Munchkinville, Munchkin Land, Midgetville, Midget Town: They are all names of a mythical place that I had heard about since I was in high school in the 1970s. It was always spoken in the second person. Someone’s brother, uncle, older friend, there was always someone else. Never the person who was counting. The story survives to this day. A niece of mine, who graduated from Palm Springs High School in 2000, had also heard the rumors; just like a cousin who is even younger. Munchkinville was and is an urban legend of the city of Palm Springs.
He was in high school the first time I went looking for him. As legend has it, after the Wizard of Oz was made in the 1930s, some of the dwarf actors took his winnings and bought some land in the Arab area of Palm Springs. They played a key role in building their homes, wanting doors, windows, counters, and ceilings to be built especially for little people. Much of the houses were made of natural rock and were built at the end of a long cul-de-sac out of sight of the rest of the world. They wanted to create a place for themselves in the celebrity paradise of Palm Springs.
The main road into the Araby area in the 1970s was a dirt road and a narrow, curvy black roof called the Rim Road, barely wide enough for a single car. If two crossed, one had to either press against the mountain that carved out the inside edge of the road, or dangle a tire dangerously close to the 50-foot drop on the other side of the road that ran over the desert drain. cleared for winter floods. It was late and dark. We braved Rim Road and then searched for the few cross streets in the small neighborhood of Araby. We finally got to the top of the little ridge on top of the houses and an even thinner dirt road led further back along the edge of the mountains and then turned into the wash.
We crept forward with our car until someone yelled and pointed to a small group of dilapidated houses: “There he is!” I tried to look through the haze in the car, in my head, and through the glare of the headlights and the darkness outside their misty pools of yellow light. I wasn’t sure what I saw, but it fit the description I had been given. A person inside one of the houses poked his head out of a window. My brother yelled, “Oh shit!” and we walked away fast, laughing like idiots.
When I was old enough to have my own driver’s license, I tried to recreate our discovery. But I never saw anything for sure that reminded me of that dark, drunken night. Still, whenever a friend was asked about Munchkinland, they claimed to have been there themselves or to know someone personally who had. But if asked to take me there, they would always exclaim with a busy schedule, “I have to go.”
Fast forward 30+ years, until recently I actually found myself in Palm Springs one day with a digital camera in my hand and longer than I had scheduled. I decided that I would follow the same paths that I remembered as a teenager and see what I could. I got into Araby’s car. It had been built on a regular road over the years and provided easier access to the now prestigious neighborhood of secluded houses. Pushing my car down the different roads during the day, I determined that there was no cross road leading to a group of houses beyond the most easily detectable, and none of them appeared to be handcrafted from rock. But on a street called Smoketree I found a fairly new and ominously large iron, brick, and mortar gate with little lions perched on the pillars and lion heads on the fence that looked anything but cowardly. The placement of this door and the small amount of road past it that I could see implied that it could just barely travel the length of the wash to some house or houses beyond the normal neighborhood.
I drove further through the neighborhood, up to the top of Araby Drive and found a small wide spot on the road with signs that read: NO PARKING AT ANY TIME. I parked. And I moved forward so that my car would protect me from the view of the houses below me while I filtered. In front of me was an old water tower, and below it was an iron crossbar that blocked access from Araby Drive to a much older and narrower dirt road, now overgrown with brush and brush. He descended as he meandered around the base of the mountain, staying just above the wash below until he came to a small group of houses, made of stone. They were barely discernible, blending in with the mountain and desert so naturally and covered by decades of plant growth. I did not come down. They looked like they hadn’t lived in years. And also my car was illegally parked.
Later that day, I posted my thoughts on Facebook to all of my longtime friends. In return, about 50 comments were posted. It seems like everyone had a story to tell about Munchkinville. Some believed they had found it when they were young. Others claimed it was a false rumor. But they all had stories to share.