Everyone has heard of The Simpsons! And that’s not hyperbole. In other words, even the lesser-known tribes of Tanzania are familiar with the animated sitcom (thanks to The Simpsons Safari).
Set in the unassuming town of Springfield (which itself was located in a previously indeterminate State), each episode follows a collection of characters through the rigors, disappointments, and daily grind of our own modern lives. Such laughable mundaneness is one of the causes of its popularity.
Springfield was never pinpointed exactly because the producers wanted to avoid a large influx of fans to the area. But as we shall see, Matt Groening et al did reveal its true location or at least the true place upon which the town was based.
First airing in 1989, the location of Springfield was hotly debated, with some people (with lots of time on their hands) even using the animation’s starry night scenes to try to confirm it. But in reality, the town and its environs were cleverly adapted for each episode, which meant that Springfield was surrounded by deserts, water, mountains, plains, and oilfields according to the plot.
Despite its contradictions though, some parts of Springfield have appeared as constants throughout the show’s 618 episodes. There’s the town square, the Springsonian Museum and, of course, Evergreen Terrace, but how well do we really know the place, and to what degree did the producers base the town on real life? Read on to find out.
To begin with, let’s talk about skin color. A touchy subject in the wrong company, but in relation to the show, a realistic discussion related to branding. It’s safe to say that the majority of residents of Springfield are yellow-skinned (they also all have four fingers, with the exception of God and Jesus) and despite numerous theories about why, the answer given by Matt Groening is surprisingly straightforward.
Groening told the BBC in 2007, “An animator came up with the Simpsons’ yellow, and as soon as she showed it to me, I said, ‘This is the answer!’ because when you’re flicking through channels with your remote control, and a flash of yellow goes by, you’ll know you’re watching The Simpsons.” And in reference to the four fingers, this was more a case of an animation shortcut. Leaving out one finger makes a big difference, apparently.
Up until 2012, the location of Springfield was a closely guarded secret. Fans of the show had their interest piqued from clues given every so often in episodes. One follower charted the night sky, and another examined the geography, but in fact, all the features were drawn for effect and to enable the plot of each episode to be played out; in other words, there was no geographical basis. There is one tantalizing moment where “Lisa Simpson points to Springfield on a map, but the animated ‘camera view’ is blocked by Bart’s head,” (according to the Mail Online).
In 2012, Groening revealed the location of the town (which we will come to a little later) and claimed that his cause for not having revealed it sooner was to keep fans interested and to avoid any town called “Springfield” being inundated with fans and sightseers. “Whenever people say it’s Springfield, Ohio, or Springfield, Massachusetts, or Springfield, wherever, I always go, ‘Yep, that’s right.'” (Mail Online, 2012).
13. Founding Fathers
Groening had a surprisingly detailed backstory for Springfield. According to him, Springfield was founded by Jebediah Springfield in 1796 after he and his settlers split from a larger group on their way westwards. Jebediah is reported to have disliked the idea of founding a town in which cousins could marry and had said as much to his fellow settlers. This led to the split, with one half of the group founding Springfield under his auspice and the other (the cousin-marrying kind) founding Shelbyville (there is still an intense rivalry between the two towns to this day).
According to FanDom (2017), Springfield is rumored to have killed a bear “with his bare hands,” and a telling statue stands in the center of Springfield town square commemorating the event. However, a secret will uncovered by Lisa Simpson contains a confession written by Jebediah suggesting he died of syphilis.
12. Lard Lad Donuts
“Lard Lad” is the name of a Springfield donut vendor. The mascot of the business is a large statue of a boy holding a donut above his head. We learn that the scene in which Lard Lad comes to life was inspired by the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene in Ghostbusters. The Lard Lad name is believed to be a reference to the American chain of Big Boy restaurants (the chain’s mascot is similarly a chubby boy in red-and-white gingham overalls holding a Big Boy double-decker cheeseburger).
Lard Lad is seen as an icon of American dining by some fans, a Groening symbol of freedom and of the American dream. Groening’s inclusion of Lard Lad to The Simpsons landscape is considered by some as bringing normalness to the show. The Simpsons has been around longer than any other sitcom. It’s broadcast in more than 100 countries and 50 languages.
