THE ROAD TO NOWHERE
DON’T BLAME THE JEWS! 182 HOUSES AND TWENTY-EIGHT BUSINESSES WERE DEMOLISHED FOR A LONDON ROAD THAT COULDN’T BE BUILT
Here’s an idea for a book: Take a Monopoly board. Roll the dice. Now, visit each street you land on in person, and write about it.
Yes, it’s a gimmick. But it happens to be a very good gimmick, so it’s surprising to find that Do Not Pass Go, a Tim Moore travelogue published in the UK last year by Picador, has not appeared in America. I suppose editors thought we wouldn’t understand it, because he is using a British board. Yet the Monopoly set that British children grow up with has the same numerical values as the American original (£6 rent, instead of $6), the same property group colors, and many identically ludicrous cards—“Bank error in your favour,” an absurdist statement if ever I heard one. Only the streets are all different: The board is Londonized. Cheapskate crash pads Baltic and Mediterranean are replaced with Old Kent Road and Whitechapel; snooty money-bags living on Park Place and Boardwalk now find themselves in Park Lane and Mayfair. Free Parking still functions as an informal lottery, and damn the rules book: Some things stay the same the world over.
Moore starts by duly noting the game’s history. Monopoly was invented on a Philadelphia kitchen table in 1930 by Charles Darrow, who then blah blah blah blah… there’s no point. We all read the rule book when we were eight, we know the fable. Now, here’s what Parker Brothers conveniently omitted: Darrow stole it.
That’s right, Darrow cheated at Monopoly. Just a few miles from Darrow’s home, in 1904, Elizabeth Magie had also created a board game titled Monopoly. It was born complete with the famous layout of nine properties per side, Go and Go To Jail corners, as well as the railways, the waterworks, and power company. Her game was a satire on capitalist speculators. And so, like all great critiques of capitalism, it was… well, co-opted by capitalists. Darrow swiped it: he nicked it, he took the Monopoly money and ran. By the time Magie sued Darrow, he was rich. He eventually paid her $500—perhaps with a goldenrod bill?—to shut her up.
Theft, property deeds, hush money: It’s a fitting place to start any modern history of a city.
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