The popular game has a backstory rife with segregation, inequality, intellectual theft, and outlandish political theories.
- The streets on a classic Monopoly board were lifted from Atlantic City.
- Here's what it looks like if we transport those places back onto a map.
- Monopoly started out as its opposite: a game explaining the evil of monopolies.
Atlantic City's crowded Boardwalk, in front of hotels Schlitz and Dunlop, ca. 1913.Credit: Geo. A. McKeague Co., Atlantic City, New Jersey – public domain.
There have been several attempts to turn Monopoly the game into a Hollywood movie, one with Ridley Scott directing, another starring Kevin Hart. If none have succeeded so far, it's not for lack of an exciting backstory.
Dig deep, and you'll find racial segregation, economic inequality, intellectual property theft, and outlandish political theories. But let's start with the board—a map of sorts and a story in itself.
There's a customized Monopoly board not just for virtually any country in the world but also for movie and TV franchises (Avengers, Game of Thrones), brand experiences (Coca-Cola, Harley Davidson) and just about anything else (bass fishing, chocolate, the Grateful Dead).
To aficionados of the game, however, the names of the streets on the "classic" board have that special quality of authenticity, from lowly Baltic Avenue to fancy Park Place. Those places sound familiar not just if you like Monopoly, but also if you drive around Atlantic City, New Jersey's slightly run-down seaside casino town.
In fact, all the street names were taken from (or near) the city once nicknamed "America's Playground." Going about town, it's almost like you're traveling on the board itself. No wonder its other nickname is "Monopoly City."
This map transposes the streets on the board back onto the map, maintaining the color scheme that groups them from cheap (dark purple) to expensive (dark blue). Here's how they run.
The Monopoly board takes its street names from Atlantic City and a few neighboring places.Credit: Courtesy of Davis DeBard.
Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue are parallel streets in the middle of town, running southwest to northeast. They are perpendicular to most other streets on the board, and as such, cross or touch five other colors.
Three avenues in the east of town. Oriental runs southwest to northeast and crosses Vermont and Connecticut, which run parallel to each other.
Three streets branching off Pacific Avenue: Virginia Avenue, a long street towards the northwest; and St. Charles Place and States Avenue, two short spurs towards the southeast. St. Charles Place is no more; it made way for a hotel-casino called the Showboat Atlantic City.
New York and Tennessee Avenues run parallel and next to each other, northwest to southeast, the former all the way to the Boardwalk. St. James Place is in between both, south of Pacific Avenue.
Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois Avenues are the furthest west of the five street groups running northwest to southeast. In the 1980s, Illinois Avenue was renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
Past O'Donnell Memorial Park—featuring a rotunda dedicated to Atlantic City's World War I soldiers—Atlantic Avenue continues west to Ventnor City as Ventnor Avenue. It is pictured as an inset (left) on this map, which also features Marvin Gardens. That place, in Margate City, is actually spelled Marven Gardens—an error for which Parker Brothers apologized to the local residents only in 1995.
These opulent streets are well-connected in more than one sense. Green is the only color to touch every other color.
The Boardwalk is as huge as Park Place is diminutive. Both are close to the beachfront, the most desirable location in any seaside resort.
The darker history of Monopoly
These names weren't picked at random. In the early 1930s, various informal versions of Monopoly were played throughout the northeastern United States, with local street names inserted for each city. The game's appearance and rules were perfected as it was being played. Around that time, an Atlantic City realtor named Jesse Railford hit upon an innovation: to put not just names but also prices on the properties on the board. Since he knew the lay of the land in his home city, those prices reflected the hierarchy of real estate values at that time.
That hierarchy and those prices were informed by the segregation that was rife in 1930s America. As one of the gateways of the Great Migration in the early 20th century, Atlantic City was a waystation for countless African-Americans leaving behind the stifling oppression of the South for better economic opportunities in the North. However, what they encountered on the way and upon arrival was the same racism, in slightly different form.
