How long would your city or town stand if all the people disappeared? How many days, weeks, months or years would it take for it to become completely overgrown? Scientists and philosophers have sought to answer that question, our understanding of eternity tied irreparably to our own impermanence.
By some measure, it would only take a few thousand years for all evidence of human life to be completely erased. It would take less than a decade for New York City to become overgrown, as the process of freezing and unthawing would crack open the concrete and plant life would take over, only getting stronger, bigger and more dominant. Over a few decades, all evidence of human farming would be gone. Animals that had retreated into the depths of forests, or survived by a hair might begin to thrive again.
Our morbid fascination with this idea is partially at the heart of our fascination with real life ghost towns. Part of our brain doesn’t quite like the idea that the world will continue spinning without us, it hits a little too close to home about our doomed irrelevance. There is also something creepy about people abandoning their homes and lives. We imagine what would push us to abandon our cities and towns, and we know that even faced with disaster, it wouldn’t be an easy choice.
There are a surprising number of ghost towns all over the United States, all in varying levels of decay. Some still have a handful of residents, but we figure if your city has less than 50 people it barely counts as a town anymore. There are also some of these available for tours if ever you want to go on a creepy vacation across the country, so if one really catches your eye, check out if you can visit them or not.
We’d love for you to share your creepiest ghost towns, and if you have any photos from your visits especially it would only enhance the experience.
15. Santa Claus, Arizona
We love the idea that someone named a town Santa Claus because that little detail makes this ghost town a little more creepy. In the middle of the Mojave desert, one of the hottest places in America, someone decided to put together a town to the man we most often associate with soft tumbling snowflakes. Founded in 1937, a real-estate agent named Nina Talbot, decided to make a town built around Christmas year round to attract residents to the unlikely locale. With Christmas themed buildings, the town became a tourist attraction, but no one really wanted to buy any properties. Cutting her losses, Nina sold the town in 1949. While the town was still an attraction over the next decade, in particular for people curious about a desert town always celebrating Christmas and for some high-quality restaurants, by the 1970s it was falling apart. By 1995 all businesses were gone, and now very little is left standing – nothing has been left unmarked by vandalism.
14. Rhyolite, Nevada
Something tells us that building a town at the edge of Death Valley was never going to go quite as planned. That’s where Rhyolite was founded in 1904 by prospectors looking for gold. At its height the town was bustling, with money flowing freely as prospectors gathered to take their chance at fortune. In a relatively short time, they even got electricity and other industries, including a bottling plant, started to rise up. Along the way prostitutes came as well, looking to serve the newly wealthy clientele. As soon as things built up, they started to wind down. A financial crisis in 1907 crippled the town, and banks started failing. In 1911, they closed the mill, and the final death blow came just five years later when in 1916, electricity was cut from the town. To this day remnants of the town still stand, overlooking the smoldering death valley desert.
13. North Brother Island, New York
Instead of a sign welcoming people to the now abandoned North Brother Island, there should be one in its place that just reads “Nope.” Abandoned since 1963, more than a dozen buildings remain on North Brother Island which used to host a hospital. The place where the infamous Typhoid Mary was kept in isolation, the stories of disease, isolation, and abuse echo through photos of the abandoned halls. Of all the creepy abandoned buildings perhaps none are more unsettling than hospitals, which are supposed to be a place of wellness and care. Cities or towns abandoned more recently also have an extra flair of horror, reminding us that life can quickly fade out or burn out in an instant. While you need express permission from the New York Parks Department to tour the island now, a number of photographers have documented the decaying landscape with their work readily available online. With much of the Island left completely as is, with tools, materials and medical materials just hanging in limbo, North Brother Island is like a real life Silent Hill game.
12. Bannack, Montana
Bannack was once the territorial capital of Montana. Like many ghost towns, the town grew and fell with the price of gold. Much of the town is still standing and historians and locales upkeep the ghost town and its history. A remarkably well-preserved example of frontier life, the town had a violent and often bloody history. Once upon a time the town’s sheriff, Henry Plummer, was accused of leading a murderous bandit gang, who some claim murdered over one hundred people, though historical research only claims eight possible deaths recorded during this period. In fact, there is only growing doubt as to whether Plummer committed any of the crimes at all. Plummer was hanged along with two deputies without trial. Twenty-two of his apparent associates were treated similarly, lynched or exiled without due process. If you visit the town today, during certain parts of the year they offer ghost tours.
