Google Maps Mystery: Phantom Town Only Exists Online

Photo: Google Maps Mystery: Phantom Town Only Exists Online: Blogosphere, British Tabloids Buzz About Argleton, a Fake Lancashire, U.K. Town

If you want to visit the tiny town of Argleton in Lancashire, England, Google Maps can help you get there.

But there's one small problem: It doesn't really exist.

For the past few days, the British tabloids and the blogosphere have been buzzing about the "phantom" hamlet that Google Maps says is about an hour due west of Manchester. Google Maps even displays photographs of homes, restaurants and hospitals in the area.

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The mystery has the locals so intrigued that a few have made the journey to the enigmatic spot.

"A colleague of mine spotted the anomaly on Google Maps, and I thought 'I've got to go there,'" Roy Bayfield, who works at an area university, told the U.K.'s Telegraph. "I started to weave this amazing fantasy about the place, an alternative universe, a Narnia-like world. I was really fascinated by the appearance of a non-existent place that the Internet had the power to make real and give a semi-existence."

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He walked to what would have been the center of town, according to the tech giant's mapping service. But found nothing but empty fields.

Still, though Argleton appears to be a town without residents, streets, coordinates or even a history, it has taken on a life of its own online.

Want to Reach Argletonians? E-Mail Them

A Google search generates more than 25,000 hits for the town and Wikipedia features a dedicated entry for it.

Someone has even claimed the Web address Argleton.com to post the message, "What the hell are they talking about? We, the good citizens of Argleton do exist. Here we are now!"

If you want to reach Argletonians, the site even supplies an e-mail address (argleton@gmail.com).

Another Wordpress blog dedicated to Argleton says, "Previously believed to be a figment of a map makers imagination Argleton looks set to become the hippest area in Lancashire…"

But though the town reached Internet stardom just over the past few days, Bayfield first blogged about his fascination with Argleton back in February and another colleague of his blogged about it in September 2008.

In that early posting, the blogger, Mike Nolan, wrote on the U.K.'s Edge Hill University's Web Services blog that Google had renamed his hometown "Aughton," "Argleton."

"Please Google, don't take away my childhood!" he wrote.

It turns out, Nolan can rest assured -- Google isn't trying to rename the world. In a statement it said that the fictional town is simply the result of an error.

"Google Maps data comes from a variety of data sources. While the vast majority of this information is correct there are occasional errors," a Google spokesperson said. "We're constantly working to improve the quality and accuracy of the information available in Google Maps and appreciate our users' feedback in helping us do so."

But though the town may be fictional, it joins an ever-growing collection of sights - real and imaginary - that can only be seen from Google Earth and Google Maps.

ABCNews.com has gone to the ends of Google Earth (and Maps) to explore some of these sights left behind by Google staffers, artists, Mother Nature and a few pranksters as well.

Here are a few other favorites, from the serious to the frivolous.

Google on Moon

Not content to have become one of the most powerful information sources on this planet, engineers at Google recently conquered the Moon.

To mark the 40th anniversary this year of Apollo 11, Google's engineers partnered with NASA to add a new layer to their popular -- and free -- mapping program, Google Earth.

They inserted a detailed map of the lunar surface, as imaged by U.S. satellites. It becomes especially rich in material at the six sites where U.S. astronauts landed between 1969 and 1972, and where various robotic probes touched down in advance of Apollo.

To use it, one has to download the newest version of Google Earth, found HERE. It is separate from (and more detailed than) the lunar maps already found on the Google Web site; those have been there for about four years.

"I believe that this educational tool is a critical step into the future, a way to both develop the dreams of young people globally, and inspire new audacious goals," wrote Anousheh Ansari, the sponsor of the Ansari X Prize, and the first woman to travel in orbit as a space "tourist," on Google's blog.

"Finally, outer space doesn't seem so far away anymore."

Heart-Shaped Lakes and 10-Foot Snakes

Arizona's Oprah Maze

She's one of the biggest stars on the planet, so it only makes sense that she has a special place in Google Earth, too. Arizona's Schnepf Farms carves a maze with the outline of a famous person into its 10-acre cornfield each year around Halloween. Larry King, Jay Leno and Steve Nash are among the celebrities who have been recognized in this way. In 2004, Oprah Winfrey was the farm's celebrity of choice.