Railford played the game with the Harveys, who lived on Pennsylvania Avenue. They had previously lived on Ventnor Avenue and had friends on Park Place—all of which fall into the pricier color categories on the board.
In 1930s Atlantic City, these were wealthy and exclusive areas, and "exclusive" also meant no Black residents. They lived in low-cost areas like Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues; the latter street is actually where the Harveys' maid called home. In many local hotels at the time, African-Americans were only welcome as workers, not as guests. Atlantic City schools and beaches were segregated.
Belying both the binary prejudices of the time and the sliding price scale of the Monopoly board, Atlantic City back then was in fact a place of opportunity where a diverse range of communities flourished. Black businesses thrived on Kentucky Avenue. Count Basie played the Paradise Club on Illinois Avenue. There was a Black beach at the end of Indiana Avenue. For Chinese restaurants and Jewish delis, people headed to Oriental Avenue. New York Avenue had some of the first gay bars in the U.S.
Lizzie Magie (née Phillips), the anti-monopolist who invented… Monopoly.Credit: public domain
It should have been called "Anti-Monopoly"
An Atlantic City-based board was sold to Parker Brothers by Charles Darrow, who claimed to have invented the game in his basement. Parker Brothers marketed the game as Monopoly from 1935. The rights to the game transferred to Hasbro when it acquired Parker Brothers in 1991.
But Darrow didn't invent Monopoly. The original idea, as became widely known only decades after its "official" launch, came from Lizzie Magie (1866-1948), née Elizabeth J. Phillips.
Magie was a woman of many talents and trades. She worked as a stenographer, a typist, and a news reporter; she wrote poems and short stories; she was a comedian, an actress, and a feminist (she once published an ad to auction herself off as a "young woman American slave," to make the point that only white men were truly free); and she patented an invention that made typewriting easier.
Despite that impressive resume, she is now remembered mainly—and barely so—as the inventor of Monopoly. Except that the board game she developed was called The Landlord's Game. She patented it in 1904 and re-patented a revised version in 1924. The game was innovative because of its circular pattern—most board games at the time were linear. But its real point was economic, political, and ultimately, fiscal. The Landlord's Game illustrated Magie's belief in what was later called Georgism.
Known as the "single tax movement" and popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its concepts were formulated by the economist Henry George. He suggested that rather than taxing labor, trade, or sales, governments should derive their funding only from taxing land and the natural resources that derive from it.
As already observed by earlier thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo, a land tax is economically more efficient than other taxes, since it places no burden on economic activity. It would also reduce property speculation, eliminate boom and bust cycles, and even out economic inequality.
Although Georgist ideas were influential for a while and continue to be discussed—among others by Ralph Nader during his 2004 presidential candidacy—they are no longer a vital political force, except in the related field of emissions trading. One popular counterargument to modern Georgism, now also (but not entirely interchangeably) known as "geoism," "geolibertarianism," and "earth-sharing," is that government expenditure has increased by so much since George's day that it can no longer be covered by a land tax alone.
Back around the turn of the 20th century, Magie devised The Landlord's Game to educate its players about the evils of real estate monopolies and, implicitly, about the benefits of a single tax on land.
The Landlord's Game, Lizzie Magie's forgotten precursor to Monopoly.Credit: Thomas Forsyth, owner of The Landord's Game® / public domain
She created two sets of rules: an anti-monopolist one, called Prosperity, in which all were rewarded for any wealth created; and a monopolist one, called Monopoly, in which the aim was to crush one's opponents by creating monopolies. In the latter version, when a player owns all the streets of one color, they can charge double rent and erect houses and hotels on the properties.
Taken together, these two versions were meant to illustrate the evil of monopolies and the benefit of a more cooperative approach to wealth creation. It's very telling of human nature that it's the opponent-crushing version that came out the winner. But, in the light of what happened to Magie, perhaps not entirely surprising.
