Halloween might be several months away, but in some places, spooky happenings occur year-round. Imagine haunted swamps and caves, decrepit (and radioactive) amusement rides, artfully arranged stacks of human bones, and forest of death.
Some of these cropped up naturally; others had a little human help before nature took over, but no matter how they came into existence, they all have one thing on common: they’re some of the creepiest places in the world.
Manchac Swamp, Louisiana
This supposedly-haunted New Orleans swamp, located near the west shore of Lake Ponchartrain, may look like any number of similar spots in South Louisiana, but legend has it that there are creepier things than just alligators hiding in the cypress trees. Manchac is supposedly home to the blood-sucking Rougarou, the Cajun version of a werewolf.
Not only that, but the swamp may be haunted by the ghost of Julie (or Julia) White, a voodoo priestess. Legend has it that White used to sit on her front porch and predict the destruction of the nearby towns, singing, “One day I’m gonna die, and I’m gonna take all of you with me.” Her prophecy turned out to be true; on the day of her funeral in 1915, a hurricane struck the area and wiped out three towns. The swamp is now a bird sanctuary, and, thanks to the occasional corpse that still floats up, a tourist haven. Night tours are offered regularly, if you want to check out the mass graves and red-eyed crocodiles. Photo credit: Judy Kiel
Aokigahara “Suicide” Forest, Japan
This 8,600-acre forest, located at the northwest base of Mt. Fuji, rates high on the creepy meter. Not only is it dense and virtually silent, but wildlife is scarce, lending an empty feeling to the woods. Aokigarhara is home to demons in Japanese mythology, but it may also be home to human spirits; since the 1950s, more than 500 people have committed suicide among the trees.
As if that weren’t freaky enough, Smarter Traveler reports that, “Every year bodies, bones, makeshift nooses, and flowers left by grieving friends and family are found on the forest floor.” Tourists can visit the area, but it’s easy to get lost (even with a GPS), so official tours are recommended. Some of the sights include a large lava cave where bats hibernate, the plastic tape residents use to make search grids during the annual hunt for bodies, and signs that read, “Life is a precious thing! Please reconsider!” Sounds fun. Photo credit: Keio
A borough in eastern Pennsylvania, Centralia used to be a bustling mining town, complete with hotels, churches, general stores and more than 20 saloons. But in 1962, things took a turn for the worse when a group of miners burned a trash pile in an abandoned mine pit, which served as the local landfill. Unbeknownst to them, there was a vein of highly-flammable anthracite coal in the pit, which quickly caught fire and spread to the underground mines.
The blaze continued unchecked for years, and finally, in 1969, a concerted effort was made to stop the still-spreading flames — but it failed. Throughout the 1970s (while suffering from carbon monoxide exposure), residents began to seriously worry about the severity of the fire. More unsuccessful attempts were made to stop the it, after it began causing numerous sinkholes throughout the borough, one of which nearly took the life of a 12-year-old boy. Finally, in the early 1980s, it was determined that the only way to extinguish the fire was undergo a $660 million trenching operation. Instead, the state opted to evacuate Centralia, and paid to relocate the residents. Today, the fire continues to burn, only a dozen people remain in the poisonous ghost town, and the highway no longer runs through it. Instead, those brave enough to follow Route 61 into Centralia come to the abrupt stop pictured above. Photo credit: CapturinG – HistorY
Chernobyl Amusement Park, Ukraine
Abandoned amusement parks can be found worldwide, from Japan to Berlin to Maryland. (Seriously, just Google the phrase “abandoned amusement parks” and revel in the creepy hits.) And although they are manmade, and thus not “naturally” occurring, there’s always something unsettling about watching Mother Nature take back the land, as trees spring up through roller coaster tracks, grass surrounds fallen statues, and the sun fades decapitated clown heads. Be that as it may, as far as I can tell, only one amusement park can claim to be both abandoned and radioactive. Naturally, it’s in the Ukraine, at the site of the Chernobyl incident. Unlike most of the other abandoned amusement parks in the world, it didn’t close due to financial losses or fatal accidents. No, the Pripyat park never actually opened — it was scheduled to on May 1, 1986, but unfortunately, the world’s worst nuclear accident happened five days before the grand opening (some reports claim that it actually opened on April 27, and closed the same day).
