20 Spooky Ghost Towns Across America

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WELCOME, STRANGER

There is something unsettling about walking through an abandoned town, whether the buildings are crumbling and broken or still creepily intact, as though residents just disappeared into thin air. Some ghost towns provide insight into the country's history, while others are steeped in folk tales and ghost stories. Most are free to explore, making for an offbeat and low-budget travel experience.

Doom Town, Nevada
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ATOMIC RELIC | DOOM TOWN, NEVADA

In the Nevada desert about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas is an unexpected and uncanny sight: picture-perfect houses filled with midcentury furniture, cars in driveways, food on kitchen tables, and mannequins posed as though engaged in household tasks. Built by the Federal Civil Defense Administration, the site was used to test the impact of an atomic bomb (detonated nearby on May 5, 1955) on a "typical American community" of homes, a radio station, and other buildings made of wood, brick, and steel. What remains of the fake community, now called "Doom Town," is a reminder of the paranoia and fear of the Cold War years and a highlight of monthly tours of the Nevada National Security Site, which are free but must be reserved far in advance — as of early October, there are no slots available until more than a year later in November 2019.

Concrete City, Nanticoke, Pennsylvania
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INDUSTRIAL REMNANT | THE CONCRETE CITY, NANTICOKE, PENNSYLVANIA

Built by a coal company in 1911, what is now called the Concrete City was a small settlement where coal miners could rent a seven-room house for $8 a month. Believed to be the first example of tract housing, the 22 homes were built entirely out of concrete. The damp climate and porous concrete meant every household needed a garden hose to regularly wash the "culm" from walls inside and out. The settlement was abandoned in 1924 when a new owner didn't want to pay to install a sewer system demanded by the township. Attempts to demolish the site were given up quickly after a hundred sticks of dynamite failed to topple even one of the concrete structures. A small wading pool in the town square is all that remains of a common courtyard that once included tennis courts, a baseball field, and a playground, and the homes are riddled with bullet holes after being used for training by the military and police and fire departments.

Garnet, Montana
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AFTER THE GOLD RUSH | GARNET, MONTANA

Garnet was born during the gold rush of 1895 and home to nearly a thousand miners and homesteaders at its peak. The mines were quickly depleted and most people were gone by 1912, but two dozen wood buildings persist, making this one of the best-preserved mining towns in the U.S. It looks almost like a movie set for an Old West boomtown. Today it is owned and managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Volunteers recruited to maintain the site give tours and get free lodging in a rustic Garnet cabin, as well as a small stipend. Beware, though: They report paranormal sightings and unearthly noises in the night.

Ludlow Massacre Site, Trinidad, Colorado
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DEADLY PROTEST | LUDLOW, COLORADO

Rather than ghost stories and local legends, this coal mining town is the site of a real-life horror story. In 1913, thousands of miners went on strike to protest their living and working conditions, only to be kicked out by their employer. About 1,200 workers and their families built a makeshift tent city near the mine and continued to protest. In April 1914, when the miners were celebrating Greek Easter, militiamen surrounded the camp, peppering it with gunfire and setting the tents ablaze. Eleven children and two women huddled in a foxhole were among those who lost their lives as the camp burned to the ground. The Colorado Coal Strike has been called the deadliest in U.S. history, claiming between 69 and 199 lives. Today, those who visit the remains of the company town, near Trinidad, can see the foxhole and a monument to those killed in the massacre.

Rush, Arkansas
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HIKE THROUGH TIME | RUSH, ARKANSAS

A zinc mining town, Rush hit its peak during World War I, when it had a population of 22,000. It was the second-largest city in the state, and one of the most prosperous. When zinc prices declined after the war, so did the town, and it was officially declared a ghost town in 1972. What makes Rush unique is that it is cared for by the National Park Serviceas part of the Buffalo National River park, which means the original buildings and mines are well-preserved. A number of hiking paths wind around the town and mines, with plaques telling the story of the town, making it a favorite spot for locals looking for a hike with a bit of history.