Heart-Shaped Lake

Google's Frank Taylor and Google Sightseeing's James Turnbull said there's a lot of love on Google Earth. They've compiled whole collections of heart-shaped things seen from space, as well as a handful of visible marriage proposals. This heart-shaped lake in Ohio is just one of several like it found by members of the Google Earth community.

Man Walking His Snake

Leon Kidd, 25, was photographed carrying his 10-foot boa Nibblez along a road in Norwich last summer, the U.K.'s Telegraph reported Wednesday. Norwich is one of 25 U.K. cities included in Google Street View, which lets users see cities and neighborhoods virtually from their computers.

Kidd, who owns five snakes, told the Telegraph that walking his boa is regular activity.

"I take her out nearly every day in summer in Earlham Park," he said. "A lot of people are surprised, others are curious and ask if they can touch her. She loves being taken out, especially going in the grass."

"I didn't even notice I was being photographed by the Google car," he said. "Then about three weeks ago my cousin phoned me and said I was in the newspaper."

Firefox Crop Circles

In a bid to generate some PR buzz for the Web browser in 2006, some Firefox fans made a gigantic Firefox logo in a crop field. According to the Google Earth blog, the project involved significant planning, building of the crop stompers, GPS devices and a helicopter (to capture the aerial photo). This crop circle is one of a large collection of crop circles visible through Google Earth.

Jesus in the Sand Dunes

In 2005, the Google Earth blogs were chattering about reports of the face of Jesus in Peruvian sand dunes. Some say they don't see the resemblance to Jesus Christ, but others still wonder about the origins of the hazy image.

Googling for Gold

Los Angeles musician Nathan Smith believes a 19th century Spanish galleon laden with gold and silver is buried on a ranch in south Texas. He is convinced he found its location using Google Earth.

The only problem now? If the ship does exist, it is buried on private property.

The family that owns the land doesn't want anyone digging up their property for a ship no one has proved even exists.

Citing Maritime Law, on Land

"It has been my experience, more times than not, a legend like this, there is some basis of truth," Smith said. "Because it has been around long enough that they have named it Barkentine Creek. That alone makes me think that there was, or is, something buried out there."

A barkentine is a kind of sailing ship.

Smith has brought the landowners to federal court in a case titled Smith vs. Abandoned Ship, and has argued he has the right under maritime law to dig up a ranch he doesn't own looking for a ship no one is sure exists.

Lost City of Atlantis?

Using the latest version of Google Earth, which allows users to peer under the sea, a British engineer believed he spotted the lost city of Atlantis off the coast of Africa, about 600 miles from the Canary Islands.

The image on Google Earth appears to show a grid-like pattern, which some have said resembles a planned city.

The ancient city was first mentioned by the Greek philosopher Plato, and legend holds it sank into the sea. The exact location of the city, and whether such a place even existed, has obsessed treasure hunters for centuries.

Google, however, had a much less exciting explanation for the undersea pattern.

"It's true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth, including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown species and the remains of an ancient Roman villa," a statement from Google read. "In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artifact of the data collection process.

"Bathymetric [or sea-floor terrain] data is often collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor," the statement added. "The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data."

Pool Dipping

In the summer, Google Earth helped British teenagers start a new craze: pool dipping. The cunning teens used Google Earth to find homes with pools and then organized pool parties using social networking sites. This led a police representative to tell the U.K. Telegraph, "We are advising owners of swimming pools to be on their guard and extra vigilant. We would also warn prospective swimmers that using someone else's pool is trespassing and therefore illegal."

Street Party

The street view in Google Maps typically shows the humdrum life of U.S. intersections and alleyways, but two Pittsburgh artists, with the help of more than 100 co-conspirators, threw a street party for the entire Internet in May 2008.

Timing various public performances along one street, Sampsonia Way, as a Google-owned car drove by snapping pictures, the artists, Ben Kinsley and Robin Hewlett, were able to create a montage of spontaneous performances.

Google had already shot its Pittsburgh street views, but agreed to come back to shoot the art installation. The company said it wouldn't guarantee that it would use the new images, but when Kinsley looked, there they were.

ABC News' Nick Watt contributed to this report.

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