One of the most celebrated American authors of the 20th century used the fictional town of Ilium, New York, as the setting for many of his stories. But was Ilium a work of pure fiction, or was it based on a real place?


Opening Of "Brooklyn Boy"
Getty Images

Born in 1922, Kurt Vonnegut published 14 novels over the course of his 50+ year writing career, including such masterpieces as "Slaughterhouse Five" and "Cat's Cradle." His style could be described as darkly humorous and semi-autobiographical. Vonnegut had a tendency to write about real people, places and situations, filtered through a satirical lens.

This is why many fans of Vonnegut have been curious about Ilium, New York, a town he's used in several stories.


Although he was born in Indianapolis, Vonnegut was very familiar with Upstate New York. He briefly attended Cornell University in Ithaca in 1940 before dropping out to enlist in the Army.

There are some that say Vonnegut named Ilium after Troy, New York, as "Ilium" was the name the ancient Romans used for Troy. Others say that Ilium could refer to the town of Ilion in Herkimer County, based on its similar spelling and phenetic sound. 

The Paris Review Foundation Presents Fall Revel Honoring William Styron
Getty Images

A more widely accepted theory is that Ilium is based on Schenectady in the Hudson Valley. In Vonnegut's town of Ilium, a fictional Iroquois River seems to stand in for the actual Mohawk River, along with the fictional corporation "Ilium Works" bearing resemblance to the General Electric plant in Schenectady where Vonnegut once worked.

Complicating the evidence is that some of Vonnegut's stories have Ilium existing in a world where Schenectady and Troy also exist, so it might not be accurate to say the fictional town is a direct swap for a real one.

Whether Ilium is actually based on a real New York town or not, the fact that people are still talking about Vonnegut's world is a testament to his impact on American culture.

seller coast-to-coast-books on eBay
seller coast-to-coast-books on eBay

The Best Movies About Writers

Writing is a lonely activity, but these great films prove it can be very cinematic.

21 Books That Are Set In Magical Upstate New York

GoodReads put together a list of 109 books that are set in Upstate New York. We wanted to highlight the 21 with the best ratings:

Own the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine!

You can buy the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine, not far from New York!

More From Big Frog 104