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Monday, 16 January 2017

The wonderful story of Agloe, New York

The protection of intellectual property can be a very difficult area for map-makers. The London A-Z map book is known to contain various non-existent streets. 
The idea is that anyone copying the work of the publishers would be trapped in any legal action because they would copy the deliberate errors and be exposed. This is an age-old practice to keep the copycats at bay. Companies that create maps get their work pirated all the time. You might hire surveyors and draughtsmen, you might checks all of your spellings, you might get all of the towns and cities in the right place and another company comes along, say for example a tourist agency, and steals your work.
You cry 'Piracy!' and take them to court.  "Prove it" they say "It's a map, 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. 
I am going to relate the fascinating story of what happened to a map published in the 1930s. The map-makers, Otto G. Lindberg and Ernest Alpers of the General Drafting Company of Convent Station, New Jersey, used an anagram of their initials, OGL and EA, to create the fictitious town of Agloe, New York. They sited it in a spot that they knew to be uninhabited 100m from the junction of Highway 206 and an, at-that-time, dirt road called Beaverkill Valley Road. So, were any plagiarist to copy their map, Agloe would in turn show up on the stolen property, and General Drafting Co. would have their proof.
Google maps Street View couldn't get me any closer.
Then one day it happened! Rand McNally, a big map distribution company, published a new New York map that showed Agloe on it. "Aha" thought Lindberg and Alpers "We've got 'em". But they were in for a shock when the case got to court. 
A couple had bought a legal copy of General's map from Esso, who were the distributors, and chose Agloe as the spot to open a General Store. (You might wonder why they chose to open a store in a non-existent place but the town of Roscoe is very nearby and, anyway, that's what they did). Rand McNally countered the plaintiffs accusation by asking "How come the Agloe General Store exists (for that is what the couple had named their business) if there is no such place." And they won their case. Lindberg and Alpers had legitimately created a 'Paper Town' to protect their work but it became a reality and voided their legal claim that they had made it up and that it 'did not exist'!
The American Map Company bought and swallowed-up General Drafting in 1992 and Agloe continued to be included in their maps (maybe they didn't know it's history?). Google reportedly only removed it from their maps in 2013, eighty years after it first appeared. However, I just put 'Agloe' into a Google Maps search box and the location of the 'Agloe General Store (Closed)'  was shown on Beaverkill Valley Road! 
So, a made-up name for a made-up place inadvertently created a real place that, for a time, really existed.......and then didn't! 
FOOTNOTE:     John Green, who also wrote The Fault in Our Stars, based his mystery novel 'Paper Towns' on Agloe in 2008 and it was made into a Hollywood film in 2015. Apparently the film stinks. Perhaps it will disappear......
I am listening to Dave Edmunds 'Queen of Hearts'


Hels said...

I would well wonder why they chose to spend good money and open a store in a non-existent place, yes! Could it have simply been a bit of nasty business?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - I remember reading about this a while back .. and then the A-Z and 'fake' streets (I think I've gone off that word 'fake'). Interesting isn't it ... thanks for reminding me - cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hels: I'm not sure what nasty means in this context? However, we can say it was a poor decision! The district may not have been ready for out-of-town shopping at that time. There is a video on You Tube of a young couple who made a pilgrimage there and filmed the barn inside and out.
It had the look of a place that had only relatively recently stopped trading (say ten to twenty years).

bazza said...

Hilary: It was very interesting for me to research this post. There is lot of material out there. I learned a lot about 'piracy' and protection of intellectual property. I agree that fake is not the right word! Non of it's synonyms are right either - I just checked. 'Bait' and 'entrapment' spring to mind in this instance.

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, Quite an interesting story. I do quite a bit of research with old maps, which have many oddities, so this is one more issue to look out for. Additionally, many place names are unofficial or unrecorded, or seem to waver in and out of existence, Making a map to match reality is not an easy task.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

I hope you and yours had a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and are having a very HAPPY NEW YEAR. May we display your linked header on our new site directory, As it is now, the site title (linked back to its home page) is listed, and we think displaying the linked header will attract more attention.

bazza said...

Parnassus: Hi, I enjoy your comments on Hels Blog!
It's certainly not an easy task but, of course, one would have difficulty recognising those 'traps' because they deliberately don't stand out. These days you could compare the map to Google Earth.
I wonder if SatNavs also contain those 'errors'?

bazza said...

Jerry: Sorry Jerry but I don't understand what you are saying. Could you be bit more specific plaese?

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

If you are concerned about me being up to something no good, please do a Google search for SiteHoundSniffs (with or without the .com) to see that it is meant to be a very good thing. What I am wanting to do is take a screenshot of your header and display it (linked back to the homepage) in place of the text-link. If you will visit, it should be easy to see how having a displayed header makes an individual site more attractive to visitors and make SiteHoundSniffs look better. You do not have to do a thing but grant permission. There is absolutely no charge, nor will there ever be.

Sherry Ellis said...

I'd like to read the book, Paper Town. I heard this story about it. Very interesting! I've read a couple of John Green's books, and I've enjoyed them.

bazza said...

Hi Sherry. I haven't read the book but it had good reviews. Apparently the film they made of it was disappointing.