Places That Aren’t There

wessex map
Map showing the Wessex of Thomas Hardy’s novels.

“It is not down on any map; true places never are.”
– Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

There are places that we have heard of, read about, and perhaps even seen on a map, but they don’t exist. Or, at least, they don’t exist in the world we walk through today.

These places appeal to me. You are reading now about a place called Paradelle that exists online but cannot be found (yet!) on maps. Maps and imaginary places have fascinated me since I was a kid. It started with places in novels (like Treasure Island) which led me to love maps, which led me to draw maps and write about my own imaginary places.

When I was teaching middle school, I had my students create maps of the fictional settings of novels they read. Even if the setting was a “real” place or based on a real place, the maps needed things that you wouldn’t find on existing maps – the empty lot or the church that burns down in The Outsiders; the roads and ranches in Of Mice and Men; Scout Finch’s hometown and Boo’s tree in To Kill a Mockingbird or where Romeo, Juliet, Benvolio or Friar Lawrence lived in Shakespeare’s play.

I started a novel years ago that was set in Camptown, New Jersey. That is a town that did exist on maps at one time. It changed its name to Irvington. But my Camptown is a blended town that mixed my hometown of Irvington with other places I have lived along with things I wish were included in the place where I live. The river that runs through the town is all the rivers and creeks and streams I have known. It is the Elizabeth River that I knew as a boy, the Peckman River that runs through where I now live and the Passaic River. That river cuts across New Jersey and is sourced from a now-swampy glacial lake that dinosaurs edged up to for a drink. It spills spectacularly over the Great Falls in Paterson and on to Newark Bay, New York Harbor, the Hudson River and out to the Atlantic Ocean.  As I wandered along riverbanks and paths such as the Lenape trails around me as a child and adult, stories were always coming to me from the past.

All this came to mind back in 2015 when I saw ads for the film Paper Towns which is based on a novel by John Green.  You’ll see the novel and maybe even the film labeled as for “young adults” but that is a term I never liked. Are Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird young adult novels just because they are often read by young adults? Green is a very popular novelist among teenagers, but a lot of adults know his writing either from his book, The Fault in Our Stars, or the film version of his bookJohn Green tweetedCelebrating the release of #papertowns with a road trip to a place that wasn’t, then was, then wasn’t, and now…is?”

In that novel, the character Quentin loves, loses and searches for Margo.  Clues lead Q to believe that Margo may be possibly hiding out (or buried) in one of the many abandoned subdivision projects (also known as “pseudovisions”) around Orlando, Florida. Those turn out to be dead ends, but he does find a map in an abandoned strip mall which he then connects with another map he made in an attempt to locate her. He matches up the holes from the pushpins in the mall map to his map and this leads him to believe that she is hiding in Agloe, New York.  He and some friends skip graduation and head to Agloe to find her.

I read the novel and since I first wrote this post in 2015, I have seen the film. I liked both of them and it led me to dig deeper into these imagined towns.

Fictional “copyright trap” showing Agloe, New York. This is a real 1998 Esso state map of New York, United States.

The Agloe in the novel is/was a fictional place in Delaware County, New York, that became an actual landmark, if not a real town.

In the 1930s, two mapmakers (Otto G. Lindberg and Ernest Alpers) made an anagram of their initials and placed it as a town at the intersection of NY 206 and Morton Hill Road, north of the real town of Roscoe, New York.

Were they merry pranksters? No. The town was meant as a “copyright trap.” It turns out that mapmakers sometimes place a fictitious place on their maps so that if someone plagiarizes it, they have a way to easily check.

However, in the 1950s, a general store was built at that intersection and was named the Agloe General Store.

agloe store-001

The fictional town appeared on Esso (now Exxon) gas station road maps that were widely distributed. Agloe appeared on a Rand McNally map and Esso threatened to sue Rand McNally for copyright infringement. But that never happened because Rand McNally pointed out that the place had now become “real” and therefore no infringement could be established.

That store went out of business, but Agloe continued to appear on maps until about 25 years ago when it was deleted.

But – update –  it appears in Google Maps and the very official United States Geological Survey which added “Agloe (Not Official)” to the Geographic Names Information System database in February 2014.

