Google Maps Mystery: Phantom Town Only Exists Online

Argleton, supposedly in the U.K., appears on Google Maps but isn't real.

ByKI MAE HEUSSNER and NED POTTER
November 3, 2009, 4:26 PM

Nov. 4, 2009 — -- 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.

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."

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.

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.

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."

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