originally published January 25, 2014
Apart from a couple of quick overnighters in nearby Calgary and a 4-day excursion to my in-laws’ place in Kamloops last summer, I have not left the confines of my city since beginning this project. But while the burden of fiscal asphyxiation may have formed a tether around my proverbial ankle, I nevertheless spiral into the occasional exploratory fantasy, weaving through the streets of Paris on Google’s Street-View or drooling at the contoured geometry of New York skyscrapers.
I also find myself drawn to the world’s lesser-boasted attractions, from the world’s first UFO landing pad in the nearby bustling burg of St. Paul, Alberta to the largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas. I want to see more of what the world has to offer – hell, our city’s most exquisite attraction is a large shopping mall. There have to be adventures out there more deserving of my exploring eye.
Then I stumbled onto Midgetville.
Don’t be offended – that’s what Wikipedia calls it, though the more appropriate term might be ‘Tiny Town’. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a metropolis of little people. And there are several to be found on the map, although most of them probably never existed. Historically, people have cruelly infused some strange mythos with the plight of little people. I can’t imagine their targets enjoyed the bizarre legends, but since when has the fear of offending others been the affliction of the majority?
And so you have the one-time resort near Vienna, Virginia, that was rumored to have been a secret domestic suburb for the less vertically-inclined. It was once a hotel and community that was used as an escape for those who dwelled in Washington DC, but it had dwindled to a huddle of six small cottages. Bailey Crossroads, named for the Bailey family of Barnum & Bailey fame, is nearby. In the 1800’s, circus animals were housed there for the winter. There’s no real evidence that any little people once called the place home, but urban legends don’t need evidence – in fact, they tend to prosper without it.
Over near Milton, New Jersey, there are rumors of a Midgetville community in Jefferson Township. Along a secluded dirt road you can spot six small houses with tiny doors and miniature furniture inside (the above tourist photo features a person of reportedly ‘average’ height). The freakiest part of all this is how passers-by make a point of visiting this alleged community in hopes of gawking at the residents, as though circus sideshow rules can somehow apply to the real world.
The posts over at WeirdNJ.com include tales of drunken teens stumbling to the site to yell “Midget!” at locals, and one lady who claims she saw many little people as she drove by, receiving a barrage of bullet holes in her passenger door as they tried to chase her away.
Apparently the houses all appear to have been built within the last 40 years, which dispels the rumor that Alfred Ringling (of the Ringling Brothers Circus) built the tiny homes for his carnival crew there back in the early 20th century. Like any anonymously-submitted stories on the internet, it’s best to take gun-toting little people tales with a grain – or perhaps an ocean’s worth of salt.
In what should (in theory) be relatively easy to verify, the La Linda section of Long Beach, California is alleged to have been the neighborhood where a significant number of Munchkin actors from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz spent their paychecks on homes. The story goes that the homes were custom-built for their unique stature, though the reality is that most of the local homes were built to standard size prior to 1938.
It seems the public – or whatever segmented wedge of people fall into this weird demographic of “the public” – can’t get enough of little-people mysticism. The secret Wisconsin town of Haunchyville is another example; locals tell tales of this unseen conclave of dwarves, led by an elderly albino man. If trespassers are caught (so the legend goes), they have their legs amputated from the knees down and must remain among the Haunchyville denizens.
At least this one has an interesting backstory: a number of circus dwarves revolted against their ringleader, hacking off his arms and legs and hanging him by his neck in the woods. Haunchyville is alleged to be at the end of Mystic Drive near Muskego, Wisconsin. I steered Google Maps to that location, but all I saw was this:
If your anchor is firmly plunked into North American soil, you will probably never see one of these Midgetvilles, at least not one that will match the disturbing internet hype. You can spot one in a movie though, and if MGM’s The Wizard Of Oz isn’t your thing, why not check out The Terror of Tiny Town? It’s an all-little-people western from 1938, a fairly typical save-the-fair-maiden-rancher-from-evil-thugs story.
Oh, and it’s a musical. I haven’t watched this one yet, but it is firmly on my list, perhaps for the next installment of my Worst Movies series. The Terror of Tiny Town has made numerous “worst ever” lists, and though no one knows the amount it grossed in theatres, there’s no way it broke the $100,000 (about $1.6 million today) that it cost to make.
Okay, there is one town that can be verifiably classed as a Midgetville (though the more I use that term, the more I’m growing to loathe it). The Kingdom of the Little People falls under the heading of ‘theme park’, though clearly they’re gunning for a freak-show vibe. Located near Kunming, Yunnan in China, over a hundred employees – all below 51 inches – reside and perform for tourists.
What can you expect to see within this kingdom’s realm? Ballets, fairy tales, songs with accompanying dance, and the occasional hip hop number. The ‘Dwarf King’ patrols the grounds on his little three-wheeled motorcycle. The tourists are mainly from nearby towns, but developer Chen Mingjing is training his staff to speak English in hopes of attracting curious foreign eyes to his park.
So just how vile is this notion, that little people should be stuffed into costumes and paraded as self-contained attractions to slack-jawed tourists? According to Chen (perhaps not the most unbiased and honest source), many of the staff enjoy the community they have built, and where they once had difficulty securing work they are now thriving.
Thriving in a zoo. Whether it’s an alleged former neighborhood of little folks in Mississauga, Ontario (which was actually a Slovakian neighborhood in the 50’s, but the other story is more intriguing) or a human cage disguised as a theme park, this Midgetville idea doesn’t sit well with me.
All things considered, I’ll take Paris.