11. Calico, California
When we first heard about Calico, California we secretly hoped it would be a really hip abandoned ghost town taken over by cats. Not nearly as creepy as some of the other entries, if only because it’s been restored, Calico gives a good idea of what it was like actually living in a prospecting town in the late 1800s. Located in the Mojave desert, Calico was once earning residents millions a year in silver and borax. When the price of these started to drop, people started filtering out. While another plant was built in the town in the early decades of the twentieth century, that died too, and by 1935 the town was completely abandoned. The town has been since restored but has a reputation for being quite haunted with a number of ghosts drifting around. The heart of the haunting lies at the old school house where many people report seeing a young girl, maybe eleven or twelve years old smiling at the window. Others have reported seeing someone who looks like they might be a school teacher, as well as other small children who like to pinch at people’s ankles.
10. Thurmond, West Virginia
As of 2010, five people still lived in Thurmond, West Virginia – a once thriving town that had long been abandoned. Under the care of state park services, the town still stands, a nearly perfect portrait of life in Appalachia during the 1920s. While most ghost towns are built up around prospecting communities, Thurmond fills the other large chunk by being a railroad town. Built around a station laid down in 1888, the town was inaccessible except by train until well into the 20th century. At its height the town had a nationally respected resort and famously has been immortalized in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not for being the hosting place of the world’s longest poker game – it went on for fourteen years. The city more or less collapsed in 1930 when the resort burned down and people started to leave, by the 1950s the town was more or less abandoned. The 1987 award-winning film, Matewan, was shot here, documenting a 1920 coal miner’s strike.
9. Flagstaff, Maine
Take a look out at the beautiful Flagstaff Lake and you might not know a small town once lay there if it were not for the hints of chimneys still breaking the surface of the lake. Once a bustling town in Maine, Flagstaff was unfortunately landed underwater by a project to build a dam by the Central Maine Power Company. Not an easy process, the company began buying out people’s land and burning out the surrounding area. Those who didn’t want to leave or sell eventually saw their homes plunged underwater, even those who left willingly saw in a way, their legacy erased from the face of the earth. To this day nearby towns recreate life from Flagstaff, and you can (carefully) row atop the Flagstaff Lake and catch hints of the life that once was, now lying below the surface of a lake.
8. Terlingua, Texas
Terlingua is an interesting case of a ghost town actually regaining about a dozen residents since it was restored. However, erase any images you might have of an amusement park style western town, as things are still dark and dirty in Terlingua. Restored without corporate help, things do seem to bustle along in the town which attracts a sizeable tourist crowd every year. But, lurking below the surface the shadows of the old west still reign. The town was pushed into the news in 2014 because it became the backdrop of a murder case that gained national attention. One of the town’s few and most beloved residents, Glenn Felts, was brutally murdered and his body was left in the parking lot. The accused was his good friend, and most of the town witnessed his pummelled body. While in its new state, the town has attracted many outsiders like writers and artists. It seemed in recent years the isolated desert ghost town has also attracted people escaping from their crimes in the “normal world.”
7. Kennecott, Alaska
Just looking at the red facade of the abandoned Kennecott copper mine gives us the shivers. Abandoned in the late 1930s after copper prices dropped and most of the mines were depleted anyways, only a handful of residents stayed. By the 1960s the town was sold to a new owner, only to be passed on again. Nobody lives there now but owned by wealthy Alaskans, the town offers tours of the town to curious onlookers. Perhaps since most of the ghost towns we imagine are from the Old West or in the desert, one so high into the mountains surrounded by snow capped peaks feels somehow, out of place. Honestly, the place looks so creepy we just want someone to shoot a horror movie there.
