Previously: The Tree That Owns Itself.
Type: UL (Unexplained Location).
Period/location of origin: Early 20th century, Iowa; alternately, 2015, the internet.
Appearance: Subject appears to be a small town in Iowa called Urkhammer — or, more precisely, subject appeared to be a small town in Iowa called Urkhammer. Subject no longer exists, assuming it ever did in the first place. Urkhammer, Iowa allegedly faded away — literally — during the late 1920s and early 1930s, finally blinking out of existence entirely by 1932.
Alternately, subject appears to be a piece of text describing the disappearing town of Urkhammer, Iowa that initially appeared online in 2015.
Modus operandi: None. Subject was simply there, until it wasn’t. Or, it simply wasn’t there, until it was — depending on whether it is a disappearing town, or whether it is a piece of text.
Containment: None required — we think.
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Additional notes: Subject was reportedly a “bustling burg” in the early decades of the 20th century, inhabited by a healthy, if oddly silent, population of Iowans and passed through regularly by travelers, motorists, and tourists. It included, among the residential homes and other buildings, an Esso gas station, a general store, a sheriff’s office, and a school. It also had its own local newspaper, the Bugle-Picayune Advertiser, which ran weekly.
Subject’s history is unremarkable until 1928, when two notable events occurred: One, it was discovered that photographs of the town taken from the air depicted not the town of Urkhammer in all its “bustling” glory, but a series of empty fields; and two, a motorist who filled his car at subject’s Esso station found his tank to be mysteriously empty two miles later. When he attempted to return to Urkhammer on foot, he found himself unable to narrow the distance between himself and the town — that is, as one source notes, “regardless of how far he walked, the town remained the same distance ahead of him.”
Both of these stories were reportedly published in an area newspaper, the Davenport Clarion-Sun-Telegraph, in 1929; however, these stories are said to have appeared in the same issue of the paper which reported upon the 1929 Wall Street Crash, and therefore went largely unnoticed. (This issue of the Davenport Clarion-Sun-Telegraph has not been recovered; indeed, there are doubts as to whether the Davenport Clarion-Sun-Telegraph ever existed — see below. If it did, however, then the issue would likely be dated late October, as Black Tuesday occurred on Oct. 29, 1929.) It is also said that an Urkhammer resident, schoolteacher and Anti-Saloon League prohibitionist Fatima Morgana, repudiated these stories in a letter to the editor the following week — but again went unnoticed, due to the somewhat more pressing problem of the Great Depression.
The Bugle-Picayune Advertiser also reportedly refuted the stories allegedly published in the Davenport Clarion-Sun-Telegraph, running the front-page headline, “Rumors Of Our Nonexistence Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.”
No reports regarding the state of subject are available from the years 1930 to 1931. In 1932, however, reports emerged of two men, Paducah Bankforth and “Tribulation” Estonices, who, passing through Urkhammer during their escape from the Dust Bowl, attempted to purchase supplies at the town’s general store — only to find that they were unable to enter the store. Indeed, they were not even able to mount the steps; according to these reports, their feet passed straight through the stairs, as if they were not even there. A group of Iowa State Police dispatched to investigate this incident found similarly that, when they attempted to knock on the door of the Urkhammer Sheriff’s Office, their hands did not make contact, but passed through the solid object.
By May 7, 1932, the disappearance was complete: A farmer passing through the area found no town, but only empty fields.
It is worth noting, however, that there is currently only one known record of subject: An email which reportedly landed in the inbox of writer Cullan Hudson’s mother in 2015. Hudson’s mother passed the email along to him; he believed it to be fiction, but also an enjoyable read, and subsequently published it on his website, Strange State, on May 10 of that year.
No information about an alleged town in Iowa called Urkhammer dated prior to the Strange State post currently exists on the internet. As such, it is possible that subject is not, in fact, a vanished town once called Urkhammer. Rather, it is possible that subject is the piece of text itself — the email describing the non-existent town of Urkhammer.
Several other elements to the story of Urkhammer and its alleged disappearance further support this idea. For one, there is the question of subject’s precise location within the state of Iowa: It is sometimes said that Urkhammer was located along Route 41. However, Route 41 does not pass through Iowa, and never has. There was once a highway designated as IA 41 in Mills County; terminating at Malvern, it was in operation between July 1, 1920 and July, 2003, at which point it was replaced by County Road L63. However, this information is not of use with regards to pinpointing subject’s precise location: Maps of Iowa dated 1924 and 1927 depict Malvern and IA 41, but do not depict any location designated as Urkhammer.
Then, there is the question of the the Bugle-Picayune Advertiser. It is often reported that the paper was sued by the estate of Samuel Clemens, more popularly known by his pseudonym of Mark Twain, for its cheeky 1929 headline, “Rumors Of Our Nonexistence Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.” The claim is that headline infringed upon intellectual property held by the Clemens estate — specifically, the oft-quoted sentence, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
However, this version of Clemens’ quip is, in fact, a misquote. Moreover, much of the story in which it is typically positioned is apocryphal. Although Clemens is said to have uttered the phrase in response to a reporter telling him that a major American newspaper accidentally published his obituary when he was still alive, he did not actually speak it aloud; he wrote it in a cable addressed to journalist Frank Marshall White on May 31, 1897. At the time, rumors were rumbling that Clemens was gravely ill; White, accordingly, contacted Clemens for comment, as journalistic protocols require.
Clemens’ response read, in part, as follows:
“I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness.
The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
It is therefore unlikely that the Bugle-Picayune Advertiser would have been sued for this headline, as it pertains to a quotation Clemens did not actually say.
Lastly, as Anomaly Info points out, the Davenport Clarion-Sun-Telegraph did not actually exist. Current research conducted for this Encyclopaedia has also not unearthed any evidence that the Bugle-Picayune Advertiser existed, either.
Of course, assuming that subject is, in fact, the text describing Urkhammer, and not Urkhammer itself, it is possible that our assessment of subject’s modus operandi is incorrect.
It is possible that subject is not accurately classified as UL, but rather as EV (Electronic Virus).
It is possible that, by reading and sharing this text enough times, we have created a tulpa of sorts — that we have brought Urkhammer into existence, rather than the other way around.
If this is the case, it is unknown what goal subject may truly have.
Recommendation: Do not attempt to visit Urkhammer.
The Mysterious Case Of A Disappearing Town at Strange State.
[Photo via jplenio/Pixabay]