According to Yahoo Travel, the town’s 49,000 residents were evacuated, and “No one ever returned. Instead of children’s laughter there’s an eerie silence, a bizarre emptiness in the amusement park and surrounding buildings, now abandoned for 25 years. The corroding Ferris wheel and bumper cars are forever frozen in 1986.” Although tours are offered, radiation levels vary throughout the area, which means visitors must stay on the recommended path. In addition to the park, tour sights include a children’t nursery (complete with shoes) and the abandoned apartment complex. Photo credit: Timm Suess
Bell Witch Cave, Tennessee
Caves are always a little spooky, given that they’re frequently dark, low-ceilinged, and home to legions of bats. But the cave on John Bell’s property in Robert’s County Tennessee is extra weird: according to legend, it’s haunted by a spirit (or witch) that’s looking for its teeth. Although accounts vary, early reports state that the spirit began haunting the Bell family in 1817, claiming that, “I am a Spirit; I once was very happy, but I have been disturbed and made unhappy. I am the Spirit of a person who was buried in the woods nearby and the grave was disturbed, my bones disinterred and scattered, and one of my teeth was lost under this house. I am here looking for that tooth.”
In the 1800s, the spirit mainly focused its attacks on John Bell and his daughter, leaving them both bruised by the violent interactions. Additional incidents included, “unaccounted for knocking on the door and windows, the sound of wings flapping against the ceilings, and the sound of rats gnawing on bedposts. More disturbingly, the sound of choking and strangling could be heard along with chains dragging and heavy objects hitting the floor. Sounds emanating from the bedroom as if ‘beds were suddenly and roughly pulled apart, to which was added the sounds of fighting dogs chained together, making the noise deafening.'” The cave is now the only part of the property that remains virtually unchanged since then, and although the scale of the haunting seriously diminished after the death of the John Bell, strange occurrences are still reported, including, “Malfunctioning cameras, menacing voices, vapors, and elusive faces [that] occasionally interrupt cave tours. Photo credit: Wayne Hsieh
Truk Lagoon, Micronesia
This picturesque lagoon is 3,000 miles south of Hawaii, and on the surface, looks like a pleasant place for a swim. But below the depths, things get weird, and like the Chernobyl park, it’s a case of Mother Nature reclaiming her space after human intervention. In 1944, Allied forces sunk more than 60 Japanese warships and aircraft carriers here — with the crews still on board.
Now a popular diving spot, the lagoon functions as a ghostly undersea museum. According to MSNBC, “A ship ripped neatly in half offers a perfect cutaway view of life and death on the high seas. Everything is encrusted with barnacles, from cabins and boiler rooms to onboard assault tanks and airplanes…While swimming through the wrecks, you can spot gas masks, sake cups, and the odd ‘human remain.’ The ships are corroding fast and many have become full-fledged coral reefs, but they still provide a jaw-dropping testimony to the ravages of war.” Photo credit: Aquaimages
The Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota
File this one under unsolved geological mysteries. In Judge C.R. Magney State Park in Minnesota, the Brule River flows toward Lake Superior. On its way to the lake, the river is split in two, forming a pair of waterfalls. Pretty, right? But here’s where things get strange. The eastern waterfall behaves normally, flowing into a pool and then continuing on its way. But the western one spills vast amounts of water into a huge, mysterious hole — the Devil’s Kettle — and completely disappears.
