Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

From Calisota to Moosylvania, America has a lot of made-up states

Illustration for article titled From Calisota to Moosylvania, America has a lot of made-up states
Image: Jennifer Maravillas (Getty Images)

This week’s entry: List of fictional U.S. states

What it’s about: Pennsyltucky. San Andreas. The State That Springfield Is In. The U.S. may have 50 states in real life (until we get our shit together and finally give Puerto Rico hurricane relief and fair representation), but there are at least that many fictional states. Movies, TV, video games, even law schools have invented their own fake states. (We assume they were all ushered into the Union in Smarch of nineteen-dickety-two.)


Biggest controversy: There are a couple of fake states with more legal problems than fictional New York when there were four Law & Order shows on at once. Several law schools hold mock trials and moot court arguments in a made-up state—Ames for Harvard Law; Reserve, for Case Western Reserve; Midlands for the American Mock Trial Association; Nazichussetts for Trump University. (Okay, we made up that last one; low-hanging fruit tastes all the sweeter!)

Strangest fact: Everyone seems to want Texas to be on its own again. Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory alternate history series has the Confederates winning the Civil War, but Texas being split off into an independent republic after WWI. The 1980s alternate history novel Russian Amerika has the U.S. losing the Civil War and broken up into several independent states (for reasons Wikipedia doesn’t explain, the Confederacy remains intact apart from Texas, which becomes an independent republic). William Gibson and Bruce Stirling’s The Difference Engine has the U.K. force a breakup of the United States—guess which one gets to be its own republic? The TV series Jericho splits up the United States into three parts after a nuclear war—East, West, and Texas.

Thing we were happiest to learn: It’s pretty easy to make up a new state—just mash two existing states together! That’s how we got Calisota, whose best-known city, Duckburg, is home to Donald, Scrooge, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Lisa Wheeler’s children’s book Avalanche Annie is set in Michisota; Pennsyltucky—usually a derisive name for the sparsely populated middle of the state—is a state unto itself in Christopher Master’s Tiny Cracker Zoo; musical Finian’s Rainbow is set in Missitucky; and Robert Grudin’s imaginatively named Book: A Novel mentions Washagon. Even Nabokov went the mashup route, sending Humbert Humbert to Udana (Utah + Montana) in Lolita.

Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Moosylvania—designed to cause an international incident—may have been a real place, if not for a different, bigger international incident. While Bullwinkle’s hometown of Frostbite Falls was in the allegedly real state of Minnesota, an arc on The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle involved the disputed territory of Moosylvania, an island in Lake Superior governed by the eponymous moose. Canada insisted it was U.S. territory; the U.S. insisted it was part of Canada. But series creator Jay Ward, never one to miss a chance to take the joke too far, decided life needed to imitate art. Ward actually leased an island in Lake Of The Woods, on the Minnesota-Ontario border, renamed it Moosylvania, and began a campaign for statehood. His campaign went all the way to the White House, as Ward and his publicist took a list of signatures in person to John F. Kennedy. They were escorted off the grounds, as JFK was busy with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Had they showed up on a slow day, who knows? The Moose and Squirrel state could be creating a crucial buffer between us and Canada.

Also noteworthy: There’s a pretty long tradition of made-up states. Sinclair Lewis, best known for the suddenly relevant It Can’t Happen Here and winner of the 1930 Nobel Prize for Literature, set several of his novels in Winnemac. The Midwestern state borders Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, which means the state would encompass either northern Indiana, or lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie joined into one undersea kingdom.

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Back to Calisota for a minute. While Mickey Mouse has become more of a corporate logo than a character, his early impishness sanded down into bland everymousedom, Donald Duck and associates have only gained in depth since Disney’s heyday. From the current DuckTales reboot to Don Rosa’s legendary comic The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck, there’s a rich shared cartoon duck universe out there to be explored.


Further down the Wormhole: A surprising number of fictional states come from the Grand Theft Auto series. New York City analog Liberty City is, like its namesake, a town so nice they named it twice; New Guernsey is its New Jersey equivalent, though Alderney fills that role in GTA IV. And, of course, the titular state in GTA: San Andreas is California, with a little Vegas thrown in. That game naturally involves stealing cars, but also lets the player hijack a street sweeper, a combine harvester, and a jet pack. An exciting technology we’re perpetually on the cusp of has fired the imagination of Bond fans and people who hate their commute alike. A less sexy but potentially more useful technology we’re also on the cusp of is vertical farming. We’ll see if growing lettuce in a de-luxe apartment in the sky is worth the effort, next week.

Host of the podcast Why Is This Not a Movie? His sixth book, The Planets Are Very, Very, Very Far Away is due in fall 2021. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.