fakekato

This beach scene leads the home page of a faux Mankato Web site that attracts credulous tourists to such attractions as a pyramid and an underwater world.

Rosaura Prada stood in tears Tuesday morning after several frustrating hours of trying to find someone to give her answers about a fake Web site that led her to Mankato.

Prada, of Edinburg, Texas, brought her mother, Maria Alcantar, of Garden City, Kan., on vacation to Mankato Monday to see the underwater city, the pyramid and maybe do some whale watching. But when they arrived at their motel, they found no one knew about these and dozens of other attractions that the Web site at http://city-mankato.us claims Mankato offers.

“Over the summer my mom was looking up Minnesota, where she lived (when she was a child), and she found the Web site,” Prada said. “She would have no way of knowing if these things existed — she was just a child.”

The tourist attractions listed on the site — called “Mankato, MN: The Official City-Mankato.US Home Page” — do not exist. The site was built in 1996 by Don Descy, an educational studies professor at Minnesota State University, to teach his students against believing everything they read on the Internet.

Descy is out of the country and did not reply to e-mail. It is unclear if Descy considered taking the Web site down after learning of similar incidents in the past when people have visited Mankato based on his site.

There is a disclaimer on the site. At the bottom of the main page the word “Disclaimer” is a link, which goes to another page of various paragraphs of text. At the bottom of that page, part four of the disclaimer reads: “Mankato, as portrayed on these pages, DOES NOT EXIST! ...or does it??? PLEASE do not come here to see these sights. (This had to be added because several individuals have come here to see some of the sights listed on these pages!) What can I say??”

There also are clues on the site that it is fake. No. 15 on the attractions list is simply “A Girl,” which leads to a picture of Pamela Anderson. Also, the Minnesota River does not contain whales, which are saltwater animals, as is stated in No. 12.

Shelly Schultz, Mankato public information director, said the city takes great care to ensure the city’s official Web site includes accurate information. She deferred questions to the Greater Mankato Chamber of Commerce regarding the city’s stance on Descy’s site.

Liz Sharp of the Chamber said there’s little the Chamber can do about Descy’s Web site.

“We have no control over anything that’s out there regarding his Web site, and, yes, people have come to town because of that,” she said.

The Chamber sent a letter to Descy in 1996, which he posted on his site, that states the Chamber is troubled by the site and was embarrassed when people have called and inquired about the fictitious attractions.

Prada and her mother would like the disclaimer to be more visible on the page. The two left Mankato Tuesday morning on the way to West Bend, Iowa, to see the Grotto of the Redemption before Prada drops her mother off in Kansas and heads home to Texas.

When she left Tuesday, Prada said she could at least take comfort in knowing the Grotto will actually be there when they arrive.

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