A map revealing decoy Parisian railways, streets and train stations. Image via The Daily Mail.
The myth of the fake city, the decoy town of hollow facades and empty streets, has come up repeatedly throughout history. Rumor has it in the 18th century Russian minister Grigory Potemkin erected a fake settlement to impress the visiting Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea. Fast forward to the 1950’s, when North Korea built Kijŏng-dong, a propagandistic faux town within direct line of sight from the Korean DMZ. Even today, American cities are trying to pump life into their blighted neighborhoods by building plywood doors and windows over vacant homes, hoping to deter vandals with the semblance of occupancy.
With historical examples set aside, we turn to Mel Brooks’ 1974 film Blazing Saddles, in which a heroic sheriff builds a perfect replica of his constituent town to save it from an assortment of mercenary bandits. It turns out this story is more than the stuff of cinematic satire.
According to Le Figaro newspaper, newly unearthed archives reveal that in 1918, the planners at France’s air defense group erected a life-sized replica of Paris just north of the city to fool German bombers during World War I. This second Paris was strategically located by the Seine and equipped with electric lights, fake streets and dummy monuments, including a replica Gare du Nord and Arc de Triomphe. The planners even included illusory urban sprawl, building out the outer industrial areas of Paris in their decoy city and adding fake train tracks that were illuminated to give the illusion of a passing train. Fortunately, neither Paris nor its double were bombed, and the decoy was disassembled shortly after its construction.
The camouflage railway that lit up to give the illusion of a passing train. Image via The Daily Mail.
[via The Daily Mail]