The first thing you notice when you drive into Rafferty Falls is the town sign.  It reads “RAFFERTY Falls, pop. 2893, ‘Family happens here.’”  It doesn’t require too keen an eye to notice the sign’s visual emphasis on “RAFFERTY,” which is boldly painted over some other indistinguishable word in blue.[1]


After a visit to the town museum and archive, a single-room exhibit adjacent to the kitchen of the false-fronted Museum Bar & Grill, I learn that the word underneath is “Svenson,” an old family name that has many times graced the town sign.  If you’re confused, you should be.  The town now known as Rafferty Falls alternates between “Rafferty Falls” and “Svenson Falls,” depending on whether the population is more Irish or Swedish.  And this number is said to fluctuate based on immigration trends, ecological conditions, and the success of the Rafferty Falls softball team.[2] 


When residents of Rafferty Falls refer to the “election,” they’re not talking about the president.[3]  Every year, citizens upload their genetic breakdown to a 23-and-me-esque database, which calculates which of the town’s two major ethnicities maintains a plurality.  At the moment, there is one more Irishperson than Swede. 


This poses some linguistic, artistic, and administrative challenges for the town, but few seem to express dissatisfaction with this clearly backward system.  If you approach the people from the northern, Swedish neighborhoods of the town and ask them where you are, they’ll say “the Falls.”  If you ask the Irish townies to the south, they’ll say “Rafferty.”  The sign has to be painted over every year, but this at least has the function of employing the town painter.[4]  It also is the case that the softball team has to frequently reprint their jerseys, but their sponsor, Jersey’s Bar & Grill, is willing to pay the price. 


Though I was initially dispatched to Rafferty Falls to cover the town’s annual Bar & Grill Crawl,[5] dubbed “Rafferty Crawls,” I found myself interested in the town’s namesake “falls” than its saloons.[6]  I should have known when I inquired the local male librarian about these eponymous cataracts that I would be forced to endure some sort of town legend, which the locals erroneously call “history,” and endure it I did.


Rafferty (and sometimes Svenson) Falls gets its name from the nineteenth century’s Colm Rafferty and Annelise Svenson, two Romeo-and-Juliet-inspired fictions who wished to be together, despite the town’s prevailing ethnic conflict.  In the middle of the night, the two lovers would journey out into the Rafferty Forest[7] and kiss behind the nearby waterfall, where their families and factions wouldn’t find them.  The ritual continued every night until Colm and Annelise turned up dead one morning.[8]


When I arrive at the waterfall, I’m disappointed.  What was described—the thundering cascade of legend—is not what I found.  A man, who introduced himself as the town’s cooper, recognized me to be a tourist and explained that the waterfall had dried up.  A trip to the town’s Land Records & Survey Maps office, located one floor above the Land Records & Survey Maps Bar & Grill, indicates that the town’s largest employer, the O’Halloran Puppery re-routed the river water to its own plant.  (If you try to talk to the townies about the Puppery, you’re met with some vague responses of “work is work” and “have you seen the Rafferty World Park?” [9]).


Before I try to find a story, one presents itself to me.  Though Rafferty Falls has captured the attention of geographers, sociologists, linguists, animal rights activists, and bar-and-grill enthusiasts, the murder of its mayor, Eoghen O’Connor, which occurred the night of my arrival, captured mine, thrusting the town’s ethnic makeup into perfectly dangerous equality.

 —J. Gustaferro