When Darrow claimed Monopoly as his own, Magie protested. In the end, her patent was bought out by Parker Brothers for a mere $500, without any residual earnings. Parker Brothers continued to acknowledge Darrow as the inventor of the game. Magie's role was not recognised until decades later.
For more on the intersection of Monopoly, Atlantic City geography and 1930s segregation, read this article in The Atlantic by Mary Pilon. She is also the author of a book on the subject, called The Monopolists.
Many thanks to Robert Capiot for alerting me to the article. And many thanks to mapmaker Davis DeBard for permitting the use of his work. Follow him here.
Strange Maps #1078
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
Even diehard fans are experiencing superhero exhaustion. But it's not impossible to do something original.
- I'm a comic book fan 50 years in the making but, over the last few years, even I have found myself with superhero fatigue.
- Then came "WandaVision". The writers have found a way to blunt our expectations about what should happen in this kind of genre.
- Formula fatigue isn't just a problem for the superhero genre. Creators of sci-fi, detective, romance, and buddy-comedies can recapture exhausted audiences by telling a story differently—or telling a different story.
Human beings are, more than anything else, storytellers. It has even been said that stories were humanity's first technology. For most of our time here on Earth, the most important stories—a tribe's myth of creation or an ancient city's central Hero's Journey narrative—were told only at special times like yearly feasts or celebrations. But in the modern era, our capacity for cultural storytelling has exploded through a thousand platform varieties: streaming video services, podcasts, cable TV, blogs, vlogs, and so on. Digital technology means we are now literally awash in so many stories that it seems every genre has been made and remade to the point of exhaustion.
It's against that background that Marvel Studio's latest streaming series "WandaVision" becomes something worth consideration. That's because no modern genre has so saturated modern culture as the superhero.
You don't need me to tell you how prevalent superheroes have become. The Marvel Studio franchise has been dominating the box office since its first Iron Man movies back in 2008. Before that, other studios had found gold with characters like Spiderman and the X-Men. For a long-time comic book (ahem… graphic novel) fan like me, this triumph was a vindication 50 years in the making. I reveled in those first movies, seeing the complex interplay of stories from the Marvel comic universe being brought to life with such joy, passion, and attention to detail. And I count the day director Scott Derrickson asked me to be the science advisor for Dr. Strange as the fourth greatest of my life (just after meeting my beloved wife and the birth of my two children).
But over the last few years, even I have found myself with superhero fatigue. It feels like I've watched so many versions of these stories (way beyond just Marvel) that the very idea of this kind of narrative has become exhausted. Most new shows appear to be rehashing the basic formula ad-infinitum. And this genre exhaustion is not just a superhero phenomenon. Sci-fi, detective, romance, buddy-comedies—with so many venues pumping out so many shows, so many stories, it feels like the possibility of doing anything surprising has become impossible.
Until it isn't.
Like many fans, I came away from the first few episodes of "WandaVision" feeling perplexed. For those who haven't followed the Marvel Cinematic Universe (spoiler alerts!), Wanda Maximoff is a superhero (maybe) who was orphaned as a child during a civil war. Later, she lost her brother when they fought against, and then with, the Avengers. Wanda's powers in the movies were basically hurling red energy bolts around and some mind-y-wimey stuff. In the final Avengers movies, her husband, another superhero named Vision, died twice (it's complicated). One of these deaths was even at Wanda's hands. So, Wanda has experienced a lot of loss.
The first few episodes of "WandaVision" don't really touch any of this. Instead, each is a re-creation of a sitcom from a different era. Episode 1 is a classic "I Love Lucy" 1950s comedy. Episode 2 is straight out of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" or "Bewitched" of the 1960s. Episode 3 goes all "Brady Bunch" including the 1970s groovy architecture. As a fan expecting a superhero story that fit into, literally, hundreds of hours of already existing superhero stories (i.e., The Marvel Cinematic Universe) I was left scratching my head. After each one, I asked myself: "What is this? Where is this going?"
In retrospect, those questions were exactly the point.
