Cartographic Caricatures: Finding Faces in Maps

President Rutherford B. Hayes on an Ohio map

President Rutherford B. Hayes on an Ohio map

Reading about the astonishing variety of figures and faces recently seen on Mars, I was reminded of this topical foray into the whimsical world of cartographical simulacra.



You wouldn’t think it, perhaps, but if you take up a good atlas it is more than possible that you will find your own photograph in it. It is astonishing how certain configurations of the coast-lines, boundaries, and so forth of maps resemble faces of well-known people, animals, and familiar objects of various descriptions.

There is no more fascinating amusement for a spare half-hour or a better geographical lesson for the children than a voyage of discovery into the pages of an atlas.

Somebody or something is to be found in every map, but it is by no means the most intricate that will give the best results. Take Africa, for example. Its coast-lino is one of the simplest, yet of all it is the most prolific in good faces. They are best recognised by looking at the smaller-scale map which appears in the map of the word supplied with every atlas.

Is it that there is an affinity between politicians and the countries whose interest they espouse, that it is so easy to find their likenesses in those particular countries? or is it that Nature purposely cast Africa in a mould which has reflected to the generations the features of those illustrious gentlemen who have been so largely concerned in its interests?Chamberlain Arabian map face

Certain it is that you have only to study the map for half a moment to find Mr Chamberlain’s tip-tilt sneering at the Arabian Sea; while, if you turn it upside down, you will observe the grave, sombre countenance of Lord Salisbury frowning grave disapproval at the Atlantic Ocean.

Salisbury Africa map face

Nature is rarely remiss, but she missed the eye-glass. If she had planted an inland lake where Atbara, of Gordon Highlander fame, stands, it would have saved us the necessity of supplying our map with “Joe’s” famous little third eye. It may have been a conscious snub.

Anyway, then is nothing wanting in Lord Salisbury’s physiognomy, not even the bulldog nose and curl of the beard.

Li Hung Change map face

Turn the map upside down, incline the bottom of it to the right, and look at the coast-line from Cape Palmas to Tangier. It is Li Hung Chang–hat, billy-goat, and all complete. He wears a look of mingled anxiety and protest, as if he sees some Western nation calmly annexing another slice of the Far East.

Turn over the pages to the map of Spain, and search the coast- line in the vicinity of Bilbao.

Harcourt Spain Map face

Surely we have seen that classic nose, that massive chin, that mighty face before? Yes, it’s Sir William Harcourt. He has nothing to do with Spanish affairs, but Nature moves in a mysterious way. May it not be some portentous omen of the future?

edward terry arabia map face

On the south coast of Arabia, as seen in the map of Asia, taking the coast-line from Ras-el-Hadd–it might more appropriately have been named Razzle-Dazzle, of Gaiety fame— to Dhogar, you have an excellent though scarcely flattering likeness of Mr Edward Terry. I hope he won’t be offended; but after all, we are not perpetuated for ever and ever and ever on this eternal planet, and he ought to feel extremely gratified.

Russia has married France, but she mustn’t expect any good of it with the warning face of Mr Punch grinning sardonically on her coastline from Cape Apsheron, in the Caspian Sea, to Lenkoran, on the Persian frontier.

Mr Punch map face

That face says “Don’t!” as plain as a pikestaff; but they have laughed to scorn the warning, woe be unto them!

The other faces we have discovered in the realms of mapland would make the fortune of a character-actor. Take, for example, the baleful, Shylockian face of old Mother Shipton in the Caspian Sea. Kotchak Gulf and Dead Bay are her bonnet-bows, and her chin finishes on the Balkan Peninsula. The face is better seen in the map of Russia in Asia.

africa map face

Another striking face is to be found by taking the whole east coast of Africa from St. Sebastian, which is the crown of the forehead, to Alexandria, which finishes the chin. According to the argument used in connection with the Salisbury-Chamberlain portraits this is undoubtedly a sketch of our Prime Minister in the Year 2000 or thereabouts.

He will make it hot for Kruger’s progeny down Pretoria way, if the nose is any indication of character; in fact, Pretoria is well on his brain in the portrait.

Animals and inanimate objects are also well represented on maps.

Every schoolboy knows that the south-western comer of Italy exactly resembles a boot. Similar cases are by no means difficult to locate. If you examine the coastline of Australia from Brisbane, in Queensland, to Portland Bay, Victoria, you will find the makings of a capital Newfoundland dog’s head.

camel head map face

You must look for a camel nearer home than the “ship of the desert” is usually found. It is only a head, truly, but if you examine the configuration of the French province of Brittany you must acknowledge that it is a very good likeness.

elephant wales map face

There are several geographical elephants’ heads, although they are, perhaps, a trifle exaggerated. The best of them luxuriates on British soil, and is formed by the Welsh counties of Carnarvon, Denbigh, and Flint, Snowdon forming the eye.

The Dead Sea is not altogether a likely subject for a picture, yet, curiously enough, it gives us the most beautiful [??] of the series.

holy land head map face

If you turn the map of Palestine upside down, you will discover a most striking example of the classic female head. It is of the type wrought in marble by the ancient Greeks. The crown of the head abuts on the Valley of Salt. The features are governed by the indentations of the coast-line by Zoar or Bela. The Gulf of Salt nestles at the nape of the neck.

At Rasada the similitude ceases, and the Dead Sea gives no other picture. Since writing the above, the Fashoda storm has loomed on the political horizon. Mr Punch’s famous cartoon of the organ-grinder has appeared, and has been subjected to much discussion and not a little acrimonious criticism at the hands of French residents in this country. Irishmen with Gallic sympathies have also freely expressed their disapproval of Mr Punch’s cartoon, one of them going so far as to break the window of the journal’s Fleet street office by way of protest.

We have already discovered the jovial countenance of Mr Punch in the Caspian Sea. If you take a large-scale map of Africa, and turn it upside-down, it is possible to find him again, although the portrait is scarcely as good as that seen in the Caspian Sea. The profile is drawn by the windings of the Nile, and it is a most curious coincidence that it runs exactly from Cairo to Fashoda, Omdurman resting placidly on the bridge of the nose.

Doubtless there are many other map pictures which I have not located. Their discovery should prove a pleasant pastime for the winter evenings. Answers.

Otago [NZ] Witness, 26 January 1899: p. 58

What of the mystery face of the Prime Minister in the year 2000 or thereabouts found on the coast of Africa?  Not a bad likeness to Tony Blair, who is rarely, if ever photographed in profile. Uncanny, really.

tony blair

Try it for yourself. 5 minutes with an Ohio map and I found two presidents: Rutherford B. Hayes 9at head of post) and William McKinley (below).

President William McKinley in an Ohio map

President William McKinley in an Ohio map

For other presidential simulacra, see “The White House Shadowgraphs.”


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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