Cletus Del Roy Spuckler (AKA Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel) is one of Groening’s comic stereotypes. A mild-natured redneck, he’s rake thin and speaks with an accent common to rural people in the Appalachian and Ozark mountain ranges. He lives with his wife, Brandine Spuckler, on Springfield’s Rural Route 9. Many believe that Brandine is also Cletus’s sister. Entering incestuous relationships is one of American society’s crueler stereotypes of rednecks and hillbillies.
Cletus and Brandine have, rather brilliantly, no less than 44 children. When Cletus presents Marge with 300 coupons for free pretzels, he lists them all for us: Tiffany, Heather, Cody, Dylan, Dermot, Jordan, Taylor, Brittany, Wesley, Rumer, Scout, Cassidy, Zoe, Chloe, Max, Hunter, Kendall, Kaitlin, Noah, Sasha, Morgan, Kyra, Ian, Lauren, Qbert, and Phil. They also have a girl called “Condoleezza Marie,” whom Homer mistakenly switched for a bag of sugar during a parenting exercise.
10. Brilliant Business Names
The opening title sequence shows Bart skateboarding along the streets of Springfield, and here, we glimpse some of the outlets of the town. In fact, one of Matt Groening’s many talents was coming up with fanciful and droll names for all the businesses. A good indicator of an animation well made is the detail of its scenes and more so the relevance or comic value of the detail. Here are just some of the dozens of trading names Groening and his team of writers have come up with over 28 years of production:
The Vast Waistband, Helter Shelter (a soup kitchen), The French Confection (a pastry shop), The Fryin’ Dutchman (a seafood restaurant), Louvre: American Style (a museum), 33 Cents Store, Costingtons, Stoners Pot Palace, Bloodbath and Beyond (gun shop), The Singing Sirloin, The Leftorium, Mapple Store, Eye Caramba, Dingo Junction, Stuff-N-Hug, and All Creatures Great and Cheap.
9. Map Of The City
Feeding a search engine with “Simpsons Springfield Map” yields countless results. Many amateur and professional cartographers have put their talents to use by making maps of the town of Springfield with accurate place markers and streets. Hanging inside Springfield police station, we find a map of the town (shaped like Constantinople, apparently) and Flanders shows Bart his map in one episode.
That episode started a “feeding frenzy” of speculation about its location because the State in which the town is placed (on Flanders’s map) borders the States of Ohio, Kentucky, Maine, and Nevada. However, some pointed out that Maine and Nevada are nowhere near adjacent, and as such, the map was stylized for the cartoon. Universal Studios in California houses a life-sized replica of some parts of Springfield. Called “KrustyLand,” the attraction includes Moe’s Tavern, the Kwik-E-Mart, and Cletus’ Chicken Shack.
8. Real Springfield Revealed
In 2012, after 23 seasons of The Simpsons, Matt Groening revealed the real-life location of Springfield — or at least the town that inspired the one in the show. Springfield, Oregon is the “real” Springfield, Groening told the Smithsonian Magazine. “The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show ‘Father Knows Best’ took place in the town of Springfield,” Groening said. “And I was thrilled because I imagined that it was the town next to Portland, my hometown” (Smithsonian.com, 2012).
“When I grew up, I realized it [Springfield] was just a fictitious name. I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, ‘This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield’” (Smithsonian, 2012). That is probably one of the reasons for the success of The Simpsons.
7. Life-Sized House
Built in 1997, a life-sized replica of the 742 Evergreen Terrace was the prize of a competition sponsored by Fox and Pepsi. Only a few months later, the prize was awarded to a retired factory worker in Kentucky. But the house itself was located in Nevada and came with an obligation to maintain the house according to strict home association regulations. Thus the winner, Barbara Howard, chose the second option offered by Fox and Pepsi of a payout of $75,000.
Despite the 2,200 sq. ft. house being built with every detail exact, it was subsequently stripped down and all its Simpsons furnishings sold at auction. Today, it’s hard to tell that it was ever the home of the Simpsons family. “The house, located in a subdivision that was permanently named ‘Springfield South Valley Ranch’ took 49 days to build and was unveiled to the public on August 1, 1997” (Wikipedia, 2017).
6. The Springfield City Hall
The city hall of Springfield reportedly follows the design of the public library in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. The long-term designer of the scenery and backgrounds, Lance Wilder, used to live in Chelmsford and modeled the fictional hall on the local landmark. It’s found in the Springfield Town Square and is the place for town meetings. Famously, most citizens’ voting days descend into mob rule, especially on occasions when Homer gets involved in a municipal matter.
