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A town dating back to the late 1880s in northern Wisconsin has a dark secret that must be kept hidden by as few people as possible. How can this town keep itself isolated and off of maps during the time period while maintaining a relative population of 5,000? How does it accomplish this through the 20th century?

By the way, the town exists until 2003 or so, long before Google Maps was a thing, so don't involve digital age technology too much. And the government isn't involved in this secrecy.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very unlikely to be omitted from the maps unless not larger than a few feet across. I am pretty certain that the territory of the USA had full high resolution orthophoto coverage since the 1950s or so. I am also pretty certain that the US Army had topographical maps of all the territory since the late 19th century. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 19 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ That town isn't American, by the way - it's French. They settled the Wisconsin area first, and despite being conquered by the British in 1763, the British only sent in fur traders, until the Americans won it in the Revolutionary War (1783), at which point Americans started settling it. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Sep 19 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ Can you please define the time period more precisely? It's a different thing to keep it isolated in 1800s, 1900s or 2000s. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Sep 19 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ Almost sounds like part of the premise for the movie called, "The Village" $\endgroup$ – user66696 Sep 19 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ From a practical perspective, it can't. See this question and this question. The town would instantly appear with the first Geo-satellite (1959) and humans have this nasty habit of walking around to see what's around the next hill. Staying hidden would be shear luck and a lot of bribery. $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 20 at 0:07
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Ever heard of Monowi, Nebraska? It has a population of one.

Monowi was platted in 1902, when the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad was extended to that point. A post office was established in Monowi in 1902 and remained in operation until 1967.

Monowi's peak years were in the 1930s, when it had a population of 150. Like many other small communities in the Great Plains, it lost its younger residents to cities that were experiencing growth and offering better jobs. During the 2000 census, the village had a total population of two; only one married couple, Rudy and Elsie Eiler, lived there. Rudy died in 2004, leaving his wife as the only remaining resident. In this capacity, she acts as mayor, granting herself a liquor license and paying taxes to herself. She is required to produce a municipal road plan every year in order to secure state funding for the village's four street lights.

All emphasis are mine.

So, if you live in undesirable land, live off the grid, don't plat the place, make no municipal road plan and keep population to a minimum, you might just be able to pull it off.

About 5.08% of Wisconsin's area is federal land, mostly in the North. You might be able to evade scrutiny from the State of Wisconsin as long as you hide in there, but then you have to hide from Uncle Sam himself. Depending on where his focus in on the moment it might be easier or harder to hide. So you might wish to stick to places close to the border of federal and state lands and live nomadically.

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Why do you need to stay off the maps? Just craft a reputation as an insular enclave of religious fanatics, like Bountiful BC but even more so. (See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamentalist_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-Day_Saints ) for more info.

The community keeps to itself, with only a few highly trusted people making trips to town to trade for anything that can't be made at home. (Be progressive -- your insular Luddites can still buy vaccines and computers to manage the dairy herd.)

You keep the dark secret by cutting all the communication channels.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is the best answer. $\endgroup$ – Renan Sep 20 at 12:44
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It can't.

Two things: first, where is it getting supplies from? Northern Wisconsin has this thing called "winter" and that means burning some kind of fuel, and that leaves evidence, whether it's clearcutting forest or someone buying fuel and transporting it. A community of 5000 people is no small thing when it comes to this subject. Also, water. Several thousand people are not going to live off a small, unnoticed spring. They'll need a river or lake, and waterbodies attract people.

Second, you can buy antique maps dating from the 1850s on showing the mapping going on in Wisconsin. By the 1890s you have US Geological Survey maps being produced. By 1900 and earlier, detailed topographic maps of the state. Between 1937 and 1941, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Geological Survey carried out aerial photography of the entire state, which you can see online here: https://maps.sco.wisc.edu/WHAIFinder/#10/45.1907/-90.0453

You'll note complete coverage of the entire state at sufficient scale that a community of a hundred people would stand out, let alone a community of 5000. It would be essentially impossible to hide a single small family farm. Look at those images and you can pick out individual structures as small as sheds.

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Northern Wisconsin is largely forested, going by Google Maps. In such an environment, it should be possible to excavate subterranean dwellings, perhaps by expanding naturally-occurring caves. If the town was located beneath a forested hill entirely within the bounds of one or more parcels of private land owned by people who were privy to the existence of the secret town, this could fulfil the requirement for the town to remain unobserved by outsiders.

However, there are other issues that would arise when any substantial settlement attempts to go unnoticed.

  • Any of the population of the town who never interact with the outside world may be legal non-persons in the broader USA. While they would have basic human rights, they might have no documentation, and so would not have the rights of citizens. However, if the town's founders anticipated a time at which the town's secrecy would end, it would be possible for them to have established the town as if it was an unregistered state of the USA which maintains its own records of births, deaths and marriages, with the understanding that there would be a period of considerable legal difficulties upon the event of the town revealing itself and re-joining the USA. However, being on US soil, this secret state's population would automatically be citizens, and given sufficiently detailed genealogies, each living citizen's ancestry could be traced back to documented US citizens prior to the town literally going underground. If the legal apparatus of the town was to be staffed by citizens who had appropriate skills and qualifications gained in the broader US, that would assist the town's possibility to be legitimised at a later date.

  • While a large number of people may remain hidden underground, feeding those people would pose a problem. However, I have noted that the town may remain concealed within the boundaries of private property belonging to town citizens who are also known citizens of Wisconsin and the USA. If these properties encompass a sufficiently large area of land, it would be possible for these landowners to farm their land and provide the hidden citizens with sufficient food to survive. Alternatively, if these lands were insufficiently large that they could be farmed, the owners could pretend to be survivalists stockpiling resources - and replacing spoiled stored resources - in preparation for the 'inevitable downfall of society', while they are in fact feeding the starving mases hidden below ground.

  • The fact that the owners of the land in which the town is hidden must feed the townspeople could place a great financial strain upon them, however, the town need not be without its own resources. Instead of being only farmers, the land-owners may alternatively or additionally claim to be miners, while it would in fact be the townsfolk who actually do the mining. Should the town be sitting within or above a deposit of sufficiently valuable minerals, its output could well be sufficient to entirely fund its continued existence, and could also explain how the town came to be underground in the first place.

  • Finally, there are the effects of long-term life below ground to be considered. Lack of sun exposure would lead to a pale, easily-burned complexion and potential vitamin-D deficiencies, however the latter could potentially be offset by a good diet, and the fact that the town is underground and most of its population is unknown to the outside world need not preclude these secret citizens gaining some sun exposure. By rotating the citizens in and out of their underground dwellings, they could be given necessary sun exposure, and not necessarily be noticed by the outside world.

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