Staten Island's Tugboat Graveyard has long intrigued--even frightened--local residents, including NYC-based photographer Chris Barreto, who grew up just a few miles away. "It took me years to build up the nerve to go," he admits. "The immense size of the shipyard is unfathomable--row after row of ships, just waiting their turn to sink into the murky waters. The stench of rotting wood and oil is almost unbearable. It's not a welcoming place."
Barreto is just one of the many artists, photographers, travelers, and writers inspired by the act of human abandonment. "When any man-made structure is deserted and void of people, it leaves behind an unsettling energy," he says.
But it's that very energy that has made these creepy places a sort of dark-side passport stamp, complete with bragging rights. So young creatives have made a hobby out of photographing derelict and discarded buildings and uploading the images to sites like Abandoned-places.com and Weburbanist.com, along with Flickr's numerous user groups, like Abandoned Motels, Abandoned Sweden, and Best of Abandoned. The most popular group, simply called Abandoned, has 20,000-plus members and remains a go-to source for those looking to find new terrain.
Google "Visit Chernobyl" and you'll get several tour results that guarantee a "radiation-free tour" of the infamously abandoned Reactor Number 4. The tour is so popular that Trip Advisor has a user-generated forum explaining the best way to visit it. Other abandoned places, like India's cursed city of Bhangarh, Rajasthan, are sanctioned by their respective governments, but still pose danger. A sign erected by the Archaeological Survey of India at the entrance to Bhangarh reads: "Entering the borders of Bhangarh before sunrise and after sunset is strictly prohibited." While the ancient curse clearly still has a hold over the current government, the sign is a sensible warning to anyone wanting to explore the city's crumbling Hindu temples. Skellig Michael, Europe's most inaccessible UNESCO World Heritage site, is just as dangerous: three tourists, including two Americans just this year, have fallen to their deaths while on the precipitous climb.
Whether you're visiting sanctioned places or exploring more off-the-beaten-path terrain, it's important to show respect. Van Rensbergen's three rules of thumb are a good directive for anyone attempting to access an abandoned site: "Don't break your way in. Don't take anything, except photos. And don't leave anything except footprints." --Adam H. Graham
See More Eery Abandoned Places Few places are creepier than deserted psychiatric hospitals. At this medical complex in the town of Lier, 30 minutes south of Oslo, eight of the hospital’s buildings are still occupied by living mental health patients; the remaining four are vacant—and inhabited by nonliving former residents. The looming structure, which opened in 1926 and partially shuttered in 1986, was the site of frequent lobotomies and electroshock treatments.Photo: Anders V. Tøftemo
See More Eery Abandoned PlacesIn 1943, a volcano in the remote mountain state of Michoacán began spewing lava, eventually burying the villages of San Juan Parangaricutiro and Paricutín under a coal-black layer of chunky lava. The crucifix-topped bell tower of the San Juan Parangaricutiro Church protrudes from the lava, while the vacated church’s altar, at the other end of the structure, appears entirely intact.Photo: Jamie Carstairs/ Alamy
See More Eery Abandoned PlacesFrom 1910 to 1928, two dozen farm villages were abandoned and flooded to create six new drinking reservoirs for New York City. The 8,300-acre Ashokan Reservoir alone submerged nine villages. Fortunately, the bodies from 32 cemeteries were relocated, but the churches, silos, barns, schools, and orchards are still visible during autumn’s low water levels.Photo: Nigel Lloyd/Alamy
See More Eery Abandoned PlacesRising like a sunken Gothic cathedral off Ireland’s Iveragh peninsula, the island of Skellig Michael was home to Irish Christian monks for some 600 years until A.D. 1100, when it was abandoned out of fear of more Viking raids. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and all that remains are the 600 carved stone steps to the summit, some stone clocháns (beehive-shaped huts), and the haunting cries of gannets and gulls.Photo: Stephen Emerson/Alamy
See More Eery Abandoned PlacesSome 150 miles north of Tokyo, the city of Hobara holds on to a derelict amusement park that’s eerily similar to the one in the anime flick Spirited Away. Closed in 1999 when Japan’s economic bubble burst, the ghostly 1973 park has a rusting roller coaster, frozen Ferris wheel, and strewn-about toys that are now slowly being taken over by the fog-choked Aizu forest.Photo: Delphine Adburgham/Alamy
See More Eery Abandoned PlacesFrom Elk to Fort Bragg, Mendocino County’s Highway 1 is strewn with ghost barns and shuttered lumber plants, abandoned as redwood logging became illegal. In Fort Bragg, the rusty maintenance yard for the number 681 Skunk Train, which began operations in 1885, is the creepiest. Train employees who work late nights on the adjacent, newly restored and active Skunk Line claim that the ghost of C. R. Johnson, founder of the railroad, lurks in the old depot.Photo: Gary Crabbe/ Alamy
See More Eery Abandoned PlacesThere’s something bluntly creepy about the abandoned exurbs of Florida. Forsaken construction sites, like the ones in the middle-class development of Lehigh Acres in Florida’s southwest, are filled with half-built McMansions, unkempt yards overtaken by alligators and snakes, and derelict cul de sacs that lead to nothing. Florida’s population is diminishing for the first time ever, and nowhere is the exodus felt stronger than here.Photo: Sharyn Brunner/WNYMedia.net
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