The unscrupulous Mayor Quimby and his City Government are based at the Town and spend most of their time doing very little politically. A staunch Democrat, Quimby continues to be re-elected despite his obvious involvement with fraud and sleaze. His catchphrase is “Vote Quimby,” which he often vocalizes at inopportune moments. His current list of misdemeanors includes vote rigging, bribing witnesses, lying under oath, and extortion.
5. Springfield Monument Park
The Monument Park is a section of land to the east of the town of Springfield. It was the scene of Bart’s prank on Martin after Bart, Lisa, and he climb one of its peaks to search for Native American arrowheads. Finding little of interest, Bart takes the bone from Sideshow Mel’s hair and buries it. Believing it to be fossilized remains, Martin takes it from the ground, but Bart (who has attached a string to it) makes it strike Martin on the head. Martin falls from the peak and is believed to be dead.
In a separate episode, Homer scatters the ashes of his mother over the edge of the peaks but unwittingly disrupts Mr. Burns’s plans to launch a nuclear missile from a factory beneath the peak. The event is seen by Homer as his hippie mother’s attempt to end “one more act of senseless violence in the world” (The Simpsons, 2008).
Despite avid fans forever inspecting the landscape of The Simpsons, the geography is drawn to the specifications of the storyline of each episode. The observant among us will notice that landmarks such as the Springfield Gorge and West Springfield Desert alter their appearance and location from one episode to another. In an episode called “King of the Hill,” Homer becomes the first person to reach the summit of the Murderhorn, the highest peak in Springfield.
As a consequence of the license animators take in changing the scenery, the state of Springfield includes the typography of the entire United States, including forests, mountain ranges, glaciers, flat plains, beaches, canyons gorges, volcanoes, and a National Park. All of these features are designed around real-life places that either Groening or one of the creators has visited. The Springfield Mystery Spot is a popular tourist destination of the town and includes a portal to another dimension.
The ownership of the local grocery store called “the Kwik-E-Mart” is disputed. In the episode Home and Apu, the latter claims he must travel to Tibet in order to visit the head office of the store’s owner. But in later episodes, Apu reveals he owns his own business (could he have bought out the franchise of the Springfield branch?). It’s been suggested that the store’s name was inspired by the American chain 7-Eleven and by the unique prospect of the shopfronts on Highland Avenue in Los Angeles.
In 2007, some 7-Eleven stores changed their names briefly to Kwik-E-Mart to promote the upcoming Simpsons Movie, resulting in a big increase in store profit. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who runs the store, is conscientious and dedicated to his shop. He works famously long shifts and is proud of his store’s overpriced and out-of-date produce.
2. Subway System
The subway system in Springfield was, up until recently, derelict and unusable. Passengers would instead travel a monorail to get around. But in season 7, the subway makes a surprising reappearance and, it seems, has been renovated. In the episode “Bart Sells His Soul,” we find Bart looking at a subway map in the style of the Harry Beck design for the London Underground and complete with place names, such as “Duff Brewery,” “Springfield Downs,” “Aquarium,” and “Albino Heights.”
In 2014, webzine Fast Company reported on the creation of a Lego Springfield by fan Matt De Lanoy. De Lanoy, a fan of Lego and The Simpsons, created a Springfield in detail, including “Mr. Burns’ nuclear power plant, Moe’s Tavern, Mayor Quimby’s City Hall, Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart, and Krusty the Clown’s Krusty Burger. There’s even a replica of the comic book shop where Comic Book Guy works, the aptly named Android’s Dungeon” (Fast Company, 2014).
The environment of Springfield is notoriously polluted. The lake used to be the chosen waste site for the nuclear plant, which led to mutated fish. The town boasts a decades-old fire tire, and in the episode “Trash of the Titans,” the whole town is moved five miles from a massive landfill site that the townsfolk and their factories produced.
The Environmental Protection Agency once encased the town under a glass dome (“Trappuccino” was the term used for the crisis of the dome). It was one of the worst moments in the history of Springfield and lasted for 93 days, according to FanDom in 2017. Other efforts have been made, notably by Lisa, to clean up, but these are usually in vain, thanks to her dad. For example, after Lisa had cleared Lake Springfield of the toxic waste from the plant, Homer re-polluted it with waste from his pig farm.
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