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Forgotten But Not Gone - 20 Ghost Towns You Can Actually Visit

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Some towns grow quickly, sprouting up as if overnight as a new business brings money and jobs to the area. Some towns grow slowly, attracting people slowly over time due to a variety of different factors. However, some towns cease to grow at all. Through some economic, natural or financial devastation, the residents of the town are forced to leave their homes and look for greener pastures as, for most people, a town cannot survive without infrastructure, jobs or community. These are ghost towns. The buildings are there, but nobody is home. The term "ghost town" is most often associated with the old Wild West towns from the western United States, but ghost towns exist all around the world. Some of them you cannot visit, usually because it is downright dangerous, but others you can visit, explore and even tour as an attraction in the area.

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Pripyat, Ukraine

Let's just go ahead and get Pripyat out of the way right from the get go, shall we? Pripyat, Ukraine - for those who don't know - was the fully functional town that housed the families and workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant. By 1986, Pripyat had soared to a population of 49,400 people who worked at what was then Europe's largest nuclear plant or held jobs in Pripyat's own infrastructure. The city had an abundance of schools, hospitals, shopping centers and was even working on an amusement park. However, days after Chernobyl started to melt down and radiation sickness was reported throughout Pripyat, the city was evacuated, it's residents never to return. While Pripyat, and indeed a large radius around Chernobyl, will not be suitable for humans to resettle for a few hundred years yet, you can still visit it. Tours of Pripyat are actually pretty big business these days.


salton sea
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Salton Sea, California

In the early 1900s, the California Development Company dug irrigation canals from the Colorado River into the defunct dry lakebed of the ancient Lake Cahuilla in order to bring agriculture to the area. They did not mean to build a lake, but due to an engineering error, they did. So thus, the Salton Sea was formed. For those who lived in inland California, a lake was a great way to spend a leisurely Sunday and resort development flocked to the area. A navy test base was formed and the Salton Sea soon became a playground for the rich and famous.  It was even stocked with all manner of saltwater fish, attracting birds and sport fishermen alike.

Due to salt deposits in the area, the Salton Sea gradually had higher and higher salt content in its waters, which would have been fine. I mean, it works fine for the Dead Sea, right? However, the lake was also being filled with irrigation run off from nearby farms which, in the 1950s, meant lots and lots of fertilizing chemicals. Salt and chemicals don't evaporate like water, thus the Salton Sea became practically toxic.

The fish died, the birds died and the whole area smelt like decay by the 1970s. The sea still exists, but no one wants to go near it. The resorts are almost all half underwater from floods and continued farm runoff, the Hollywood beach bungalows are lonely ruins and only a handful of old-timers remain in salt-stained trailers.

The area still smells like decay due to the 4 million tilapia that can still live in the super-salty chemical water; however, plummeting temperatures in the winter and lack of oxygen in the water are killing them still today. Worst of all, if you get too close to the water, the crusted white salt ground collapses and leaves visitors ankle deep in wet, stinking mud.

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Montefalcone, Italy

In 1376, Rinaldo, the Lord of Monteverde, won control of Fermo after they rebelled against the papal government with the aid of his paid army of foreign mercenaries. In four short years, the Lord of Monteverde had earned such a reputation for cruelty during his vicious rule that he was given the nickname of the "Second Nero". Fermo rose up in rebellion again. They had secretly been making alliances and rallying the armies of neighbouring towns to overthrow Rinaldo. However, as the armies approached, he rode with his family and 1,500 knights to the nearby small castle town of Montefalcone, towering above Fermo on a hill. Ill supplied for a siege, the Lord of Monteverde soon surrendered. Rinaldo, his wife, his legitimate sons and his bastard children were all hung and beheaded for good measure. The castle was abandoned, and the small town slowly declined until no one was left. Now visitors can walk the ruins and hear tales of the ancient cruelty.

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Kolmanskop, Namibia

For those that travel far into the harsh Namib desert in southern Namibia, they will find a distinctly out of place German town being swallowed up by the constantly shifting sands. Originally, workers were sent to this area to build a railway to the sea in 1908. During this time, the area was ruled by Germany where German supervisors exploited local African labor. One day, one of the workers found a diamond in the sand and showed it to his German supervisor. Realizing the area was rich with diamonds, Kolmanskop was settled by German miners looking to make it big.

