Passing Gas (And Other Small Towns)

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Naming a town has torn apart some communities. The debates were so contentious in one small town in Michigan that one resident shouted out, "You all can go to hell, and you can call this place Hell for all I care."

Thus, Hell, Mich., was born.

Hell Mayor Jim Rose runs the Devil's Den general store. He and his wife even held out for a January wedding — to ride out the never-ending stream of jokes.

"I told all my friends it would be a cold day in hell when I got married," he said.

A few towns were clearly looking for a moneymaking gimmick. Zilwaukee, a small town in northern Michigan, was named by the owners of a local sawmill who hoped German immigrants would confuse it with Milwaukee, settle there, and ease the labor shortage.

Nice Man Beats Wife

Give a small town a strange name, and you've put it on the map. But that's a mixed blessing. Suckerville, Maine, undoubtedly sells more souvenir T-shirts.

But what about the people of Rough and Ready, Pa., and its neighboring town, Fearnot? According to an infamous newspaper headline from the 1930s: Fearnot Man Marries Rough and Ready Woman

And some towns can't live up to their reputation. A resident of Nice, Calif., was accused of being particularly nasty. Jay Leno once held up a headline:

Nice Man Arrested for Beating Wife

But Gladstone, who's work has appeared in Life, says he's impressed by the friendliness in these strangely named towns.

"Obviously, if you live in a place like Purgatory, Maine, you're going to hear a lot of jokes, maybe the same ones over and over again," he said.

But Purgatory's retired postmaster, Helen Allen, posed for Gladstone with a devilish pitchfork.

"I didn't have a lot of time in most of the towns. The people really warmed up quickly and wanted to have fun," Gladstone said.

"If you went around New York City with a camera, people would be saying, 'How are you going to use this photo? I'll need my lawyer to look at the release form. Are you scamming me?'

"After a while, people were saying to me, 'You're pretty nice for a fellow from N-Y-C.' "