What Are Phantom Settlements? Paper Towns & Mountweazels in Maps Around the World - Frayed Passport

What Are Phantom Settlements? Paper Towns & Mountweazels in Maps Around the World

What Are Phantom Settlements? Paper Towns & Mountweazels in Maps Around the World

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What Are Phantom Settlements? Paper Towns & Mountweazels in Maps Around the World - Frayed Passport

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Phantom settlements, also known as paper towns or mountweazels, are anomalies in the world of cartography…and they are absolutely fascinating if you’ve never heard of them.

These places exist primarily on maps but not in reality. Paper towns are usually created intentionally as copyright traps to protect the intellectual property of the mapmakers, though sometimes phantom settlements have been printed accidentally through cartographic errors. And it’s not just towns and villages—mapmakers have also included trap streets and other irregularities, such as nonexistent landmarks, in their publications to catch plagiarists. If another map contained these fictitious elements, it was clear it had been copied without permission. You can also see examples of copyright traps in other publications beyond maps, like dictionaries and encyclopedias with fictional entries.

Phantom settlements are printed on maps all over the world and have existed for a very long time. The practice was especially common when mapmaking was highly competitive, and the risk of plagiarism was significant. Fictitious entries can easily be placed in remote areas, making it difficult for unauthorized mapmakers to verify their accuracy.

The Delightful Term “Mountweazel

The term “mountweazel” originates from the fictitious entry “Lillian Virginia Mountweazel” in the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia. Mountweazel was described as a fountain designer and photographer, but she never existed. This entry served as a mountweazel to identify unauthorized copies.

The advent of digital mapping and satellite imagery has reduced the prevalence of phantom settlements in modern maps, but you can still find them in printed versions—and older maps with phantom settlements, trap streets, and other nonexistent locales can be a fantastic collector’s item.

A Few Phantom Settlements, Paper Towns, and Mountweazels Around the World

Photo by Ali Elliott on Unsplash

Argleton, Lancashire, UK: One of the most famous phantom settlements, Argleton appeared on Google Maps until it was removed in 2009. It sparked widespread curiosity and speculation, with theories ranging from deliberate copyright traps to simple errors.

Agloe, New York, USA: Created in the 1920s by the General Drafting company as a copyright trap, Agloe became sort of a real place when (maybe?) a general store was built at the location marked on the map. The store was named Agloe General Store, turning the fictitious name into a real-world landmark. The store no longer exists, but the site where Agloe was marked—a rural area near Roscoe—can be visited by travelers in search of real-world paper towns.

Beatosu and Goblu, Ohio, USA: These fictitious towns were added to the 1978—1979 Michigan state map by a University of Michigan alumnus working for the map company. The names were printed entirely in lowercase letters and are a cute nod to the university’s sports rivalry with Ohio State University (“Beat OSU!” and “Go Blue!”). There are no actual sites to visit, unfortunately, but the maps are collectible now.

Bermeja: This is a phantom islet in the Gulf of Mexico which has been included in many different maps spanning the 16th to 20th centuries—but no one can actually find it today. Has it disappeared due to the rising sea levels or changes in the ocean floor, or was it never there to begin with?

Over to you! What are some fictional towns and landmarks that you’ve heard of? Share your stories and trivia with the Frayed Passport community!

About the Author

As the editor-in-chief of Frayed Passport, my goal is to help you build a lifestyle that lets you travel the world whenever you want and however long you want, and not worry about where your next paycheck will come from. I’ve been to 20+ countries and five continents, lived for years as a full-time digital nomad, and have worked completely remotely since 2015. If you would like to share your story with our community, or partner with Frayed Passport, get in touch with me at [email protected]!

Featured image by Hendrik Morkel on Unsplash

The post What Are Phantom Settlements? Paper Towns & Mountweazels in Maps Around the World appeared first on Frayed Passport.


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Hi, I’m Steven, a Florida native, who left my career in corporate wealth management six years ago to embark on a summer of soul searching that would change the course of my life forever.