Places that aren’t there are nothing new and there are lots of examples.  There are the ones created by writers, such as Stephen King’s Castle Rock and Derry, Maine, and Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. In my abandoned novel, I considered placing Camptown in the county of Wessex in New Jersey as the western portion of the real county of Essex.

There are also places created by mapmakers.  Besides the paper towns, another copyright-protection technique is to include a “trap street” on a map. This fictitious street on a map, often outside the area the map nominally covers, has also been used as a way of trapping copyright violators. Alternatives are nonexistent towns, rivers or perhaps a mountain with the intentionally wrong elevation inserted for the same purpose. Of course, you don’t want to add something that confuses users or just looks like an unintentional mistake. The mapmaker may add nonexistent bends to a street, or depict a major street as a narrow lane, without changing its location or its connections to other streets.

Phantom settlements are settlements that appear on maps but do not actually exist. They can be accidents or copyright traps. Some examples are Argleton, Lancashire, UK and Beatosu and Goblu, Ohio, USA.

The Zeno map of 1558 shows Frisland – a phantom island in the North Atlantic

As a lover of islands, I have always had an interest in “phantom islands.”  They are islands that appeared on maps for a period of time (sometimes centuries) during recorded history, but were later removed after it was proven not to exist.

These are not copyright traps. They often came from reports of early sailors exploring new waters. Some were purely mythical, such as the Isle of Demons or Atlantis. Sometimes actual islands were mislocated or just a plain old mistake. The Baja California Peninsula appears on some early maps as an island but was later discovered to be attached to the mainland of North America. Some phantom islands were probably due to navigational errors, misidentification of icebergs, or optical illusions due to fog or poor conditions.

An interesting subset are islands that existed and were destroyed by volcanic explosions, earthquakes, submarine landslides, or rising waters and erosion. Pactolus Bank, visited by Sir Francis Drake, may fit into this category. It was discovered by Captain W.D. Burnham on the American ship Pactolus on November 6, 1885.

It has been postulated that this was the sunken location of Elizabeth Island, discovered by Sir Francis Drake’s ship the Golden Hinde in 1578. Drake anchored off an island which he named “Elizabeth Island,” (for Queen Elizabeth I) where wood and water were collected and seals and penguins were captured for food, along with “herbs of great virtue.” According to Drake’s pilot, their position at the anchorage was 57°S. However, no island has been confirmed at that latitude. A map was drawn by a priest that accompanied Drake, Francis Fletcher.

Elizabeth Island might be a good setting for another novel – or for my Paradelle.

Francis Fletcher’s map of Elizabeth Island

In this video, John Green talks about finding Agloe on an old Esso road map

The Long Tail of Greasy Tony’s

Greasy Tony's, NJ

Greasy Tony’s in NJ once upon a time

What is it about a short, simple post about a New Jersey food joint that went out of business that keeps it appearing in the top 10 posts read here?

Back in 2008,  I posted a story called Greasy Tony’s Reborn in the Desert.  Tony’s was I place I frequented in the early 1970s as an undergrad at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.

It had good, fast, greasy food. Nothing extraordinary. It vanished in 1992, a victim of the university’s expansion. The students who made it popular caused its demise.

Whatever following Greasy Tony’s place might have had, it doesn’t explain why the post has “legs” (or a “long tail” as it is known online).

Is it the title of the post – reborn in the desert? Was it the mention of James Gandolfini (a Rutgers grad) eating a cheesesteak in the resurrected eatery in the Arizona desert?

Mr. Greasy Tony, Tony Giorgianni, died in 2008, so that is not topical news.

If you found that post, or this one, how about a comment here about why you came here. It puzzles me.

Update: 2022

A sharp-eyed reader let me know that they spotted a Greasy Tony’s t-shirt in the movie Revenge of the Nerds being worn by Booger. I guess someone connected to the film knew of the place. Perhaps this explains why some people search online and find these posts.


Where Is Paradelle?

Is Paradelle an island paradise?

Recently, someone who is new to this website asked “Where is this Paradelle that you say you go to on weekends?”

