Places of suffering exist. While there are efforts to tumble houses where people were murdered, redevelop temples where mass executions took place, or even pave over chemical disasters, these wicked places remain.
Visiting the Roman Colosseum where gladiators fought and died, the site of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago where Al Capone reportedly had seven members of his rival gang gunned down, or stopping at the Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, where President Abraham Lincoln was killed by John Wilkes Booth, may not seem immediately macabre. Yet, what about visiting the alleyway where serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr. reportedly picked up many of his victims? Or Cambodia’s killing fields?
People will drive by, sneak in, or pay money for a ticket to enter locations of grim and ghastly tragedy. Here are some of the most unsettling sites for dark tourism.
This case occurred long ago, but what makes it interesting is that it’s now a hotel. In 1892, the house at 92 Second Street in Fall River Massachusetts was the scene of a wild crime that would go on to stain American consciousness. The body of Abby Borden was discovered in an upstairs bedroom, a victim of multiple sharp blows that left her nearly unrecognizable. Her husband, millionaire Andrew Borden was found in the parlor in a worse state.
Andrew’s shrewd business dealings and frugal nature aided the growth of his wealth, but also contributed to a list of people who found him unfavorable. Yet, the main suspect in the crime was his youngest daughter, Lizzie. Sisters Lizzie and Emma, both in their 30s, lived in the house. However, it was Lizzie who would go on to stand trial in a case that became a media circus.
At that time, the thought that a woman could commit murder was inconceivable. Her contradictory statements, the appearance of the hatched-ridden skulls in court, and even wild rumors that contributed to the lack of evidence, including her being naked during the murder, made this one of the most prominent crimes of its day. After 90 minutes of deliberation, a jury of 12 men found Borden not guilty. She went on to live out her days in the same town, remaining an outcast as she had lost the trial of public opinion.
The house remains and stands as the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum. Guests can tour the home, sit in the parlor where Andrew was hacked to death or spend the night in the very room where Abby was murdered. Periodically, the house presents reenactments of the crime.
Dorothea Puente had a turbulent youth that included unstable marriages, miscarriages and children who were put up for adoption. Her criminal career began small, first forging checks, running a brothel, and befriending older men in order to steal their retirement benefits. She became a nurse’s aid, and ran a boarding house.
The culmination of her previous activities took her to 1426 F. Street. In it, Elderly were killed for their social security checks. One room served as the place where Puente would drain the bodies of fluid before they were buried in the back and front yards. She was sentenced to life in prison in 1993 for just three murders. Six other bodies were found on the property, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict in those cases.
Today, the home is a part of a tour for the Old City Association. Nearly 1,000 people have paid over $30 to see the home which was sold to a family and remodeled. One retired detective who worked the case took the tour, and at one point he pulled back a carpet and found a stained floor where he says was the draining room.
At one point you were able to pay $30 for a 90-minute walking tour through the neighborhood where serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer met many of his victims. Dahmer was a factory worker who was arrested in 1991 and admitted to killing 17 young men. Many of his victims were brutalized and cannibalized. After serving just a few years in prison he was killed by his cellmate. Tour guides narrated Dahmer’s monstrous acts through researched crime records and court proceedings. Local residents and families of the victims were outraged when they learned of the tours through promotions on websites such as Groupon, who eventually took down their promotional offering. Victim families and concerned community members said the tours were occurring too soon after the crimes. Today, a vacant lot sits at 924 North 25th Street where Dahmer killed, dismembered, and stored his victim’s bodies in containers and his refrigerator.
For those looking to get intimate with serial killers, the Museum of Death on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California offers a self-guided tour that includes the largest collection of serial killer artwork in the world. Here, you can find replicas of death masks, crime scene photography, taxidermy, mortician and autopsy instrument replicas of execution devices and other items associated with death, including videos of death scenes. However, it’s not the displays of body bags and coffins that seem to draw the most interest. Exhibits dedicated to cults and serial killers keep admission ticket sales up. Exhibits dedicated to Charles Manson and John Wayne Gacy are available. Gacy, who would dress up as his alter ego, Pogo the Clown, and entertain his neighborhood, would go on to be convicted of the murder of 33 boys and young men, and 26 of them were buried beneath the floorboards of his home. Much of Gacy’s artwork was sold, and some of it was auctioned and destroyed, including one communal bonfire event where the victim’s families were in attendance. However, some of his work can be found on display here.
“The Bloodiest 47 Acres in America,” is the introduction you’ll read on Missouri State Penitentiary’s website, a name given to it by Time Magazine in 1967. The prison operated from 1836 to 2004. Before it was decommissioned, it was the oldest operating penal facility in the Midwest. The original population of one guard, one warden and fifteen prisoners was quaint in comparison to the thousands it would eventually go on to house. At one point, it’s believed that as many as eight inmates were housed in a single cell.
