My wife, Alane, and I spent a few days exploring Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley a few years ago. As I did in my post called, “What I Learned from Edison’s Bite Marks,” I instantly went searching for tourist brochures, and found one advertising a nearby town called, Valleyville, Virginia.

The pamphlet I picked up encouraged visitors to see, Valleyville, “the town that doesn’t exist.” The glossy paper had a small map giving the general location. There was even a small blurry and grainy aerial photograph of the town.

I wanted a photograph of the “now entering Valleyville” sign for a photographic story I’m working on based on my wet plate collodion images. My plan was to digitally change the image to “Now entering Absentia,” since my story is based on an imaginary town of that name, and an extension of my MFA thesis, “In Absentia”.

The advertisement brochure said that Valleyville is, “tucked away in a nook-and-cranny of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley, and that airspace within three miles of the town’s center is restricted. Valleyville was described as central Virginia’s own “Area 51.”

Like its famous counterpart, Valleyville’s perimeter is electronically monitored. Unlike Area 51, no clear aerial photographs exist, because of restricted airspace and highly secure surroundings. Knowing that this area of the country is not that far from Washington DC, this fact was not surprising. In my secret squirrel testing of military systems days, I may or may not have spent time in the general area of the “real” Area 51.

Driving in the area near Valleyville, Alane and I saw no sightings of strangely-shaped aircraft, no pieces of UFO wreckage or alien bodies spotted, no runways, no sounds of aircraft, no large pieces of covered equipment on flatbed trailers. We saw nothing but beautiful forests. No Valleyville signs, no road, no visible indication of a town at all.

Back in the motel that evening, I did some online research and found this. The site had the same grainy photo of the town. The site said that in 1994, a Charlottesville, Virginia newspaper hired former US Navy SEAL Peter McGowan to uncover Valleyville’s secrets. After reporting that he had arrived, radio contact was lost and McGowan was never heard from again. Apparently, it’s all a hoax. The Navy SEAL, the town, everything.

Valleyville remains the “Town That Doesn’t Exist,” except in advertisements. So it’s all a hoax, but why publish brochures and advertise along with all the other real touristy things to do in the area?

If you are wondering how I could be so gullible in the first place, remember that, in my head, I live in the world I call Absentia. It is as real to me as it is unreal to anyone from the outside. It’s easy to believe Valleyville’s existence, because I know Absentia exists, even if I’m the one creating it. Besides, I sometimes get confused between what I imagination and what happens in reality.

I’m old enough to know that there’s little truth in advertising, but there is truth in the things that advertising is printed on. I wanted to include a photo of the Valleyville brochure for this post, but I can’t find the thing anywhere. In fact, this post has been a saved draft almost as long as I’ve had the MappingTheEdge blog. I didn’t want to publish the text without visual proof of at least the brochure. Sorry.

Alane and I have been back to that area of the country several times since then, and I can’t find the pamphlet on display anywhere. Now I’m beginning to wonder if I ever had one at all. At least I know that Alane was with me on the trip. At least she can confirm our Valleyville search.

Otherwise, I’d wonder if the entire trip came to me in a dream, or even if Alane is really here at all. You always said I was a sucker for slick marketing. Right Alane?