The writers had found a way to blunt my expectations about what should happen in this kind of genre. They left me guessing in a way that was all the more interesting because the rendition of the old sitcoms was done with such love and attention, they felt like love letters to the history of TV (the music for each of these fake shows perfectly nailed the vibe of that era). In later episodes—more spoilers!—"WandaVision" would become more of a traditional superhero show, but not without also becoming a vehicle to explore grief and its toll on its super-powered central character. In fact, as Linda Holms at NPR has pointed out, the show missed an opportunity by not going even further in exploring this dark aspect of grief. Still, I came away from the show genuinely excited for the next step in Wanda's story as her powers had grown dangerously beyond those red energy bolts.
In the end, it's about the courage to tell a story differently or tell a different story.
So, in this era where digital technologies dominate every aspect of our storytelling, from their creation (including mind-boggling special effects) to their omnipresent distribution and availability, "WandaVision" demonstrates that there is still a place for art and novelty. In the end, it's about the courage to tell a story differently or tell a different story. This extends to giving people who have been woefully underrepresented in our story-making industries the power to be the storyteller (think "Black Panther" or "Get Out").
So, while we were born to spin tales of our lives and experience, recently it seems like new technologies and commercial interests have driven us into an endless flood of the familiar. What "WandaVision" demonstrates is that in spite of those pressures, there will always remain the possibility to find stories that can delight and surprise us.
Learn to whip up some of the most popular cocktails — from classic mojitos to white chocolate and coconut martinis.
- With bars and restaurants at limited capacity, people have become their own bartenders from home.
- Mixing delicious cocktails doesn't always come naturally; it's a learned skill.
- From gin to tequila, this online course collection offers tips and tricks that lay out the fundamentals of pro bartending.
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The lessons will dive into the background and history of these cocktails to provide a deeper understanding of the mixtures. But perhaps more importantly, the recipes from this class will surely leave a lasting impression on you and your friends. There's no doubt your crew will be impressed with the number of new techniques you'll have under your belt.
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Legendary cartoonist John Groth's pictorial map captures LA's film factories in their Golden Age.
- Maps are the safest way to travel during the pandemic - old maps even allow for time travel.
- This 1930s view of Hollywood captures the film factories of Los Angeles in their Golden Age.
- But it's not all glitz and glamour: look to the margins for the hard work done by immigrants.
Maps as time machines
Dancer and actress Ginger Rogers on horseback in Hollywood, 1937. Perhaps her galloping around town is why there are so many horses on this map.
Credit: Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
If maps allow our imagination to travel without care or trouble, then maps of the past do one better: they are time machines into a different era. And pictorial maps, which offer the perspective and subjective detail that mere road maps or city plans don't, add a bit of couleur locale as extra seasoning. Like this one, of Hollywood in its Golden Age.
The humming of 1930s Hollywood street life almost bursts off the page – this is the age of the talkies, after all.
A vignette straddling Beverly and Vine sets the scene: A slightly cockeyed map of that slightly cockeyed community, Hollywood, executed by that slightly cockeyed topographer ... John Groth.
A 'cockeyed' view of Golden-Age Hollywood.
Credit: Public domain, via David Rumsey Map Collection.
Chicago native Groth (1908-1988) was a cartoonist who became art director of Esquire in his twenties. He would go on to have a brilliant career as a war artist for the Chicago Sun. In 1944, he rode the first Allied jeep into newly liberated Paris. If he'd be any closer to the front, "he would have had to have sat in the Kraut's lap," joked Ernest Hemingway.
After WWII, he reported from Korea, the Belgian Congo, and Vietnam, among other places. But back in 1937, when he produced this map of Hollywood for Stage magazine, that was all still in the future.
Credit: Public domain, via David Rumsey Map Collection.
The 1930s was a time when Hollywood was dominated by the old studio system. Old? That's relative. To be fair, many of their names still sound familiar today.
- There's 20th Century Fox, on Pico Boulevard, right next to the West Side Tennis Club.
