Towns With Themes (And a Crazy Marlon Jackson Rumor)

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Linda Rodriguez recently moved to England, and she posts about happenings in her new country a few times each week. Her column needs a name. "A Broad Abroad" sounds demeaning and Sarah Lyall just published a book called "The Anglo Files." Got any other ideas? If Linda picks yours, you win a mental_floss t-shirt. So get brainstorming.

Sir Terry Pratchett may not be exactly a household name in cities in the US, but he certainly is in households in the small Somerset town of Wincanton.

That's because Wincanton is currently modeling itself after a town in Pratchett's most famous creation, the fictional universe of Discworld "“ a world that's pancake flat, resting on the back of four elephants, which are standing on a giant turtle. Discworld and the adventures of its inhabitants, who include wizards, witches, trolls, dwarves, the Grim Reaper, the Hogfather (he's like Santa Claus) and a few humans, have been the subject nearly 40 books, all piss-takes of science-fiction and fantasy tropes, crime novels, martial arts, corporate crime, and The Da Vinci Code, among many other topics. They've been incredibly successful "“ Pratchett has sold more than 55 million Discworld books worldwide, netting himself a loyal following and a knighthood for services to literature to boot.

And now, Pratchett's creation is bleeding out into real life.

In 2002, Wincanton twinned itself to Ankh-Morpork, a metropolitan city based squarely in the fantastic Discworld, making it the first city in the world to twin itself to a fictional town. Since then, tourism to the small, previously nondescript town has exploded, with Discworld fans flocking to the Discworld Emporium, a themed store on the Main Street, to fancy dress balls, festivals and masquerades.

Wincanton has also recently named two streets after street names in the book series, with Pratchett, costumed residents and hordes of fans on hand for the dedication ceremony. The streets, Peach Pie Street and Treacle Mine Road, are located in a subdivision neighborhood of amusingly named Wimpey Homes, currently under construction and slated for completion in July. Two families have already promised to buy homes on the streets.

Wincanton may be the first town to twin with a fictional city, but it's certainly not the first town to take a theme and just run with it for the sake of tourism. Here are a few others:

Scotland: Ab FAB

Sadly, no, these three Scottish theme towns in the Dumfries and Galloway region are not dedicated to bringing the sordid, drunken world of Absolutely Fabulous to wondrous mid-"˜90s life. But Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbright and Wigtown are, respectively, designated Food, Arts, and Book towns. Get it? The towns, all small and rural, are reinventing themselves for the tourist trade: Castle Douglas is home to more than 50 food specialty shops and restaurants; Kirkcudbright has been an artist's commune since the 1800s; and Wigtown hosts an annual Book Town Literary Festival.

Pacific Northwest: Partying like its 1899

Everybody likes cowboys, right? Well, a few towns in the US and Canada sure hope so "“ especially since they've remade themselves into pioneer towns as part of a bid to attract tourism. In Washington, there's sleepy Winthrop, which was remade in 1969 as an homage to Western pioneer towns, and is now all weathered wood storefronts, hitching posts, late 19th century frontier town architecture, and rough-cut boardwalks. Up in British Columbia, there's Barkerville, a gold-rush town where costumed residents take you on guided tours, real stagecoaches still run, and you can go real old school in a schoolhouse from 1870. And in Oregon, there's Jacksonville, a National Historic Landmark preserving its pioneer past through architecture, costumed tours, and shopping.

Ironbridge: The Revolution Continues

Ironbridge, or the "Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution" as it bills itself, is a small town in the West Midlands of England that has never really moved past the Industrial Revolution. Home to the Ironbridge, a massive testament to the 19th century age of steam and iron, the town has worked hard to maintain its Victorian roots. Though a small town and valley, it has no less than 10 museums dedicated to Industrial Revolution history, as well as streets of Victorian era storefronts and shops, historical home tours, and, of course, the requisite costumed tours.

And lastly, bad taste

And finally, on the subject of themes "“ here's some news that just seems so weird, so wrong, and so disrespectful. Marlon Jackson, brother of Michael, LaToya, and Janet and former member of the Jackson Five, seems to be upholding the Jackson Family tradition of bad ideas: He's reportedly involved in plans to open a "slavery theme park" in Badagry, Nigeria, an historic port city that had been the point of departure for thousands of Africans leaving their country in chains as slaves. In addition to a replica of a slave ship, the Badagry Historical Resort Development project is also slated to have golf courses, casinos, and shops, and to house Jackson's collection of Jackson Five memorabilia.

April 9, 2009 - 12:08pm
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