Well, it’s nowhere. And it’s here. I suppose it’s virtual. Look out, Mark Zuckerberg, I’m already in the metaverse. On weekends.

I explained this on my second post here, but that was in 2008. Maybe you weren’t visiting, so here we are again. And Paradelle has changed some.

Originally, the paradelle was a new poetic form invented by Billy Collins. He meant it as a parody. It was funny, as long as you were in on the joke. Collins introduced the form with a poem in his collection Picnic, Lighting. His fake history was that the paradelle was invented in eleventh-century France.  It was an almost impossibly complex form. His “Paradelle for Susan” was intentionally terrible. The form defeated him and the poem erodes in its complex repetitions.

Collins launched the form in 1997 and not long after I spent a week in a writing workshop with Billy. Along with much poetry and much Guinness, he shared the origin of the paradelle.
The parody turned out to have legs and started running on its own. Other people started trying to write better ones than Billy’s original. I wrote one and I worked a long time on it. My poem and other paradelles were collected and published in 2005 in the anthology, The Paradelle, from Red Hen Press.

You can read more about the origin story – and my paradelle contribution on that 2008 post, but let me get back to Paradelle the place. 

Collins thought of the paradelle as a parody of a villanelle, which is itself a complex and repetitive form. When I was looking for a name for this website, I thought of paradelle but my etymology is that rather than a parody it is a paradise. And since -the suffix -ville is used in fictitious place names (as in one of my other online homes, Ronkville), I used -delle as my place suffix. 

My original plan was to post here only on weekends. Two posts a week. As things went along, the weekend was extended to Friday night. Americans usually start the weekend as soon as work on Friday ends. 

As time went on in Paradelle, my fascination with celestial events from meteor showers, to solstices, equinoxes, eclipses, and the monthly Full Moons became part of being in Paradelle. They don’t always occur on weekends, so there is the occasional weekday post. 

Though I love islands (there are a few posts on them) and think of them as a kind of paradise, there are a lot of posts here that let you know that my Paradelle is located more inland. In winter, it snows in Paradelle and I escape to a cabin on a mountain to write and read and explore nature. In the summer, I go down to the Atlantic shore. It’s a four-season paradise.

At year end, I will look back at posts from this year and try to figure out what visitors have been enjoying. That is something that has changed in Paradelle since 2008 – visitors. there were few that first year and that was fine. You don’t want your paradise too crowded, but you do want to share it.

Currently, Paradelle has had more than 400,300 visitors. Not all at once, thankfully. It’s a lot of people. Some are regulars who visit every weekend. Most drop by only once or twice. It is not the most visitors I have online. That honor goes to a more serious place called Serendipity35  is where I started blogging in 2006. and it still gets the highest number of readers every month and has over 100 million visits since it began. It comes from days at a university and has my thoughts about learning and technology and the places where they intersect.

Endangered New Jersey is my blog that focuses on the species and parts of New Jersey that are threatened or endangered. It currently has more than 795,00 visitors.

But I don’t write for numbers – especially since I don’t get paid to write. I write because I like to write and feel some need to write about many things.

If I could have made my livelihood by being a poet, I would have gladly done it. Instead, along with my own poetry, I blog about poetry at Poets Online monthly e-zine which is a companion blog to my Poets Online site. The site offers monthly poetry writing prompts and a chance for poets to be included in our monthly issues. The site has been online since 1998 and so it has more visitors than Paradelle.

In 2014, I did a daily poem project called Writing the Day. It has 365 poems from that year, all written in the ronka poetry form. Since then, I continue writing there, though it is more of a weekly practice. In 2021, I added a podcast element.

There is also an occasional blog I call One-Page Schoolhouse where I try to educate “one page at a time” with short posts about a wide variety of topics.

Not enough? I love the etymology of words and the origins of names and that led me to do a site called Why Name It That? which looks at the origins of the names of people, products, teams, words, phrases. The most popular category is the origin of rock band names. Yes, it has more visitors than Paradelle. This means my little weekend getaway is till my quietest spot online.

