Wednesday, February 18, 2009

American Gods Road Trip: Lakeside, Wisconsin

Back in mid-November I made a post titled "American Gods Road Trip: A Proposal." The idea, in a nutshell was to plan out and execute a road trip that loosely recaps the major locations of the book. The trip wouldn't necessarily adhere to the chronology of American Gods, but instead would distill all the major locations in one massive north to south run.

The problem with road trips gleaned from works of fiction goes hand in hand with the first rule of storytelling, "Never let truth get in the way of a good story." And Mr. Gaiman gladly accepts that rule, and freely admits it at the beginning of his novel in a "Caveat, and Warning for Travelers" :

"This is a work of fiction, not a guide book. While the geography of the United States of America in this tale is not entirely imaginary--many of the landmarks in this book can be visited, paths can be followed, ways can be mapped--I have taken liberties. Fewer liberties than you might imagine, but liberties none the less...

"I have obscured the location of several of the places in this book: the town of Lakeside, for example, and the farm with the ash tree an hour south of Blacksburg. You may look for them if you wish. You might even find them."

Gaiman, Neil. American Gods. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001.

The problem presents itself almost immediately with the northernmost stop of the trip, Lakeside.

A quick search of Google, and of Wikipedia places Lakeside, Wisconsin about as far north and about as far west as it is possible to get in Wisconsin. The Website, Only the Gods are Real, works from this premise, and for what it's worth, the thought process makes sense, but that didn't stop a niggling doubt in the back of my mind. My doubt was confirmed by the quote "But this is the farthest south and east of the yoopie you can get pasties" (Gaiman, 266). A further search of the text revealed these facts:

  • Lakeside is south of Rhinelander and Eagle River.
    • "'Up north of Rhinelander? Nope, that's Eagle River" (Gaiman, 295).
  • While there is a White Pine River in Minnesota, around 35 miles from the actual Lakeside, Wisconsin, There is a Pine River south of Rhinelander, and near a few of the locations I will later propose as the factual Lakeside.
    • "On one memorable occasion he watched an eagle snatch a silver fish from the middle of the White Pine River" (Gaiman, 363).
  • It's west of County Road Q.
    • "She refilled his coffee. 'You ever gone east on County Q?'" (Gaiman, 366).
  • It's 20 Miles east of Camden, a nonexistent town. There is a Crandon, WI.
    • "'Darren managed the Motel American over in Camden, twenty miles west of here'" (Gaiman, 299).
  • South of Ironwood. North of Green Bay
    • "'I reckon he was driving up to Ironwood, maybe down to Green Bay'" (Gaiman, 299)
  • North of UW: Stevens Point.
    • "'Darren Olsen met Marge at U.W. Stevens Point and he brought her back north to Lakeside'" (Gaiman, 299)
Building from these facts alone (I'm sure there are more that I've overlooked) I've narrowed down roughly three towns.
  1. Pelican Lake
    1. which fits most all of the facts
  2. Pine Lake
  3. Parrish
    1. which fits many of the above facts, but doesn't have a lake..
These are, of course, not the only options. Certain glances make me wonder if Elcho, or Enterprise, or maybe some other place that I am missing may be the actual Lakeside. Or could this fictional town be (as most fictional towns are) an amalgamation of many of these towns, created solely to tell the story that Gaiman wanted to.

In the next installment of this series I'll be examining The House on the Rock, providing a brief history, and from there to Madison, Wisconsin.


Anonymous February 19, 2009 at 4:02 PM  

I've thought many times on the location of Lakeside myself, and I admire the effort you've put into the search. Yes, the clues in _American Gods_ are tantalizing, but I suspect, as do you, that Lakeside is a creation.

I'd argue that the location is further west of Pelican, based on two items:

1. The quote from page 295, "Up north of Rhinelander" doesn't necessarily mean that the location is south of Rhinelander. Rhinelander is a better known town than most of the smaller ones around it and is used as a landmark for directions. I've spent time in Minocqua and heard references to Rhinelander like this, and Minocqua is north of Rhinelander.

2. The quote from page 299, "back north to Lakeside" implies to me that Lakeside's location is nearly directly north of Stevens Point; otherwise, why not indicate NE or NW. This is certainly vague which of course makes interpretation arguable.

I agree with you that Oneida County, WI is a strong contender for the location of the town. U.S. Route 51 is the major north-south road in this part of the state, running through Stevens Point, Minocqua, etc.