Riots became commonplace during overcrowding and often several bodies lay on the prison floor when the way was cleared. In the 1960s, there were hundreds of serious assaults reported that included multiple stabbings. Today, tours are given that guide guests through Housing Unit 1, A-Hall, dungeon cells, the Upper Yard, Housing 3 and the Gas Chamber where 40 inmates were sentenced to death, all but one by cyanide gas. The one exception was by lethal injection.
For a period of 100 days starting in April to July 1994, an estimate of 500,000 to 1 million Rwandans were killed. Those killed were primarily from the ethnic backgrounds of Tutsi and Hutu. The genocide was organized by the dominant political party at the time, and included people in the military and law enforcement. Machetes, guns, and rape and mutilation were used as methods to kill. Victims were killed in their towns, their homes, schools and churches. Government sponsored radio incited some of the violence, stressing neighbors to murder.
After international intervention, the killing stopped. Today, discrimination on the basis of race, religion and ethnicity is outlawed. On the 10th anniversary of the genocide the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre opened. The center was built on the location where 250,000 people were buried. Eight mass graves are located on the site, as well as burial chambers, and audio and visual accounts from survivors. Hundreds of thousands have visited the museum.
On August 6, 1945 the city of Hiroshima in Japan, along with Nagasaki, became targets of nuclear weapons when atomic bombs were dropped by the United States, during World War II. The bomb touched ground 800 feet away from its intended target, over a surgical center. A brilliant flash followed by a loud booming sound was experienced. The destruction zone covered over a mile radius. Over 70,000 people were killed by the immediate blast and firestorm that followed. Another 70,000 were severely injured. All major hospitals were destroyed, and almost all doctors and medical staff were killed.
In addition to the initial victims, hundreds of cancer deaths followed. Survivors of the bombing are called hibakusha, which translates to “explosion-affected person.” In 1955, a memorial park was established to honor the victims. Over 53 million people are said to have visited, with an estimate of one million visitors per year. Belongings of the victims are displayed at the museum.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy is a town where over 20,000 people were killed. The ancient city of Pompeii is located near the modern city of Naples. In 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompeii in nearly 20 feet of volcanic ash, and hiding the city for hundreds of years. It was rediscovered initially in 1599 and again in 1748. Excavation was slow and engineers were eventually brought in to oversee the process.
Giuseppe Fiorelli, an engineer, discovered pockets of void while digging through the ash and it was determined that these were spaces left by decomposed bodies. It was Fiorelli who injected these spaces with plaster in order to recreate the forms of the victims. This technique is still used today and many of these casks are still located on site. For over 250 years, Pompeii has been a tourist destination with millions visiting each year.
The highly secretive dictatorship run under Kim Jong-un is surprisingly an accessible tourist destination for anyone who wants to visit, except for journalists, who are banned. Koryo Tours is a tour operator based in Beijing that transports curious tourists on a vintage Russian jetliner to North Korea. Each year, about 1,500 people make the trip where their cell phones are confiscated upon arrival. Visitors are then ushered into Pyongyang, a city modeled after Soviet type blocks and where only North Koreans with special permits can live or visit.
The tours are highly stylized in that each day, and each hour, is planned with precision. Tourists are cared for, or monitored, carefully by their tour guides. It’s believed that millions have died in North Korea due to starvation, and in forced labor camps. Yes, any mistreatment, or lack of food and services, besides electricity going out at 10 p.m., is kept from tourists. Visitors are presented with a calculated image of what North Korea wants portrayed about itself to outsiders.
Tourist interaction with locals is closely supervised. Visitors do not have a clear picture of what goes on outside of Pyongyang. What is known is that tourist dollars go toward government spending, and thus in some way toward North Korea’s questionable treatment of its citizens.
If you ever wondered what a post-apocalyptic city would look like then Pripyat in the Ukraine is your best example. At one point, the population of this town was nearly 50,000 people. On April 26,1986 there was an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant that unleashed radioactive particles into the air, and spread over Russia and Europe. Thirty-one people died, and many suffered long term effects, such as cancer.
The town of Pripyat was not evacuated until a day after the disaster, and by then people started experiencing severe headaches and bouts of vomiting. Residents were told to bring immediate necessities, as they would return three days later, but they never were allowed to. Buildings remain, and in many cases, personal items, such as clothes and bicycles, remain where residents last left them.
Today, organized tours take tourists to designated areas of the disaster zone. It’s illegal to take items into the radioactive area and leave them, and it’s also illegal to take any items out. Once visitors leave they are scanned for radiation levels. In the event that radiation has been detected, the individual is given a chemical bath.