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Beyond 50: American States That Might Have Been

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Beyond 50: American States That Might Have Been

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Beyond 50: American States That Might Have Been

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It has been over half a century since Hawaii joined the union and the 50th star was added to the flag. And except for the occasional discussion of Puerto Rican statehood, there hasn't been much serious talk about expanding beyond 50.

As for unserious talk, that's never been in short supply. And Michael Trinklein has assembled the mostly unserious but sometimes plausible ideas of expansionists, secessionists, and various other -ists in his book "Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It." Welcome to the program, Michael Trinklein.

Mr. MICHAEL TRINKLEIN (Author, "Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It"): Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And start with Texlahoma. Whose idea was that?

Mr. TRINKLEIN: Well, Texlahoma was an idea born of a need for better roads. All these people in northern Texas and western Oklahoma were getting their fancy new Model Ts, but they had nowhere to drive them, and the state government wasn't building roads fast enough. And as often happens when people feel neglected by state government, they set up their own state government, or at least they tried to.

SIEGEL: And where would that have actually been, the state of Texlahoma?

Mr. TRINKLEIN: That would have been northern Texas and the panhandle of Oklahoma.

SIEGEL: You write about many states that never came into being, and one of my favorites is the story of Sylvania and a whole passel of states that Thomas Jefferson thought up and never actually came to be.

Mr. TRINKLEIN: Yes, I think Jefferson was kind of a genius. Even though he never visited the Midwest, he really understood how the lines should be drawn there, better than the lines we have today.

One of the states he set up was Sylvania, which would have been essentially the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. And Sylvania is a word that means pleasant woodsy area, and that certainly is a pleasant, woodsy area. And it's just kind of interesting how all of the lines that Jefferson drew really would have been perfect for states. Unfortunately, other powers came to be, and we have some not-so-good lines these days.

SIEGEL: Yeah, Sylvania, though, is perhaps the most charming of the names that he assigned to his idea of where the states might be carved out of the Northwest Territories. There at least was an idea for a state called Transylvania, as well.

Mr. TRINKLEIN: Transylvania, yes. Transylvania was Daniel Boone's idea to create the first state on the Western side of the Appalachians. It didn't quite work out. It did come in later as Kentucky. So if Daniel Boone had had his way, we would have the Transylvania Derby every spring.

SIEGEL: One of the states, one of the states that has never come into being that you write about, is Acadia, which I guess would be the name assigned to northern Maine should it split away from the southern part of Maine.

Mr. TRINKLEIN: Yes, and here's why. People in the south of Maine tend to want to, you know, go to Shakespeare festivals and, you know, grow organic blueberries. People in the north of Maine, they want to shoot stuff and chop stuff down. That's often how these statehood secession ideas come to be, from just disparate populations in a single state.

SIEGEL: Your book comes with a book jacket that actually opens up into an imaginary map that is a map of the U.S. with all of the states that didn't happen on it, and there's one state that's almost smack in the middle of the country, one non-state, which is Forgottonia.

Mr. TRINKLEIN: Ah, the poor people of Forgottonia, yes. This is in the western bulge of Illinois. It's a place where if you look at a map of Illinois, there's just freeways everywhere except in Forgottonia. They really wanted Interstate 72 so bad, and they never got it. So they figured well, we'll split off and form our own state and maybe we'll get the interstate that we want, the shortcut from Chicago to Kansas City that would create an economic boon, they hoped.

SIEGEL: Well, did you come away from this project thinking that, indeed, some place could actually become the 51st state sometime in our lifetimes?

Mr. TRINKLEIN: I think throughout our history, we argued and debated this vigorous discussion about, you know, one Dakota or two Dakotas or three Dakotas.

What's really interesting to me is that Barack Obama is the first American president not to have seen a new state added in his lifetime. So he and I are of a generation that hasn't seen this happen, and we tend to think, well, it can't happen.

But you know what? It can. It's been a part of our history since the beginning, and I think to say it won't happen is a little naive.

SIEGEL: Well, Michael Trinklein, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. TRINKLEIN: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Michael Trinklein's book is called "Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It."

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