One point which works in your favor is the time it took Mr. Nancy to get from Milwaukee to Lakeside to pick up Shadow from the jail (page 410). It says 3 hrs (page 404). When Mr. Nancy says they "had to drive like demons" he is right. Milwaukee to Minocqua is normally a 4-5 hr drive.

It is interesting to note that they pass U.S. Route 53 on their way to Minneapolis. This is correct. Presumably they are taking U.S. Route 8, the major east-west highway in that strip of Wisconsin.

My own theory about location is Rice Lake, WI, which doesn't make any sense at all based on details from the book, but there's just something about Rice Lake which feels right. Maybe that's the point of the book -- if you strongly believe in something, it becomes real, no matter what it is.

I have visited other locations in the book, most notably The House on the Rock and Cairo, IL. Both are well worth visiting. I could speak more on these subjects, but I'm short of time.

Thanks for the information.

Anonymous February 22, 2009 at 6:28 AM  

While I agree with the thought that you have put a lot effort and time into your search, for this I congratulate you.

My main reason for actually posting is to argue with Anonymous on point two. Having lived and spent a major portion of my life in towns like "Lakeside"; the north they speak of is anywhere from NW to NE as most people read a compass, this is because there are simple people and while NW or NE is more precise it is much more complex.

It may also be a tactic by Gaiman to obscure the actual town if any.

Again, good effort. Good luck with the trip.

Stephanie February 25, 2009 at 4:37 PM  

I've been wanting to trace the stops in American Gods since I picked up this book in high school. Now, reading it for the umpteenth time, the urge strikes again. Personally, I'm going chronologically, meaning I'm working out the Eagle Point, Indiana conundrum. Once I have a map, then I'll pick a route.

It is nice to know there are others out there with the same strange urges as I have. With any luck, the trip will be made by someone, sometime. And with a bit more luck, there will be pictures.

Anonymous August 23, 2009 at 11:10 AM  

I would suggest that Lake Nabagamon, WI could be Lakeside.

Anonymous December 5, 2009 at 11:51 AM  

Hate to break it to you, but despite all the following of clues you've done, you are being taken in the wrong direction. "Lakeside" is actually Menomonie. I know because I grew up there, and clearly recognized many of the locations mentioned, and also of note, it's where Gaiman lives. He likes to keep it a secret, but he probably shouldn't have described his town in such detail. If you visit some time when Lake Menonmin is frozen over, you can look at the car sitting out on the lake, waiting for the ice to melt, and wonder if there's anything in the trunk...

Patrick January 25, 2010 at 11:59 PM  

Medford Wisconsin.
There is a lake in the middle of town that's not too large and can be walked around. A bridge that crosses a river. A county road Q just outside of the town. A national forest to the north and west. Even a bike trail in town and abandoned rail. A small library. And a little cafe that serves pasties. It's south of Rhinelander and Eagle Point. North of Stevens Point and Green Bay.

my August 9, 2010 at 11:29 PM  

Has anyone got any idea where the farm near Blacksburg would be (other than the obvious of an hour south of Blacksburg, probably at least in part on Interstate 460)? That area is wonderfully magical. The whole area is part of the New River Valley because of the New River, which is one of the only rivers in the world that flows North. It brings in all kinds of crazy weather. Also, he stuck the tree so close to Floyd, VA. A guy named Edgar Cayce years and years ago did predictions of some sort and said if there was a nuclear holocaust, the only place left in the world would be Floyd, VA, so all the people who believed him flocked there. There are all kinds of hippies and artists and interesting people there with odd stories and interesting personalities. Now if one could just find the farm and quietly drive by to just see the tree. That would be cool. So, anyone have any clue?

Den June 18, 2011 at 3:47 PM  

On p. 246 he mentions an M&I bank. Of the towns suggested only Menomonie has a branch. Maybe one of the others did back in 2000, but it looks like it favors Menomonie as the real location.

Anonymous June 1, 2012 at 11:05 AM  

Lakeside is an actual town in WI. It is NORTH and WEST of Rhinelander. It's NORTH of WI Dells.

My late wife is from Rhinelander (Go Hodags!). We were married in Minocqua. She told me the story of the resort town where all the rich people from Chicago would come and party. Her description leads me to believe that the town Gaiman refers to as Lakeside could be Lake Geneva, WI.

My 2¢