Geologists are stumped by the phenomenon. Some speculate that the water spills into the cauldron and then empties into an underground river that flows into the lake, but no evidence of such a river has ever been found. Others suggest that perhaps the water (and trees and boulders) dumps into a volcanic tube, but volcanic tubes only exist in basalt, which is not present in the waterfall. A third option is that the water disappears into a fault line, but the problem with this theory is that, “it would have to be extremely large to allow for so much water to flow through it. It would also have to be precisely oriented toward the lake. And there’s never been any evidence of such a fault found in the area.” Over the years, people have tried to track the course of the water by throwing things in it (logs, ping pong balls) and seeing where the items reemerge, but they never do. For now, the mystery of the Devil’s Kettle remains intact. Photo credit: Chris 857
The town of Bhangarh seems to be India’s version of the lost colony of Roanoke. Once a thriving village, Bhangarh was abruptly abandoned in the 1640s, for reasons that are still unclear. Legends abound; one states that the town was cursed by the Guru Balu Nath, after a palace was built too tall. According to Wikipedia, Balu Nath “sanctioned the establishment of the town with one condition, saying, ‘The moment the shadows of your palaces touch me, the city shall be no more!’ When a descendant raised the palace to a height that cast a shadow on Balu Nath’s forbidden retreat, he cursed the town as prophesied. Balu Nath is said to lie buried there to this day.”
An alternate tale suggests that the abandonment was caused after a princess refused the advances of magician. After his spell backfired and led to his death, he cursed the town and caused a massacre, and the place was never reinhabited. Regardless of what really happened, the fact remains that no one is allowed in possibly-haunted-Bhangarh at night; signs are posted to warn people away between sunset and sunrise, and the local archaeological office is located a full half mile away from the town. Either way, it’s worth visiting — during the day — to see the amazing ruins, including the Gopinath Temple (above) and the Palace of Prostitutes, whose name suggests that perhaps there may be more to the town’s history than angry gods and vengeful shamans. Photo credit: Arindambasu2
Galveston Island, Texas
Texas may be known more for cowboys and cattle ranches than for ghosts, but the seaside city of Galveston is supposedly spirit-filled, and consistently ranks in the top 10 for most haunted American cities. Both pirate activity and war have contributed to its supposed ghost population, but most of the hauntings seem to stem from a storm. In 1900, Galveston, then Texas’s largest city, was hit by the deadliest hurricane the country had ever seen. More than 8,000 people were killed — and not all of them were properly buried.
According to Smarter Travel, “The stench of bodies could be smelled for miles. Burying them all was impossible. Even some of those buried at sea washed back onto the beaches. Spirits of the dead, still dressed in 1900s attire, have a heavy presence here. They’re most often encountered at Ashton Villa — a mansion that survived the storm — and Hotel Galvez, the island’s oldest hotel.” The hotel was actually built in 1911, so it’s unclear why the ghosts choose to haunt it, but Haunted Galveston says it’s home to the “Lovelorn Lady”, a ghost trapped on the fifth floor, as well as a haunted restroom in the lobby. The hotel takes its creepy history in stride; last October, it offered ghost tour dinners, complete with paranormal detection devices. Photo credit: Hotel Galvez
Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
Okay, it may be pushing the boundaries of “naturally-occurring” (then again, human bones are natural, right?), but the Sedlec Ossuary is too strange not to include. Located in a cavern beneath a chapel in a suburb of Prague, the ossuary houses the bones of between 40,000 and 70,000 people — and that’s not the creepy part.
In 1278, the abbot of the monastery visited the Holy Land, and returned with dirt from Golgotha, which he sprinkled over the cemetery grounds. Because of this, people all across Europe requested burial there, which subsequently led to a mass influx of bodies. The cemetery quickly became full, so the ossuary was built under the chapel, and skeletons were exhumed from the cemetery and placed beneath the church. In 1870, a woodcarver named František Rint was tasked with organizing the jumble of bones, which he did — in the form of macabre sculptures. Rint created four skull pyramids, a coat of arms, a chandelier that contains every bone in the human body, and a skeletal signature claiming the work. The ossuary is now a major Czech tourist destination (I’ve been there, and it’s worth visiting if you happen to be in Prague), has been featured in several films, and served as the inspiration for Satan’s Lair in “House of 1,000 Corpses.” Photo credit: Shutterstock.com
There you have it, folks — our roundup of the world’s spookiest sites, both those created by and reclaimed by Mother Nature, with one bony bonus. Which one do you find freakiest? And would you ever visit any of them?
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