Bodie, California
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WILD WEST CURSE | BODIE, CALIFORNIA

A reverend described Bodie in 1881 as "a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion." At its peak, the gold-mining town had more than 10,000 residents and 30 mines, as well as all the features of a Wild West boomtown: saloons, brothels, opium dens, gambling halls, and breweries. Hundred-gallon barrels of whiskey were rolled down the main street, where there were 65 saloons in just a mile. Street fights, shootouts, and killings happened on a daily basis, and the town earned a reputation for lawlessness and vice. The boom lasted just a few years, and by 1900 the town was in decline. Devastated by multiple fires over the years, the town had only a handful of residents by the end of World War II. Two were killed in a crime of passion, three died of mysterious illnesses, and Bodie was officially a ghost town by 1950. A number of ghosts supposedly inhabit the buildings, and it is also said that anyone who takes something from Bodie — even a pebble — will be cursed with misfortune. Today, about 10 percent of Bodie's original buildings endure, largely unchanged, and visitors can see a logbook recording all the missing items people have returned to try to lift their curses.

Helltown, Ohio
Photo credit: Abandoned Helltown Barn by Andrew Borgen (CC BY-ND)

FORCED OUT | HELLTOWN, OHIO

The town formerly known as Boston, Ohio, is cloaked in tales of Satan worship, children murdered by serial killers, cult rituals, and ghostly figures, but the real history of "Helltown" is compelling enough. In 1974, in response to concern over the destruction of the nation's forests, President Gerald Ford signed a bill to create a national park in Boston Township. Using the powers of eminent domain, the National Park Service began buying Boston piece by piece, forcing people from their homes — prompting one resident to write on a wall, "Now we know how the Indians felt." By the time the town was emptied, plans for a national park had fallen by the wayside. What remains today are boarded-up houses, old farm equipment, crumbling bridges, and even an old school bus. Helltown now serves as a place for locals to go get creeped out by ghost stories.

Henry River Mill Village, North Carolina
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'DISTRICT 12' | HENRY RIVER MILL VILLAGE, NORTH CAROLINA

This particular town, near Hildebran, has a unique claim to fame: It was used as the setting for District 12 in the "Hunger Games" movies. It was a classic American mill town that sprang up around a yarn manufacturer opened in 1905. As the economy and nature of manufacturing changed, towns like this one suffered. The mill finally shut down in 1973, and the last resident left in 1987 — but a family has it under contract as of October 2017 to revive the town, and proceeds from tours of the site will go to historic preservation.

Africatown, Mobile, Alabama
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GHANA IN THE USA | AFRICATOWN, MOBILE, ALABAMA

Africatown represents a unique chapter in African-American history. The last slave ship arrived in America in 1860, more than 50 years after the African slave trade was outlawed. It was intercepted by authorities, and the 32 people brought over as slaves from Ghana were given land in Alabama. They created a self-governing society, living off the land and transplanting their culture and language to the settlement. Africatown flourished as emancipated slaves joined the community, and paper mills and other industry provided employment to residents. But the pollution also made Africatown less desirable. As the original settlers died and the following generations assimilated, it largely disappeared. Today, much of the area is part of Mobile, and the original homes and cemetery make up the Africatown Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Centralia, Pennsylvania
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PERPETUALLY ON FIRE | CENTRALIA, PENNSYLVANIA

The inspiration behind many a creepy movie, Centralia was once home to more than 2,000 people. Nearby coal mines caught fire in 1962 and continue to burn. Today Centralia is a ghost town with sulfurous steam spewing out of the ground. It's best to visit in the fall and winter, when low temperatures make it easier to see the steam.

Goldfield, Arizona
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GHOSTS OF THE GOLD RUSH | GOLDFIELD, ARIZONA

Arizona's only narrow gauge train runs through Goldfield, which is spooky in and of itself — but is also the gateway to the Superstition Mountains. Like so many creepy ghost towns, Goldfield, as the name implies, was once a thriving mining community. In fact, the boom was so big in the 1890s that Goldfield, on the legendary Apache Trail, was on track to grow larger than Mesa. Then the vein dried up, the saloons closed, the schoolhouse and meat market shuttered their doors, the people left, and the legends began.
Terlingua, Texas
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MEMORIES OF MERCURY | TERLINGUA, TEXAS

Nestled on the edge of Big Bend National Park on the border of Mexico is the ghost town of Terlingua. If it's not haunted as the legends claim, it sure looks the part. Once a town based around the mining of a toxic mineral called cinnabar, which holds the heavy metal mercury, Terlingua is now mostly "decaying buildings, mine shafts, tall tales, ruins, crotchety old-timers, a three-legged dog, too much cactus, and semi-friendly rattlesnakes," according to the ghost town's online profile.
Cahawba, Alabama
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CASUALTY OF CIVIL WAR | CAHAWBA, ALABAMA