6. Cahawba, Alabama
It’s hard to believe that a town that was once a state capital is now abandoned. That is the case of Cahawba in Alabama, which is not far down the road from Selma. Open to visitors today, no one lives in the town but it has proven to be a popular tourist attraction. The reason the town fell in prominence was practical, as it would often flood and along with the water came insects carrying diseases. Considered dangerous, the capital was moved in 1826. With a railroad stop, the town still continued to grow until the civil war. Cahawba became the home of the abuse-laden Cahaba Military Prison, which was built to house about 600 prisoners but had more than 3000 by the height of the war. There were 432 beds and over 3000 to fill them, and unsurprisingly many of them starved, got sick and died. Popularly known as Castle Morgan, it’s considered haunted to this day. The town has many other ghost stories as well, and it being haunted has only attracted more people to visit it since it was restored in the 1990s.
5. Bulowville, Florida
The Bulow Plantation ruins have been standing and decaying since they were abandoned over a century and a half ago. Nestled near Daytona Beach and now owned by the State, the ruins represent what was once a 9,000-acre plantation where cotton, sugarcane and indigo was grown. The plantation is older than Florida and was built and worked by over 300 slaves. The Bulow family was forced to abandon the sprawling property, however, during the Florida wars when the militia took over and used the stone walls as a stronghold. The family never took it back and it’s been there ever since. Not much remains of the original plantation, but what does echoes eerily in the present. A reminder of America’s history of slavery, it’s also a swift reminder of the folly of the American dream, where you can build an empire and see it fall in just over a decade.
4. Glenrio, Texas/New Mexico
Located on the Texas/New Mexico state line along route 66, Glenrio was founded in 1908. It did well for itself for decades as a pit stop along route 66 with a restaurant, motel and gas station. This was until, in 1973, the newly constructed Interstate 40 bypassed the community, transforming it from pit stop to ghost town. The 1940 film The Grapes of Wrath was filmed in part in Glenrio, and the animated film Cars features the Glenrio Motel, inspired by a real life motel in town. As of 2007, a historic portion of the town has been protected as a historical landmark by the state of New Mexico.
3. Dudleytown, Connecticut
While not everyone considers Dudleytown a true ghost town as very little of it remains, it doesn’t seem right that we put together a list of creepy ghost towns without giving a nod to the town dubbed “The Village of the Damned.” Founded in the 1700s and abandoned in the 1800s, Dudleytown was a portion of Cornwall controlled by the Dudley family. While it was attempted to make it into farmland, the environment was not very giving, and along with Cornwall, it began to decline. In the twentieth century, much of the land was bought, and trees grown over the former property. It’s now forbidden to enter. The reason why Dudleytown has become an infamous spot is because the Dudley family was cursed. According to legend, several members of the town went insane, two women committed suicide and others reported seeing demons.
2. Bodie, California
Perhaps considered the most famous ghost town in America, Bodie was a former gold mine that declined over the first two decades of the twentieth century as the mines slowly dried up and was shut down. By the 1940s much of the town was abandoned, though there were still residents. Plagued by vandalism, building owners hired caretakers to maintain the properties which is why the town has stood up so successfully over the decades. Named a historic site and a true representation of the Old West, the town has been preserved and has become a popular tourist destination. The town has a rich and colorful history of gambling and prostitution. In many ways, it embodied the Hollywood idea of what we have come to imagine as the old west, and it wasn’t unusual for brawls or shootouts (sometimes resulting in death) to break out on main street outside of a popular saloon.
1. Centralia, Pennsylvania
Unlike many of the entries on this list, Centralia was abandoned in the later half of the twentieth century due to an accident that has led it to be dubbed “Hell on Earth.” No one knows what lit the fire that has been burning under Centralia since 1962, but it could continue to burn for another couple of centuries. Built on top of long-abandoned coal mines, sometime in 1962 they caught fire and have been burning ever since. At first many residents believed they could cope with an inferno burning just below the surface of the ground, while others thought that somehow, sooner or later, they would figure out how to put it out. Things only got worse as sulfurous gasses started to come out from the ground, pushing people out of homes. Sink holes became a normality, and infamously in 1981 a preteen nearly fell into one that sprung open under his feet. Formally condemned in 1992, a dozen residents still decide to live there, though the city has been taken over by vandals and graffiti artists. The most modern ghost town on the list, it’s also the most frightening.