- Just to the south is MGM, near Venice Boulevard. In between: a fair bit of golfing. And, inexplicably, a Bedouin leading a camel down the boulevard.
- Paramount can be found on the corner of Western Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Right next door are RKO and NBC. And right across Santa Monica Boulevard is Columbia.
- Further down Santa Monica, there's United Artists, a more elaborate operation than Chaplin Studio, right across the street.
- To the north, on the other side of the Beverly Hills, there's the gigantic Universal Studios on Cahuenga Boulevard. It's big enough to contain an entire village – and attract a herd of elephants, coming down the Santa Monica Mountains.
- Warner Brothers is also on the other side of the mountains – Mount Hollywood, as it so happens; no mention of the HOLLYWOODLAND sign (the LAND was dropped in 1949). It's also gigantic: they're filming a sea battle in the back lot. Astride the roof is a Warner Brothers 'g-man': a reference to movie detectives, or to the studio's real-life enforcers?
Fine dining options available, but perhaps not if you're a Mexican immigrant.
Credit: Public domain, via David Rumsey Map Collection.
If you liked fine dining, there were worse places to be than Golden-Age Hollywood.
- Halfway between 20th Century Fox and United Artists, there's the chefs of the Victor Hugo and the Beverly Wilshire, competing for your attention.
- In the 1930s, Lamaze was a fancy Hollywood restaurant, not a child-birthing technique; right next door were the Trocadero and the Clover Club – all pretty close to the Hollywood Bowl. By the look on his face, the chef at the Lamaze may be going over to the Clover when his shift is over.
- Other restaurants of note: Perinos, at Wilshire and Western; Levy's, at Santa Monica and Vine; and Lucey's, on Melrose.
- Sprinkled across town were Brown Derby restaurants. Named after the first of the chain, which opened on Wilshire Boulevard in 1926 and was shaped like a semicircular derby hat, the restaurants were a fixture of Golden-Age Hollywood.
Leisure and entertainment
Warner Brothers is organising a sea battle in the back lot.
Credit: Public domain, via David Rumsey Map Collection.
Even outside the glamour of the studios and the high life of fine dining, Hollywood is portrayed as a city of leisure and entertainment.
- People in bathing suits are diving into the Pacific along the coast-hugging Speedway, from Malibu via the Bel Air Beach Club and Santa Monica all the way down to Santa Catalina island.
- Masses of cyclists–yes, cyclists–are cruising down the city's boulevards and avenues. Could Thirties LA have been a cycling paradise?
- But then what's with all the horses, not just polo-playing outside of town, but also racing through the center – their riders showing off with their hats in one hand? Surely, this can't have been a common sight.
- Buses overflowing with tourists are driving around town, perhaps already then being shown the homes of the stars.
- Perhaps a star has been spotted near the Carthay; that would explain the rush of onlookers.
Chinese laborers digging away behind the back of a movie director.
Credit: Public domain, via David Rumsey Map Collection.
In the northeast corner, the Santa Anita racetrack is giving punters a run for their money – literally. Closer by, Mickey Mouse waves to passers-by from his home on Riverside Drive, not far from a well spouting oil. Huge crowds gather at the American Legion stadium in the center. Elegant ladies and gentlemen striding around town complete the picture of a city as elegant and attractive as any in the world.
Yet Groth wouldn't be a perceptive–or 'cockeyed'–observer if he didn't also look beyond the glamour. Check the bottom right for a Native American couple and their child making their way into Hollywood, looking for opportunity. Two streets down, a Mexican immigrant is doing the same, his donkey laden with wares he will be hoping to sell. And on the corner of La Brea and Venice, Chinese laborers are moving earth right behind the back of a movie director, seated in the classic folding chair, loudspeaker in hand.
All these figures are placed near the edge of the map, a textbook demonstration of what it means to be 'marginal'.
Strange Maps #1070
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A new study shows that the top rap songs in the U.S. are making increasingly frequent references to depression and suicidal thoughts.
