Michael Paul Smith lives in a place most of us know only from the pages of old photo albums. In his hometown, the good old days are still just as shiny and bright as a new set of white wall tires. But you won't find this place on any map.
"People forget how colorful the past really was," Smith says as he snaps another photo of "Elgin Park, Pennsylvania," the tiny town Smith has created using his collection of 1/24 scale model cars and homemade buildings.
Smith began taking the lifelike pictures of his tiny town a few years ago using an inexpensive digital camera. He'll stage scenes outside in front of real backgrounds, or set them up on tables inside his cramped apartment in Winchester, Mass.
It's a hobby he might have kept to himself had it not been for the photo sharing site Flickr. One day Smith posted a few of his snapshots on line, and suddenly and without explanation, his small town went viral.
"Some people get very emotional, and some people cry," Smith says. "I think it's about home, I think it's about safety."
Smith's Flickr site has recorded over nine million hits since it was created, and every day Smith says he receives hundreds of e-mails.
"A woman from England wrote to me and she said I'll be in the states, I want to visit Elgin Park. I broke it to her gently," Smith says. He says the woman never wrote back. "I think I broke her heart."
But despite ever miniature detail, there's one thing that's missing from Elgin Park -- people. Smith says he leaves them out on purpose.
"I want people to look at the picture, and I want people to visit with their mind. I love that sense of quietness, and I was here by myself," he says.
Still that hasn't stopped uninvited guests from visiting Elgin Park. One day Smith logged on to find his town had visitors -- creative fans of Elgin Park had "Photoshopped" themselves into Smith's photographs. They've now created an "Elgin Park" page on Flickr, encouraging other users to share photos of their "visits" to the small town.
Look for Stray Thumb or Creator in Photos
But Smith says there are still plenty of doubters -- people who've accused him of somehow faking or doctoring his photographs. But Smith says there is no special editing involved.
To prove his point, he'll occasionally appear in the background of a scene, or reveal his thumb next to one of his cars.
"What I'm finding is making my models isn't a hobby, but it's preserving the past, things we just don't know any more," he says. "I'm a one man historian."