What’s in a Name?
Fabled tales of a town called Gotham, an Anglo-Saxon term meaning “Goat’s Town,” have circulated orally since the twelfth century. These unflattering stories, first printed in the 1565 book, “The Merry Tales of Mad Men of Gottam,” depicted its citizens as simpleminded fools. A later book, “The Wise Men of Gotham” would show its residents as only fronting as fools to outsmart a king. In 1807, famous author Washington Irving would reference the term to mock the “self-important” and “foolish people” of Manhattan, NY. Following the nineteenth century, Gotham became a well-known nickname for New York City. The term has become closely associated with the often dark, gothic architecture that cloaks much of the Big Apple. In 1940, not wanting to directly use New York City for Batman’s base of operations, writer Bill Finger decided on Gotham City (Batman #4) after finding ‘Gotham Jewelers’ in a New York phone book. (Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows, Mike Wallace, pages 12-14).
38,000 B.C. – It is said that Gotham City was pre-destined to a troubled fate when an evil warlock (returns as Doctor Gotham) was buried alive beneath what is now known as the central island of Gotham (currently the site of the Breed Building). Many believe his evil essence seeped into the soil, poisoning the ground with his corruptive touch and fathering the modern spirit of the city. (Shadowpact # 5, 2006)
Several centuries before European explorers crossed the Atlantic, the burial ground was inhabited by a Native American tribe known as Miagani (translation: the Bat-people). Legend has it that the Miagani fell to a wicked shaman named Blackfire. The tribe, unable to defeat the shaman, trapped him in a cave and erected a totem to warn others of the evil that lurked inside. (Batman: The Cult # 1, 1988)
1609 – Unbeknownst to the totem’s significance, a group of pioneers attempted to colonize the region but disappeared quickly, leaving only a pool of blood to be discovered by another colony. (Batman: The Cult # 1, 1988)
- Blackfire was one of many villains raised from the dead in Gotham City to join the new Black Lantern Corps during Blackest Night.
Black Lantern Corps, Blackfire
1635 – Gotham City was officially founded by Captain Jon Logerquist, a Swedish mercenary. The settlement was named Fort Adolphus after Gustavus Adolphus, the great Swedish general. (Atlas of the DC Universe, 1990)
1674 – The British take Fort Adolphus and General Adam Howe renames the settlement Gotham City. (Atlas of the DC Universe, 1990)
1774 – The city was no stranger to evil, attracting various occult rites. Jacob Stockman, Thomas Wayne and four others, including a young Thomas Jefferson lead a young woman into a cellar with the intent of sacrificing her to a Bat Daemon. The ceremony would later temporarily possess a modern day citizen, Edward Nigma aka the Riddler. (Batman # 452-454, 1990)
1779 – During the American Revolution, Darius Wayne (Bruce Wayne ancestor) and his brother “Mad” Anthony Wayne fought against the British. The British held Gotham for much of the war but with the help of Darius, a victory was secured for Gotham. (Atlas of the DC Universe, 1990)
On the opposing side of the American Revolutionary War, Sir Nigel Cobblepot (Oswald Cobblepot ancestor) fought against Gotham before eventually calling the city his home. (His descendant, Nathan would rise to hero status in the North during the American Civil War.) (Gotham Underground Vol 1 #9, 2008)
Sir Nigel Cobblepot & Nathan Cobblepot
1799 – Using a large plot of land rewarded to him for his heroic efforts during the war, Darius began construction on Wayne Manor. (Atlas of the DC Universe, 1990)
19th Century Gotham aka “Gotham Town”
Solomon Wayne & Cyrus Pinkney
1840 – Gotham underwent a major urban planning initiated by Judge Solomon Wayne and a young architect named Cyrus Pinkney. The new structures would come to define what many consider the “Gotham Style.” From Gargoyles to frighten people onto the path of righteousness to rounded edges to confuse malevolent beings and thick walls to lock in virtue, Pinkney saw his designs as a living being that in itself could fight against evil. (Batman Legends of the Dark Knight, #27, 1992)
Old Gotham as imagined by Wayne & Pinkney
Having gained his fortune in the steel industry, Theodore Cobblepot became Gotham’s longest running mayor. Decades later his great-great grandson, Oswald (aka the Penguin) would attempt the same feat with much less luck. Unfortunately, the Cobblepot family fortune would later be squandered away by his son and then grandson on an unsuccessful hotel. (Gotham Underground #9, 2008)
1881 – Alan Wayne (Bruce Wayne ancestor), Theodore Cobblepot (Oswald Cobblepot ancestor) and Edward Elliot (Thomas Elliot ancestor), considered the founding fathers of Gotham, constructed three bridges (Gates of Gotham), each baring one of their last names. Edward Elliot became increasingly jealous of the Wayne family’s popularity and wealth during this time period, a jealousy that would spread to his great-great grandson, Thomas Elliot aka Hush. A fourth, less reputable figure of the city, Cameron Kane (Bruce Wayne descendant) owned most of the north land of Gotham (Kane County), an area known for its seedy nature. (Batman: Gates of Gotham, 2011)
Alan Wayne, Theodore Cobblepot, & Edward Elliot
1888 – Over 1,000 feet tall, Wayne Tower, the tallest building in Gotham, and many other buildings were commissioned by Alan Wayne. Due to superstitions, Wayne had the thirteenth floor “removed” in each of his buildings. The thirteenth floors would later be discovered as the headquarters to the elite secret society, the Court of Owls. (Batman: Vol 1 #2, 2011)
The Court of Owls have been around for centuries.