- The most popular rap songs in the U.S. are more frequently making references to mental health problems, particularly suicide and depression.
- A research team analyzed lyrics from the top 25 most popular rap songs released in the years 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013, and 2018, examining the lyrics of artists such as Eminem, Drake, Post Malone, Lil' Wayne, Juice WRLD, Kanye West, and Jay-Z.
- References to suicide rose from 0% to 12%, and references to depression from 16% to 32% over the last 20 years.
According to a new study, the top rap songs in the U.S. are making increasingly frequent references to mental health problems, particularly suicide and depression.The study, which was published last week in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, was conducted by a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The team analyzed lyrics from the top 25 most popular rap songs released in the years 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013, and 2018 using data from companies such as Billboard and Nielsen. Artists whose lyrics were examined in the study included Eminem, Drake, Post Malone, Lil' Wayne, Juice WRLD, Kanye West, and Jay-Z. Most of the songs featured a Black artist, and the mean age of the artists was 28.2 years old.
Lyrics and mental health
Credit: Alex Kresovich et al. / JAMA Pediatr.
The lyrics were analyzed for references to anxiety (e.g. "Do you experience nervousness or shakiness inside, faintness and dizziness?"); depression ("Went through deep depression when my mama passed…"), and suicide or suicidal ideation ("Only once the drugs are done / Do I feel like dying.").
Overall, the researchers found that about about one-third of the 125 songs referred to anxiety, 22 percent to depression, and 6 percent to suicide. Alarmingly, these percentages had more than doubled in 2018 as compared to 1998.
Zooming in closer, general mental health-related metaphors in the lyrics had increased from 8 percent to 44 percent over the two decades. References to suicide rose from 0 percent to 12 percent, and references to depression from 16 percent to 32 percent over the last 20 years. Anxiety-related references did not increase significantly.
America's youth is not okay
This isn't just a rapper thing, as research trends over the years are indicating that young Americans are not okay. The trend in emotionally darker rap lyrics mirrors what has been referred to as the "mental health crisis" in the United States.
Some data has found that psychological stress and suicide risk as rocketed from 2008 to 2017, and that's particularly true among 18 to 25 year-olds. The prevalence of "major depressive episodes" among US adolescents also increased from 2005 to 2014. According to X, anxiety affects around 30 percent of adolescents, with 80 percent never seeking treatment. The crisis reached a fever pitch in 2017 when the suicide rate among 15 to 24 year olds in the United States peaked at its highest level since 1960. From 2007 to 2017, suicide rates among people aged 10 to 24 rose by a grim 56 percent. Another analysis found that suicide attempts among Black youth rose by 73 percent from 1991 to 2017, while declining for whites.
The finding that rap lyrics have increasing references to mental health problems is significant because of the genre's popularity amongst American youth, who now spend nearly 40 hours per week listening to music. The authors note that rap artists influence "the development of these young people's identities."
The researchers noted that they could not determine "whether these lyrical references to mental health are due to rap artists' desires to self-disclose or to instigate discussions about mental health," according to the study. "Because rap is an autobiographical art form, the artists and younger adults may have observed and reflected national trends of distress experienced by themselves or people close to them."
Shifting social stigmas
Credit: Adam Bielawski via Wikimedia Commons
Over the past two decades, rappers have begun to embrace emotional vulnerability in ways they hadn't previously, for example Kanye West and J. Cole. In fact, researchers of the study suggested that the increase of references was linked to Kanye West's 2008 album "808s & Heartbreak," noting that artists such as Drake, Juice WRLD, and Post Malone (all of whom had songs examined in the study) have nodded to West's album as having had influence on their music styles. Even before male emotional introspection and mental health were part of the mainstream discourse, they were being embraced in rap.
More research will be necessary, the authors write, to understand "how this music can improve the mental health of its listeners or how it might lead to greater risk." In conclusion, the authors highlight that the study underscores a need to examine rap music and now, depending on the messaging, it may be able to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness by putting it in the spotlight.