|Wise (or Foolish, or Mad) Men of Gotham|
Gotham is a real city in Nottinghamshire, England, but it has become known as the site of the folktales about the wise men of Gotham. Also known as the foolish men of Gotham or even the madmen of Gotham, they sometimes seem more wise than foolish.
According to a story from the late twelfth century, the people of Gotham heard that King John was going to visit them. They did not want him there, as he and his retinue and retainers would be far too expensive a group of visitors for their town.
So they deliberately started acting in foolish or even wildly insane ways. They did stunts, such as trying to drown a fish or cage a bird (fittingly enough, a cuckoo) by joining hands.
King John heard of this behavior and decided to stay elsewhere. The villagers were said to have remarked, presumably smirking as they did so, that more fools passed through Gotham than remained in it. There is no historical evidence to prove this story.
In 1540, a collection of twenty tales of Gotham was published. A number of towns claim to be the village of origin. A town in Sussex, as well as almost fifty other villages in England and Wales, maintain that the silly tales belong to them. Even Mother Goose stepped into the fray:
Three wise men of Gotham went to sea
in a bowl.
If the bowl had been stronger,
My song had been longer.
In 1807, the American author Washington Irving dubbed New York City "Gotham", since he considered it a city of fools. The name stuck. For instance, the comic book character Batman, the caped crusader and avenger, lives in none other than Gotham City.