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Dispatches From a Miniature, Half-Imagined City

Part preservation effort, part dreamscape, Elgin Park is a scale model of a semifictional 20th-century town.
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Michael Paul Smith

Growing up in 1950s Pittsburgh, Michael Paul Smith made an unusual kind of fun: He'd walk around the streets of his working-class neighborhood, pretending to be invisible. "I observed everything," he says. "I'd take in all the sounds and sights, absorbing every detail."  

Little did that quiet kid know he'd bring those fine-grained memories back to life, half a century later. Smith is the self-proclaimed "mayor" of Elgin Park, a miniature, fictional, 20th-century town inspired by his past.