fools of gotham

Some friends and I were wondering the other day, “How did New York City get to be called Gotham?”

We were in San Francisco, looking at some statues scattered all around. It reminded us of the Batman movies, where the city was filled with spooky gothic architecture and art.
“This looks like Gotham City,” someone said.
“Yeah, but we’re in San Francisco. Gotham is supposed to be New York.”
“I wonder why they call it Gotham?”

That was the extent of it. But today I ran across something on a website

For you people like me who wonder about things, here’s their story:

The Wise Men of Gotham [were], in English legend, wise fools, villagers of Gotham, Nottinghamshire, Eng. The story is that, threatened by a visit from King John (reigned 1199-1216), they decided to feign stupidity and avoid the expense entailed by the residence of the court. Royal messengers found them engaged in ridiculous tasks, such as trying to drown an eel and joining hands around a thorn bush to shut in a cuckoo. Hence, the king determined to stay elsewhere. The “foles of Gotham” are mentioned in the 15th-century Wakefield plays. Merrie Tales of the Mad-Men of Gottam, a collection of their jests, was published in the 16th century.
© Copyright 1994-1999 Encyclopædia Britannica

How Gotham Came to Be a Reference to New York City
Washington Irving applied the name to New York in an issue of a humorous magazine named Salmagundi. The name, by Washington Irving’s time, had long been associated with stupidity, even though the original story was actually about a kind of twisted cleverness. Washington Irving thought this just the name to give to a city which he believed was inhabited by fools.
© Copyright 1996-2000 Michael B. Quinn from World Wide Words

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