Driven by the prospect of wealth, more and more Germans flocked to the area and the town flourished. They built schools, theatres, casinos and Africa's first tram. However, after World War I, the diamond-field was near exhausted and it was ultimately abandoned in 1954. With no reliable source of water and transport infrastructure constantly overrun by the shifting sand, the town died. Now as the sands engulf the abandoned German buildings, it lives on only through the avid tourism to the area.

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Picher, Oklahoma

The Environmental Protection Agency calls Picher the most toxic place in the United States, but it wasn't always that way. The city was once the most productive lead and zinc mining area in the world. Unfortunately, it was so productive due to centuries of unrestricted excavation where mining companies focused more on finding the next good vein rather than safe disposal of metal-contaminated tailings. The city is surrounded by giant heaps of dirt from the now defunct mines that contain massive amounts of lead. In 1967, the contaminated water from the mines turned the locals creeks as red as blood with lead and zinc seeping into the water supply. Cancer rates in Picher skyrocketed and the mines were eventually closed in the early 80's.

However, most residents of Picher stubbornly stayed in the city until 2006, only leaving when the town was faced with the imminent threat that it would collapse into the mines. Deemed too toxic to clean up, the government helped resettle residents elsewhere. However, six residents are still too stubborn to leave their homes, even after the town was ravaged by a tornado in 2008.

While not technically a ghost town, it is still one of the most depressing places in the United States. The water still runs red, a shadow is cast over the town by the massive contaminated dirt piles and most buildings still look like a tornado hit them yesterday.

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Kennecott, Alaska

In August 1900, two prospectors spotted a green patch on the mountainside that looked to be a good grazing spot for their horses. What they discovered instead was just a small section of the copper ore in the mountain that had greened from the elements. Returning with nine friends, the pair of prospectors founded the Chitina Mining and Exploration Company, later discovering traces of gold and silver in the mountain as well. After the mining company was bought out by the Guggenheim family and J.P. Morgan, they formed the Kennecott Copper Corporation, a name that was drawn from the nearby glacier and came to be the name of the town that formed around the five mines in the area.

For a time, Kennecott was the richest known copper concentration in the world. However, by 1925, geologists predicted that the end was nigh for the high-grade ore bodies. Slowly over the next few years each of the five mines closed their doors. By 1938, Kennecott was a complete ghost town with the families that lived and worked there moving on after the work dried up.

Although by the 1980s Kennecott was a major destination for visiting hikers, it never became repopulated. Most hikers enjoy the scenic walk from nearby McCarthy to the abandoned buildings of Kennecott. It is so beloved by nearby residents that it was officially named a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

battle of tippecanoe
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Prophet's Town, Indiana

Prophet's Town was built in the early 1800s and was home to the Shawnee chief Tecumseh's Native American Confederacy. At its peak, Prophet's Town was home to over 1,000 Native American warriors that lived within its boundaries and trained to stop the aggressive westward expansion of the United States. The town was destroyed in 1811 by William H. Harrison's forces immediately following the devastation loss of the native confederation at the Battle of Tippecanoe. After watching the hopes of confederation burn on the battlefield, Tecumseh joined forces with the British in the War of 1812, dying at the Battle of the Thames.

Today, very little remains of Prophet's Town, although what is left is protected by a state park. Visitors flock here to view native artifacts and reconstructions. They also visit museums in the nearby modern town of Battlefield that sits on the very ground of the Battle of Tippecanoe.

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Balaclava, Ontario

Balaclava was originally a mill town built in 1855 on the banks of Constant Creek. Within five years, jobs at the mill had attracted workers and their families to live in the area. Up until 1957, the mill continued to churn out boards even after being damaged by fire. When David Dick took over the mill in 1957, he found the majority of timber depleted in the area. The mill was only putting out a few thousand boards per year compared to the millions per week it created in its peak. In 1959, the mill was shut down for good, one of the last purely water powered mills in Canada to close its doors.

With the work gone, the people of Balaclava went with it. Today, the town looks like an iconic ghost town image straight out of Hollywood with ramshackle buildings lining a narrow street with doors and windows creaking in the wind. While visitors can tour the town, give the mill a wide berth, the owner keeps threatening to tear it down if people don't stop trespassing.

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Shoshoni, Wyoming

In 1905, Shoshoni, much like a number of towns in Wyoming, was built due to the booming demand of oil and uranium. Wyoming has the highest concentration of uranium in the world; however, the uranium bubble has been booming and busting since the 1900s. It was the big bust of 1950 that killed Shoshoni. The world decided it didn't want Wyoming's impure uranium and the government deemed open pit uranium mines unsafe. With the major work source of the town shut down, the population of the town plummeted. Today, Shoshoni is considered a semi-ghost town. It is still home to 500 people, though that number drops each year. Due to its close proximity to the Old Yellowstone Highway, the town is able to scratch out a living from tourist visitors who drive through town and wonder why there are so many empty houses.

