Every city has a pulse. It’s the natural throb that persists as people go about their daily lives, constantly moving, changing and growing. The dynamics within every town varies greatly, each with a unique rhythm and pace. Some beat fast and wild, while others drum along at their leisure, and — whether knownst or unbeknownst to the inhabitants — this enduring beat moves them all along together. But what happens when that pulse comes to a stop?
While the idea of ghost towns evokes classic images of desolate Wild West streets and wayward tumbleweeds, the reality of these forsaken cities extends far beyond saloons and outlaws, persisting right into our modern age.
When push comes to shove, there are many reasons why a town might be abandoned where it stands. Some are boomtowns built hastily around flash-in-the-pan economic surges, while others are the victims of natural or man-made disasters. Every story is different, but the atmosphere left over is almost always the same. These haunting views of worlds-that-were are eerily silent and unnervingly still. While infamous accounts of the Roanoke colony in 16th century Virginia have become legend, there are thousands of lesser-known, abandoned settlements around the world that still stand sentinel to this day.
On April 26, 1986, the worst disaster in the history of nuclear energy production struck at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The explosion of a nuclear reactor spread radiation for miles and contaminated the landscape, while the then-Soviet controlled government did little to warn citizens in the surrounding areas. Less than three miles from the blast, however, the town of Prypiat was well aware of the danger. In sixty hours, no fewer than 44,000 residents — many of them plant employees — had fled, leaving the irradiated town frozen in its tracks.
Looters and vandals have ransacked the city, taking what they can and destroying what they can’t, but explorers daring to venture into the town can see beds still adorned with sheets, and decorations hung outside for what was to be a May Day festival. Trees grow on rooftops and inside buildings while wildlife roam the corridors. There are guards now surrounding the city, but those willing to risk a trip into this poisonous museum can easily obtain the necessary paperwork for a guided tour.
Though it is unsure how safe it is to enter Prypiat — every few years a building will collapse, such as the four-story school in 2005 — some predict it won’t be ready for human inhabitants for another hundred years, due to radiation.
On Taiwan’s northernmost coast lies the bizarre San Zhi housing complex. Planned as a vacation resort, this futuristic community never reached completion. A series of fatal accidents during construction in the early 1980s led workers to believe the location was haundted; soon thereafter, the project was cancelled.
What makes San Zhi so interesting is its design. Like something straight out of the Jetsons, the units are shaped like giant circular pods, leaving each building looking like a stacked cluster of brightly colored UFOs. Though some might dream of a completed San Zhi, perhaps it is better the project remain unfinished; rumors of subpar building materials and unstable architecture plagued San Zhi from the start.
Perhaps the best example of a modern ghost town lies right in our own back yard. In 1962, landfill workers in the busy coal town of Centralia, Pennsylvania were burning trash in an abandoned mine pit when the flames reached an unseen coal vein. The initial blaze was quickly contained, but unbeknownst to the townspeople the coal fire continued on, spreading through the mines that weaved beneath the city. In the weeks that followed, the extent of the fire was discovered. For over two decades, firefighting efforts went on to control the fire without progress.
Then in 1981, a 150-foot sinkhole caused by the fire opened up. Located in a residential area, the sinkhole would have swallowed 12-year-old Todd Domboski had his cousin not pulled him to safety. The incident brought greater attention to the plight of Centralia, and in 1982, the state spent $42 million to relocate Centralia’s population. All but a few moved away, and as of 2005, only twelve people were registered as residents of Centralia. The town has since been removed from many maps, and even had its zip code revoked in 2002.
Those brave enough to visit witness the blanket of smoke that covers portions of the town and the numerous sinkholes and caved in roadways. Many buildings that hadn’t burned were demolished so as not to add fuel to the fire. It is predicted that the fire could burn for up to 250 years. As a unique sort of “hell-on-Earth,” Centralia even provided the inspiration for the Silent Hill video game franchise.
Incredibly diverse, each of these towns has its own story leading to its unique fate. But as time marches on, it consumes these towns as they lose the long fight against nature. As they slowly decay, time becomes the only companion for these forsaken cities.