First it was simply a beloved book by John Green, and now Paper Towns has become a movie, with a release date of Jul. 24. The title shared by both versions has multiple meanings, Green told fans on his blog, adding that the denotative concept of a "paper town" is a "weird cartographic phenomena wherein mapmakers will insert fake places (called copyright traps or paper towns) onto their maps to make sure no one is copying their map." But is the one described in the book and movie, Agloe, a real paper town? For that matter, is it a real actual town? Or is it just a creation of the author's imagination?
The story is actually a bit complicated, and this is what drew Green to it in the first place. Agloe was in fact created as a copyright trap by Otto G. Lindberg and his assistant Ernest Alpers of the General Drafting Company in the 1930s, made to help the mapmakers spot plagiarism in other cartographers' work. The two men designated a random intersection in the Catskills as "AGLOE," which was merely a jumbled combination of their initials. When the name "Agloe" was later spotted on a competing cartography company's map, Lindberg cried foul play. However, the other company said that they had based their map on the fact that there was a building on "Agloe's" coordinates which was in fact called the "Agloe General Store." It turned out that the storeowners had dubbed their business "Agloe" after seeing it on a map from a distributor who had purchased from Lindberg and Alpers themselves. And so, the mapmakers of the General Drafting Company unintentionally created a real place by creating a fake place.
Agloe was still on the map decades later when Green discovered the town's story. The author told the New York Times, “I’d accidentally come across a copyright trap on a road trip with the woman I was dating at the time — I believe that fake town was called Holen, S.D. — and when researching the phenomenon came across a mention of Agloe... Of course, the idea that a fiction created on paper could become real was really encouraging to me as a writer.” Green therefore used Agloe as the titular "paper town" in his book, giving notoriety to the hypothetical hamlet.
In 2014 Agloe was taken off Google Maps, but it has been immortalized by Green's work and remains a point of fascination for pragmatists and philosophers alike. How could a fake place become real and then disappear again? And what parallels can be drawn between this occurrence and the "realities" of our own lives? Green sums it up by describing in a Vlogbrothers video what motivated him to include Agloe in his novel in the first place: "I need to believe that made-up stories can really matter in the lives of real people." They certainly can — because of Paper Towns, Agloe has mattered to many.
Images: 20th Century Fox; Getty Images; arctic-monkeys/Tumblr