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Kayakoy, Turkey

The village of Kayakoy was once a bustling little town nestled in the Taurus Mountains with close access to the beautiful coast of Olu Deniz in Turkey. Today, it sits abandoned with its stone buildings roofless and its narrow stone streets weathering with age. It may look like an ancient ghost town, but it was populated up until the 1920s. Kayakoy was built in the 1700s and originally went by the name Karmylassos - meaning "Stone Village" in Greek - due to the 20,000 Greek Orthodox residents that lived there. Greeks and resident Turks lived peacefully together in the village until the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

This collapse of one of the world's last ancient empires caused a massive land grab in the area between Turkey and Greece, ultimately resulting in the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. The war eventually ended with a resounding loss for the Greeks and bad blood between Greek and Turk communities.

Not in Kayakoy though, even after the war the Greek Orthodox residents and Turkish Muslims remained pleasant neighbors. Unfortunately, Turkey and Greece agreed on a population exchange. Greek Orthodox Christians living in Turkey would be resettled in Greece, and Muslim Turks living in Greece would be resettled in Turkey. With the majority of their Greek neighbors gone and Greek Turks resettling elsewhere in Turkey, the remaining residents of Kayakoy left too, leaving 350 empty buildings behind.

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Ludlow, California

Ludlow, California was always a little town and it was one serious scrapper. For years, Ludlow clung to life, refusing to become another iconic Wild West ghost town, but ultimately it failed. Ludlow started life in 1883 as a water stop for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. However, after ore was found in nearby hills (history seems to have glossed over what kind of ore), Ludlow experienced a boom. From 1906 to 1940, the town mined and exported ore, becoming the southern railhead for the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad that took borax and other mining products from Death Valley and Beatty, Nevada to the long distance Santa Fe Railway.

After 1940, the local mining in Ludlow had dried up and railway activity had ceased to come through the town as many companies saw quicker, more direct lines being built. The only lifeline Ludlow had left was servicing the travellers along the National Old Trails Road, better known as Route 66.

However, after Interstate 40 was built in 1960, Ludlow was finally defeated. Interstate 40 completely bypassed the town and Route 66 was not as kitschy as it is today. Now Ludlow is a novel, but dead, stop on Route 66.

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Drawbridge, California

The story of Drawbridge started in 1876 when a tiny cabin was built a few miles north of Alviso for the drawbridge operator of the South Coast Pacific Railroad. It wasn't long before his friend built his own house in the area so they could enjoy the abundant hunting, fishing and whiskey drinking that the area had to offer. Soon, those who rode the trains saw all the fun these two drunkards were having and Drawbridge became a regular stop on the train line. By the 1880s, the area saw around 1,000 visitors a week flocking to the town for vacations of hunting, fishing and whiskey drinking.

By 1926, Drawbridge had more than 90 buildings with a well and electricity. They had even split themselves in half with the snooty Protestants living in North Drawbridge while the wilder Catholics enjoyed South Drawbridge. Unfortunately, while the town seemed to be right on the brink of taking off, the end for it was already looming.

Construction in nearby San Jose saw millions of gallons of water and raw sewage pumped into the wetlands around Drawbridge. It caused the city to sink and stink simultaneously. With the raw sewage and nearby salt industry polluting the waters, the game fled and the fish died. With no game to hunt and no fish to catch, the sportsmen left the city. No one could endure the smell anymore so the trains stopped stopping there.

One of the last residents was Charlie Luce and Nellie "Shotgun" Dollin, who refused to leave and shot at anyone who tried to uproot them. However, by 1979 even they were gone and Drawbridge was an official ghost town. It's a little bit cleaner now, but the remaining buildings of the city continue to sink into the wetlands.

Pennsylvania Ghost Towns: Uncovering the Hidden Past
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Craco, Italy

Craco, Italy has had a long tenure in the hills of the Mediterranean; however, after 1,400 years of surviving the Black Plague and marauding foreign raiders, Craco was finally abandoned after a cataclysmic event. 

Craco was built in the 8th century on a hill that towers 800 feet off the ground. With their superior panoramic view and tough stone walls, the city was easily prepared to take on the wandering hordes that made the medieval period so volatile.

