Atlantic City owns a small and curious space in the American imagination. Despite Louis Malle’s best efforts, it’s not location of gangster fantasies; the city has a storied and criminal past, including a 1929 conference of East Coast bosses that lead to the carving up of regional territories among mob bosses in 1931. But for gritty gangster stories, we look to Vegas, to New York, to Jersey and Miami Beach. Atlantic City is the home of Miss America, but increasingly no one cares. Donald Trump reshaped the skyline and destroyed his company. And, alas, nobody has heard of Lucy the Elephant. But as America turns to other places for lost weekends and reminiscing about the good old days of organized crime, Atlantic City will always have one thing that no other city does: Rich Uncle Moneybags. George Parker was the game-inventing half of the Parker Brothers; he created the card games Rook and Pit, which are still sold by multinational fun conglomorate Hasbro, in an effort to create enjoyable card games that weren’t associated with gambling. He did not, however, create the best-selling board game in the world. Licensed Monopoly adaptions have been created, showcasing everything from the King to the Cavaliers. The Monopoly-themed scratch-off contest run by McDonald’s had its share of problems, but it showed that Rich Uncle Moneybags remained a potent figure; no Colonel Sanders, perhaps, but better than Colonel Mustard (whose namesake irritated Mark Twain). The president of Cornell wrote a book about Monopoly strategy. And all the street names in Monopoly came from Atlantic City.
All, that is, except one. As John McPhee discovered, there is no Marvin Gardens. Monopoly was, as the Parker Brothers’ history has it, the creation of an out of work salesman from Germantown, Pennsylvania, named Charles Darrow. Darrow was not a native of Atlantic City, and so it’s entirely plausible that he got the name of Marven Gardens wrong. But a crankish professor spent years fighting a lawsuit with Parker Brothers after they claimed that his game, Anti-Monopoly, infringed on their trademark. Professor Anspach’s defense was that Darrow didn’t invent the game at all, so Parker Brothers’ trademark was invalid. The defense seems legally shaky, but the facts are less so; the spelling of "Marvin Gardens" seems to be consistant (link via Crooked Timber) with another game, a version of "The Landlord’s Game". That game had been invented by Lizzie Magie, a radical Quakers, as a way of teaching about the evils of rents and land monopolies; some of them referred to it as simply "the monopoly game". Darrow never wrote another board game (although one called "Bulls & Bears" was apparently attributed to him by the Parker Brother publicity department), but he was able to retire as a millionaire during the Depression. Abrasive amateur detective Patrice McFarland is working on a book deal about the life of Lizzie Magie. And Professor Anspach, the Anti-Monopoly inventor, has sold the movie rights to his story. The player who ends with the most money wins.