They sound like the spectres of abandoned cities and ghost towns, or medieval settlements that vanished hundreds of years ago, but in reality phantom settlements never existed at all. Such “places” either arose by accident or are copyright traps – inserted on maps to help identify later copyright infringements. Ironically, some phantom settlements have gained a cult following, boasted online “residents”, while others have even come to exist in the real world.
Argleton, Lancashire, UK
Before January 30, 2010, a trip to the Lancashire village of Argleton just off the A59 road in the civil parish of Aughton, would have revealed nothing more than empty fields. Mike Nolan of Edge Hill University first blogged about the fictitious town in September 2008. A year later Argleton was a minor media sensation.
(Image: Google Maps)
Spoof domains such as argleton.com and argleton-village.co.uk offered a full history, lists of famous “Argletonians” and current events from the fictional village. Merchandise boasting slogans like “I visited Argleton and all I got was this T-shirt” and “New York, London, Paris and Argleton” paid homage to the phantom settlement’s cult status.
Explanations for Argleton range from an innocent mistake to a deliberate copyright trap. Some argue, more cryptically, that “Argle” echoes the word “Google”, while the name is also an anagram for “Not Large” and “Not Real G” – G perhaps representing Google? Whatever the real reason behind the name, Argleton has now gone from Google Maps, but its legend lives on.
Beatosu and Goblu, Ohio, US
(Image: Michigan Historical Center)
These phantom settlements appeared on the 1978-1979 state map of Michigan, and are said to refer to the University of Michigan fan slogan “Go Blue!” while referencing archrivals Ohio State University (OSU). U of M alumnus and chairman of the State Highway Commission Peter Fletcher inserted Beatosu and Goblu after a friend poked fun at the colours of the Mackinac Bridge – green and white – which complied with federal highway regulations, but were also the colours of Michigan State University. Unable to repaint the bridge, Fletcher was, however, able to put the fictitious towns on the map.
Agloe, New York, US
Occasionally, phantom settlements like Agloe, New York have become real landmarks. During the 1930s, General Drafting Company founder Otto G, Lindberg and assistant Ernest Alpers assigned an anagram of their initials to the intersection of Route 206 and Morton Hill Road in the Catskill Mountains, in a bid to create a copyright trap. In the 1950s, the Agloe General Store was built there. Despite finally going out of business, the phantom settlement remained on the map until the 1990s.