Although nature provided Craco with so many natural advantages, it only took one serious natural disadvantage to lead to its downfall. Its position in the middle of a grassy field on top of a hill left it vulnerable to earthquakes that resulted in devastating landslides. This city persisted right up until 1991 when a landslide forced residents to evacuate and never return. While the emigration left Craco eerily uninhabited, it is still home to many religious festivals due to its ancient statue of the Virgin Mary. The city has also been used in backdrops of Hollywood movies such as The Passion of the Christ and King David.

gold field
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Goldfield, Arizona

Goldfield sits up upon a hill near the Superstition and Goldfield Mountains. When prospectors found gold in them there hills in 1892, a town quickly formed and prospered. The initial gold strike saw more than three million dollars worth of gold come through the town, with subsequent strikes drawing more than four thousand people to Goldfield. In its heyday, Goldfield had all the trappings of a rowdy Wild West gold town. They had multiple saloons, their own brewery, a brothel and a general store to keep it all going.

The fifty mines within Goldfield quickly threatened to outshine Mesa; however, it was Mesa, not Goldfield, which endured. The Goldfield mines saw the gold veins break and, in the blink of an eye, the promise of ever-lasting wealth was gone. Without any gold, the four thousand people of the city left just as quickly. Some attempts were made to reopen the mines and the city, but they ultimately failed. Today, hikers head to Goldfield for the beautiful ruins and the magnificent views of the Superstition Mountains.

Olympic Village
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Olympic Village, Germany

Over the years, cities around the world have worked to out due their predecessors when it came to the Olympic Games. Each city holding magnificent opening ceremonies and building decadent stadiums to house the international games and show off their individual wealth and might to the world. In 1931, Berlin won the right to host the summer Olympic Games in 1936. Nazi-controlled Berlin threw itself into constructing pharonic structures that would house 4,000 athletes from around the world to rest and compete in the best possible conditions. Although Europe was on the brink of war, Nazi Germany saw this as yet another way to show their power off to the world.

Adolf Hitler's own German "supermen" lived up to his dreams of glory, winning 90 medals during the games, utterly trouncing other countries. The only real upset to the blossoming German war machine was a devastation loss in track-and-field at the hands of America's African American runner Jesse Owens.

After the Olympics, the Olympic Village was transformed into a military school. After World War II, it was used to house Soviet soldiers. After it was finally abandoned in 1992, it was left in a state of disrepair. Out of the 145 original buildings, only 25 still stand, including the swimming pool, gym theatre and dining hall, each crumbling more with the passing of each day.

Hot Springs
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Hot Springs, Texas

Although Hot Springs, Texas is nothing but a ghost town today, it was never a very large town even on its best day. Like its name suggests, Hot Springs, Texas was built around natural hot springs referred to by the natives in the area as the Boquillas, or "Little Mouths," spring. At first the land was reserved by railroad surveyors, but after several deals fell through, it was bought by J.O. Langford that had heard the native legends of the hot spring water having medicinal properties. Langford, severely weakened by multiple bouts with malaria during his childhood in Mississippi, built a small homestead in the area and documented the improvement to his health through bathing and drinking the water.

When Langford returned to bring his wife and family to the homestead, Cleofas Natividad and his family took up residence on Langford's land. After some debate, Langford let Natividad stay and the pair worked the land together. As the land was conveniently placed along a trade road, the hot springs had frequent visitors. Langford and Natividad built a post office, trading post and a health resort that flourished. Hot Springs, Texas continued to thrive until 1942 when the Langford's sold it to the state of Texas where it would then be donated to Big Bend National Park. The hot springs still exists, but the original bath house has long fallen into disrepair. Today, visitors still bath in the water that is rich with calcium carbonate, calcium sulfate, sodium sulfate, sodium chloride, and lithium. However, studies have shown that the flow rate of the spring is decreasing, meaning that someday the eponymous hot spring of Hot Spring, Texas may soon be gone as well.

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Bodie, California

In 1859, the rich veins on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains had already started to decline, leading prospectors to explore the eastern slopes. One prospector, William S. Bodie, discovered gold on a bluff on the eastern side. Unfortunately, a harsh winter storm claimed his life that same year before he could live long enough to see the resulting town in the area named after him.

Throughout the 1800s, Bodie became the quintessential Wild West town. Miners, gamblers and businessmen flooded the area as new, rich gold veins were discovered in the mines. Like many mining camps in the west, it gained a violent reputation. Murder and robberies were daily events with stagecoach hold ups and street fights being regular events as well. Every mile among the 10,000 buildings was a bustling saloon with several breweries working day and night to quench the thirsts of local miners as well as whiskey being shipped in by the 100 gallon barrel full. One of Bodie's most famously immortalized histories came in the form of a letter from a little girl moving to the area. She reportedly wrote: "Goodbye God! We are going to Bodie.”

