Urban Legends

Baby Boom Town

The Legend

In 1944, it was noted that the most recent United States census results had a particularly interesting bit of information -- the little town of Charlestin, New York, had a population growth index of 3.6, compared to the national average of 1.2. A census official was sent to the town to find out why the birth rate there was so much higher in Charlestin than it was in the rest of the country.

As soon as the official got off the train in Charlestin, he knew that something was up. There were children everywhere. In the street. On the sidewalks. Doubling up at desks in the overcrowded schoolrooms. The large public park was barely visible for all the tykes playing there. Even local businesses seemed to be operated almost entirely by people under 12. It was as if he'd stepped into Munchkinland or Lilliput.

After spending a few days talking to people (all of whom appeared to be extremely happy) and observing the town, the official realized that the root of the problem was twofold. First, the town's main road was U shaped, and intersected the train tracks in two places. Every morning at 5:45, a long freight train would pass through town, blowing its horn at both intersections, waking the town, and making it hard for anyone to get back to sleep. Second, the town's power station was old and in need or repair, leading to frequent large-scale blackouts, particularly in the early evenings. In both of these cases, Charlestin residents found themselves at home, awake, with nothing to do, often turned to their partners for a little inexpensive diversion. In addition, there had been a spike in the birth rate nine months after soldiers began returning from service in World War II.

Behind the Legend

As romantic as this story might be, it is largely not true. In reality, the town is called "Charleston" (not "Charlestin") and its circa 1944 population growth index was 4.8.

It's interesting to note that in 1947 a wealthy resident of Charleston died and in his will left his multi-million-dollar estate to the Charleston family that had the most children over the next ten years. Subsequently, the town's growth rate increased significantly. To put this all in perspective, statistics show that in the real town of Charleston, the population (excluding immigrants) grew from 3,200 in 1922 to 4.7 million in 2004.

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