Friday, February 02, 2007

Lansing: Scam City

I had some weird ideas as a kid. One of them was that my hometown didn't exist, or at least it didn't to the outside world. I paid attention to the papers from an early age, and no big stories ever seemed to come out of Lansing. But it's the state capital, I thought. Magic Johnson's from here! But Lansing seemed to be at perpetual .500 -- never losing, never winning. So I carried around this paranoid little delusion from elementary school and on.

I'm happy to say this feeling has vanished, especially now that I can look at the Capital City from 2,000 miles away. In fact, some of my co-workers mention how they started hearing about Lansing all the time after they met me. So yes, Virginia, there is a Lansing.

But then I came across this Wikipedia entry and learned that ... Lansing never existed in the first place! It was an illusion from its very origins! Read for yourself:

The area that is now Lansing was originally surveyed in 1825 in what was then some of the thickest, wildest woods in the region. There would be no roads to this area for decades to come.[1]

In the winter of 1835 and early 1836, two brothers from New York plotted the area now known as REO Town just south of downtown Lansing and named it "Biddle City." All of this land lay in a floodplain and was underwater during most of the year. Regardless, the brothers went back to New York, specifically Lansing, New York, to sell plots for the town that did not exist. They told the residents of Lansing, New York that this new "city" had an area of 65 blocks, contained a church and also a public and academic square. A group of 16 men bought plots in the nonexistent city and upon reaching the area later that year found they had been scammed. Many in the group too disappointed to stay ended up settling around what is now Metropolitan Lansing. Those who stayed quickly renamed the area "Lansing Township" in honor of their home village in New York.[2]

Fascinating! My hometown was a real estate scam from Day One! The settlers were disappointed in where they settled. And yet they stayed. They stayed. One has to wonder how this founding story has colored this city through today. Does it say anything at all? Wasn't Manhattan a land scam as well? Yes, but that was a case of people getting scammed out of land. The first Lansingites were scammed into it.

I see this as ultimately inspiring. Lansing's forefathers were sold empty plots of marshland, but did they return to Lansing, New York? No, they stayed in Biddle City, and started building the proud town we all know and love today. They were the first in a long line of hard-working, pragmatic Midwesterners who've given Lansing its distinctive saltiness.

Lansing should celebrate its founding story. Or, maybe better, certain Lansingites should celebrate it. It could be a rallying cry to Lansingites of a certain generation or persuasion. If Vegas can be Sin City, why can't Lansing be Scam City? The place has always had a kind of roguish charm to it, with a strain of fine black humor running among the community's intelligentsia. The "Scam City" sobriquet would help describe Lansing's peculiar circumstances, and do so with a biting wit. That kind of idea can go a long way in uniting a community and getting attention from like-minded souls in other parts of the country.

Who wants to design some "Lansing: Scam City" T-shirts?


Hayley said...

I actually knew that Lansing was named after a city in New York. The rest - no idea. I'll run with it, though. Maybe the scam can be that everyone says they're from Lansing, and then - pause - "NO I'M NOT!" and we laugh and drink beer afterwards.

Craig said...

And hug.

And then sing the Lansing theme song: "You can sing your song here/because you belong here/Lansing, we're maaa-king it happen!"

Katie said...

I'd wear that shirt. Can I also get one in 3T?

Erick Ryan said...

A scam or land speculation gone awry?

Curse that Panic of 1837!!!

To be continued?

Craig said...

"So Lansing got its genesis from unsuccessful land developers and a previous unsuccessful settler who was a tailor, not a farmer or woodsman."

So rad.