November 16, 2021
THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES
The disturbing truth about Monopoly
SALEM — Tis the season for board games. And Monopoly — where dollars change hands, people languish in jail and properties flip with every roll of the dice — is one of the most popular. The convergence of competition, real estate and luck of the draw characterize, as few other games do, America’s capitalist ethos.
“There’s been a huge renaissance in tabletop games,” says Mary Pilon, author of the bestselling, “Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game.” Pilon will talk about some of the more startling, disturbing discoveries made while researching “Monopolists” on Saturday, Nov. 27, from 1 to 2 p.m. The virtual event, sponsored by The House of the Seven Gables, is free of charge. Those interested may register here: https://bit.ly/3kvCOtD
The word ‘monopolist’ refers to someone who wants complete control, Pilon says, and it’s an apt title. Control was an issue from the day in 1903 when political activist and feminist Elizabeth Magie patented The Landlord’s Game, or Monopoly as people called it from the beginning. According to Pilon, Magie worked on developing the game at night, after she got home from her day job as a stenographer. In 1905 a New York game company published it.
The game was popular, especially in New England, with liberal intellectuals, college students and Quakers. These cohorts were, in fact, Magie’s target market. But in 1932 an unemployed man, Charles Darrow, played the game with some friends. He liked it and his friends made him a copy. Darrow sold it to Parker Brothers and claimed it was his invention. “It’s a freak,” Darrow told journalists, according to the Guardian newspaper. “Entirely unexpected and illogical.” The company bought the rights from Magie for $500 but Darrow, to whom they gave the credit, became a millionaire. Parker Brothers became a brand of Hasbro in 1991, but Darrow’s rags-to riches Darrow story persists. Hundreds of millions of copies of Monopoly have sold world-wide, and Darrow collected royalties throughout his life.
People turned to board games during the pandemic. “It was an awesome way to spend time with people and to bring people together,” says Pilon. “All kinds of gaming filled this niche. It provides a safe space to have conflict, compete, disagree.” People of all ages are gaming more, says Pilon, and the average age of gamers has gone up. Gaming is broader, deeper and more sophisticated, she says.
Pilon says that Monopoly, like many other popular games, has strong roots in New England because Parker Brothers was headquartered in Beverly. George Parker founded George S. Parker Co. in 1883 in his hometown of Salem. Pilon has ties to the area, also. Though she grew up and attended school in Oregon, she visited The House of the Seven Gables a few times as a child. In her freshman year of high school, she wrote a book report on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, “The House of the Seven Gables.”
“I had to make a replica of the house to go along with the report,” she said. “That replica was a lot harder than the book review.” Pilon went on to become a journalist working for top news organizations such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She’s looking forward to
her virtual visit, and to the conversation she will have with all those in attendance. All questions are more than welcome.
Rae Padilla Francoeur is a writer and editor who lives in Rockport.
About The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association
The mission of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association is to be a welcoming, thriving, historic site and community resource that engages people of all backgrounds in our inclusive American story. For more information visit www.7gables.org.
Stories are at the core of what we do at The House of the Seven Gables. They are not just a part of our past, but also our present and future. In 2021, we look forward to exploring the lore of our historic site and surrounding community with a special series of lectures, programs and events.