520 Weekends

I started posting here on in July 2008, so now there have been 520 weekends in Paradelle covered. This post is #1,434. That’s 2.75 posts per week on Saturday, Sunday and most Fridays.

I started this blog even though I was already writing elsewhere online. My biggest blog (in terms of numbers) is still Serendipity35 which is about technology and learning and has posts during the week when folks are in their offices and classrooms. And back in 2008, I was also writing on another blog that supplements my Poets Online website. The Poets Online Blog offers a way to extend the site and some dialogue with the site’s participants. I usually post there only about once a week.

But there were other things I wanted to write about that had nothing to do with poetry, technology, education or learning. I started a third blog called Evenings in Paradelle where I posted at night about books, movies, science, music and almost anything that caught my interest. That blog was the starting place for Weekends in Paradelle. The old site still exists with a slightly different mission under the name One-Page Schoolhouse.

The plan for this site was to post only on the weekends when I wasn’t writing on the others. With 8 current blog sites, I’m pretty much posting something every day. Yes, I have a calendar to keep the posts straight and try to prevent overlap.

Weekend ideas for posts come from reading walking and working outside, gardening, travel, relaxing, staring at the sky during the day and night, walking through bookstores and wandering around the Internet.

Why “paradelle?” It has a poetic origin, but I think of it as a place where I go for my weekend retreats. It has a root in paradise, but it’s more real than that.

My Tenth Year in Paradelle

As this past July closed, Weekends in Paradelle closed out its ninth year online. An achievement of sorts. Since 2008, I have written more than 1300 posts here. That can either be viewed as impressive output, or a lot of time spent on something that I am not compensated for doing.

“So where is this Paradelle place?” asked a friend tonight as we sat with our drink looking at the New Moon.

“Mostly in here,” I replied, pointing to my head.

“But you often refer to New Jersey,” she said.

“Well, my body is there most of the time. But it doesn’t take a lot to get away to Paradelle, so I try to get away every weekend.”

“There’s also the allusion to poetry, right?” she asked, though she knew the answer was Yes. (see this post from 2008)

“Yeah, but I don’t think there is a real solid connection. I just liked the word and I like the suffix from French where it originally formed diminutives. After all, Paradelle is a little place on this enormous World Wide Web.”

So, now I’ll get back to writing and closing out this online decade. You come too.

Weekends in Paradelle During 2012

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for Weekends in Paradelle.

My little blog had more than 56,000 views this past year bringing our life total to almost 193,000 views. I really had hoped to cross the 200,000 mark by year’s end, but it’s just a calendar moment.

In 2012, there were 176 new posts (and 126 images)  growing the total archive of this blog to 587 posts.

The busiest day of the year was March 20th with 817 views. The most popular post that day was a  Spring Equinox post from 2011.  That was followed by “The Red Thread” from March 2012, then “The Retirement Village of Lotus Eaters” from 2009, “Mindfulness” from 2010 and in fifth place another 2012 post on “The Cold Wolf Moon After The Yule.”   Bloggers don’t look at those old posts getting all the attention as a bad thing. It means your post has a “long tail” and that people are finding you through searches. As you build up an archive of posts, the older ones tend to accumulate the most hits.

I also look at the referring sites that brought people to the blog. In past years, it was search engines like Google that led people to click a link to the site, but in 2012 social media made a big impact. The top referrers (in order) were (links on my own pages) and from two accounts I have on that have links when I post something new here. In third place is which I knew nothing about. I have since discovered that it is a French site that focuses on astronomy and has linked to a number of my posts. – the image-based site – is one I use only for my poetry life. And is the way that I push my blogging to Facebook.

Many visitors still come to this site via a search. They don’t normally search for the actual topics of the posts, but for more general topics. As I have written before, searches for Mt. Fuji continue to be a big draw. Also words like sad, depression and mindfulness are common searches. I hope that those searchers find something useful here.  All of the calendar events, like an equinox and the Full Moon posts, generate hits whenever those  event come around.

People visited Paradelle from 163 countries, but the majority are from The United States. The United Kingdom and Canada, which is what I would expect.

The post from this past year that generated the most commenting (still a rare event on posts in general) was “The Red Thread.”