In the 1900s, Bodie had started to decline, but many mines merged, managing to keep the town afloat. It was a mixture of the Great Depression and Prohibition that put the final nail in Bodie. With no work and no liquor to drink away their sorrows, miners and their families did not want to stay. In 1932, a very bad two-year-old boy burned down 90% of Bodie's buildings after playing with matches. Yet, it still persisted, however by World War II the town's last mine was closed.

By then, only six people remained in Bodie. As the story goes, one of the men shot his wife and was later killed by three of the other men. The murdering man would soon appear to these three other men shaking his fist and they all died untimely deaths.

That isn't the only ghost story in Bodie, though. One of the most popular stories is the Bodie Curse. Supposedly, if you remove anything from Bodie, even a pebble, you will be cursed with bad luck. The misfortune will heap upon your person until the stolen item is returned. Today, the Bodie Park Rangers keep a book of items that have been returned to the park by visitors that wanted to test the legend.

battleship island
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Battleship Island, Japan

Off the coast of Nagasaki in the rough surf sits Hashima Island. However, from the shore, it's easy to see how it got its nickname of Battleship Island, with unmoveable walls and towering buildings of concrete. In 1959, over 5,000 people lived in this tiny coal-mining city off the coast. The city was more densely packed in than Manhattan and housed residents in Japan's largest concrete buildings.

The coal on Hashima was tapped by the Mitsubishi Corporation in the early 1900s after they found coal on the neighboring Nagasaki islands. On Hashima, they looked to exploit coal beds on the ocean floor. At its prime, Hashima exported 150,000 tons of coal per year, attracting miners and their families that could live and work on the small island.

As Japan entered World War II, the demand for coal skyrocketed. The workers of Hashima were no longer permitted to leave the island and they reached a new record of 410,000 tons of coal export per year. However, this achievement was reached through extreme human suffering. While many of the strong young men on Hashima were recruited and sent off to war, the miners were replaced with Chinese and Korean prisoners that were worked to the extreme. By 1945, 1,300 laborers had died from accidents in the mine, illness or malnutrition. More still had chosen a quicker death by jumping off the protective, wave-battered sea wall and trying in vain to swim back to the mainland.

After World War II, the coal of Hashima was no longer used in Japan's war machine, but instead was used to rebuild the country after their humiliating defeat. During the Korean War, Hashima Island like the rest of the Japan, entered a golden age of prosperity; however, in the 1960s, the fortunes of Hashima Island began to shift. As Japan moved away from coal toward petroleum, Hashima saw a rapid decline. Mine after mine closed until the announcement that the island would close on January 15th, 1974. The resulting exodus proceeded with amazing speed as the last resident vacated the island that following April.

Today, Hashima looms off the coast like a battleship dead in the water. The buildings that were so sturdily made of concrete sit like empty shells while the sea wall is slowly chipped away by the ocean. Visitors can take tours of Hashima Island and wonder why anyone would ever want to live in such a cramped space with not a green plant to be seen.

san zhi
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San Zhi, Taiwan

In the north of Taiwan, visitors can spot the odd circular buildings of San Zhi long before they get there. This futuristic pod village was initially built as a luxury vacation retreat for the rich in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, investment capital had dried up and the half-finished UFO buildings were left to rot.

So what happened to San Zhi?

The most commonly suggested reasons that San Zhi failed are a mix of poor financial prospects combined with regional superstition.

As San Zhi was being built, there were several fatal accidents on the construction site. Some of them were so severe that it forced the contractor to temporary halt work until the gore could be cleaned up. As the number of fatalities increased, the amount of investment capital declined. Many investors believed that the ghosts of those who died were now causing more fatal accidents on the site. Today, the government is so ashamed by the San Zhi incident, that it has deeply buried all those responsible. Today, interested parties cannot even turn up the construction companies or architects involved with the projects. While visitors can walk the grounds, in the government's eyes, it is a project that never existed.

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Apr 29, 2015 9:04pm
There are some truly fascinating places in your article. I am particularly intrigued by the Olympic Village and San Zhi.
May 24, 2015 6:27am
Most excellent! And good for you for making your list more global instead of just the US! I'll be sharing the hell out of this article once I get my PC fired up today. Thumb for now.
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