks that cartographers included in their work as a means of detecting plagiarism. Because my mind works the way it does, I had terrible visions of desperate drivers: “Hold on, honey! There’s bound to be a doctor up ahead in Notreallyville!” But one could hope such occasions were rare.

But on the other hand, things can get meta. At NPR, Robert Krulwich tells the tale of Agloe, NY. The town had its origin as one of these fraud-detectors, a spot on the map named after the initials of the mapmakers. There was nothing there when the map was made, so when a later mapmaker included Agloe on one of its maps, the original cartographers cried foul.

They were surprised, however, to discover — in court — that someone had built a general store in the location designated as Agloe — because of its presence on the map — and in what the Laird of Swamp Castle might call a “very real and legally binding sense” had thus brought Agloe into existence.

In subsequent decades, the store folded, as did the original map company (Map? Folded? You gotta pay attention, son!) , and now, according to Krulwich, Agloe has disappeared from maps as well.

At least for now.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to a couple of Facebook friends.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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2 Responses to Life Imitates Borges

  1. Jerome Scott says:

    I think Lief Ericsson did the same thing.

  2. Jerome Scott says:

    Btw, here there be dragons.

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