Between the years 1819-26, Cahawba was the capital of Alabama; though the capital moved, it remained home to some 3,000 people. The Civil War, however, rendered it a ghost town, after Confederate soldiers tore up the town's railroads to extend their own railway and installed a hellish prison for captured Union soldiers. It was the beginning of the end, and townspeople packed and left. Although newly freed slaves took over for a spell after the war, Cahawba was all but abandoned by 1900, with almost no structures surviving past 1930. The abandoned town remains important archaeologically because it hides ruins from Native American who lived in the area 4,000 years ago.
Kalapana, Hawaii
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THE GHOSTS OF KILAUEA | KALAPANA, HAWAII

Plenty of American ghost towns earned their status because mines closed down, railroads shuttered or war broke out — but some owe their demise to the wrath of Mother Nature. In 1983, Kilauea erupted and molten lava spewed across the Big Island. By 1990, the residents of Kalapana realized the Hawaiian volcanoes were reclaiming the town for itself. By the time the flowing lava hardened into black rock, only a few buildings were left standing. Today, Kalapana is one of the most eerie, most unique ghost towns in the world.
Thurmond, West Virginia
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A CITY OF SEVEN | THURMOND, WEST VIRGINIA

As of the 2010 Census, exactly five human souls called Thurmond home. But the next five years experienced a veritable boom: the addition of two townspeople. (In 2015, six out of Thurmond's seven residents ran for office.) A 1920s-era coal town frozen in time, Thurmond boasts the No. 2 least-used Amtrak station, behind only Sanderson, Texas. The town is famous for holding a 14-year poker game that Ripley's Believe it or Not calls the longest in history. Although there were at one point hundreds of residents, two banks, two hotels, and several commercial buildings, most of those burned down or were abandoned. Thurmond has been a creepy ghost town since around 1950.
Nevada City, Montana
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ABANDONED, BUT REMODELED | NEVADA CITY, MONTANA

Nevada City stands out, if nothing else, for the fact it's one of the only fully refurbished genuine ghost towns in the country. By 1945, the once thriving mining community was abandoned, but a family by the name of Bovey had restored the town by 1978 to become a living time capsule, complete with old-time calliopes, music boxes, and player pianos, not to mention a nice collection of historically accurate original log buildings.
Kennicott, Alaska
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GHOSTS OF THE ARCTIC | KENNICOTT, ALASKA

When Kennicott was founded in 1903, miners flocked there to wrestle copper from the ground for rich salaries unheard of in the lower 48. During the Great Depression, the price of copper plummeted, the town's five mines shut down, as did the railroad, and the miners and their families packed up and high-tailed it out of town. What was left was one of the most remote, most isolated, most scenic ghost towns in the world. Looming large 14 stories over the Kennicott Glacier is the towering red mill building that once was the heart of the town's mining operation.
Rhyolite, Nevada
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FROM BOOM TO BUST | RHYOLITE, NEVADA

When quartz and gold were discovered in the hills of Rhyolite in 1904, the find triggered one of the fastest, shortest-lived booms any boom town has ever experienced. Thousands of claims were launched, and banks, foundries, shops, hotels, a school, and even a stock exchange and two electric plants rose out of the dust. An opera house, billiards rooms, and a world-class red-light district were all part of the action, but just four years later, a financial panic started it all crashing down. Rhyolite is now among the finest examples of Nevada's rich ghost town history.
Cairo, Illinois
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BROKEN PROMISED LAND | CAIRO, ILLINOIS

You know Cairo as the destination for freed slaves in Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" — and the once-bustling boom town on the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers was exactly that ... for a while. When the ferry and riverboat industries collapsed, so did Cairo's downtown district. Today, downtown Cairo is a curious blend of sad and spooky, a mere shell of what once was the fabled Promised Land.
Bara-Hack, Connecticut
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OLDIE BUT GONE-IE | BARA-HACK, CONNECTICUT

Connecticut is home to some of the earliest settlements in America, but not all lived to tell the tale. One of those long-forgotten settlements is Bara-Hack, which was full of life in the 1790s but has long been in the process of being reclaimed by the rugged Connecticut wilderness. When early optimism gave way to the harsh realities of Colonial life, the town was lost. Bara-Hack was probably abandoned by the time of the Civil War and certainly was empty by the turn of the 20th century. Today, it's little more than a collection of rapidly fading ruins.

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