1895 – Though the new look of Gotham may have inspired much good, evil was never too far away. The legend may vary but the tale is fairly consistent for one unscrupulous Gotham millionaire who went by the name of Cyrus Gold. Believed to have had an affair with a young prostitute, Cyrus refused to yield to blackmail when she tried to extort him for money after becoming pregnant with his child. This led to her pimp bludgeoning Cyrus with a shovel and tossing his dead body into Slaughter Swamp. Years passed and Cyrus Gold’s body lay unfound at the bottom of the swamp until one day he returned from the dead to seek vengeance as Solomon Grundy! (Batman: Shadow of the Bat #39)
The rejuvenating chemicals of Slaughter Swamp have also been linked to the creation of the Lazarus Pit most commonly used by Ra’s al Ghul. Using the pit, Ra’s has been able to keep himself alive for many years. However, long-term exposure to the pit leads to destabilizing side effects. (Batman: Arkham City, 2011)
By the end of the century, Gotham City, now at the forefront of business and industry, was also a haven for poverty and government corruption. Solomon Wayne, the man responsible for much of Gotham’s financial success, died at the age of 104 while his son Alan continued his legacy. Wayne’s last words were a reflection on the rapidly increasing crime rates of his city,
“I wished to lock evil out of men’s neighborhoods and hearts. I fear that instead I have given it the means to be locked in.”
1920 – With new Prohibition laws being enforced, the illegal selling of alcohol became popular in Gotham causing a gang war for superiority. Giuseppe Bertinelli became Don of Gotham after uniting three of the “Five Families” of crime behind him against the other two. This would lead to corruption among politicians and the police force. His great-granddaughter, Helena Bertinelli would later fight against such corruption as the Huntress. (Huntress: Year One, 2008)
1921 – The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane opens its doors. Named after his recently deceased mother, Amadeus Arkham remodeled his mansion hoping to help others. He would soon find his wife and daughter raped and murdered during the construction of the facility by Martin “Mad Dog” Hawkins who became one of the asylum’s first patients. His nephew, Jeremiah would later inherit the asylum after he was considered legally insane. (Batman Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, 1989)
1940 – Alan Scott moves to Gotham and becomes the superhero, Green Lantern after being exposed to a magical force called the Starheart. He took on such villains as The Gambler and Sportsmaster. He joined forces with other superheroes to become a founding member of the first Justice Society of America. The Gambler and Sportsmaster would join together with other villains to form the very first Injustice Society. (All-American Comics #16, 1940)
1960’s – Gotham City planners began development on an Underground Highway that would link with the subway. The project proved to be too expensive and was left unfinished beneath the streets of Gotham. It has since become a retreat for criminals such as Killer Croc. (Batman # 471)
Thomas, Bruce, & Martha Wayne
Post 60’s – Thomas Wayne, father to Bruce, took his son and a young Tommy Elliot to Metropolis where the boys witness a formerly retired Alan Scott/Green Lantern face off against his old nemesis, Icicle. Later as adults, Wayne and Elliot would come to battle as Batman and Hush. (Batman: Hush, 2003)
Organized crime became more and more prominent in Gotham as the years went on. Though many crime families have tried making a name for themselves in the city, one has excelled above the rest, The Falcone family. Vincent Falcone once brought his dying son, Carmine to Thomas Wayne’s manor after he had been shot by rival gang leader, Luigi Maroni. With a young Bruce Wayne watching, Thomas helps Carmine, unknowing that one day that same boy would come to seize power over the city’s crime syndicate. (Batman: The Long Halloween, 1997)
On a tragic night while leaving a theater, Gotham’s leading citizens, Thomas and Martha Wayne were gunned down by a petty crook named Joe Chill while their young son, Bruce watched. Bruce would grow up to become one with the night, striking vengeance in the heart of evil men, he would become the Batman! As they say, the rest is history.