10 Strange Mysteries of Abandoned Places & Objects
By Debra Kelly, Urban Ghosts Media, 28 May 2016.
By Debra Kelly, Urban Ghosts Media, 28 May 2016.
There’s something inherently mysterious about abandoned places, especially those long-forgotten buildings and objects shrouded in an aura of the otherworldly - and many of them reported previously on Urban Ghosts. In this article, we wanted to explore that theme again - with a twist. Documented here are 10 abandoned locations, places, vessels and objects that have their own weird mysteries attached to them, from missing people to vanished bodies, ghost ships, ruined buildings believed to move, and more.
1. Why was Greenland’s Hvalsey Church Abandoned?
Image: Number 57
Hvalsey Church was built in the 12th century, founded in Greenland by descendants of the Vikings. Now a crumbling ruin, it was abandoned some time after a wedding that proved to be the last written record of the Norse in Greenland. But we’re not entirely sure why people decided to leave.
On 14 September 1408, Thorstein Olafsson and Sigrid Bjornsdottir said their wedding vows in the ancient church. They were part of a long legacy spanning more than five centuries of Viking occupation in Greenland, and their wedding celebration was one of the last major events to take place at the North Atlantic outpost before it was abandoned.
Image: Number 57
One popular theory suggests that a shift in climate led to famine and forced the colony to head elsewhere to find enough food to survive. In 2013, a group of Danish and Canadian researchers put forward another theory: that of a failing economy.
But after finding no shortage of food supplies and no signs that those buried at the colony had suffered from disease or malnutrition, researchers began to think that slowing ship traffic and a decline in the demand for walrus tusks and skins made the younger generation - like our newlyweds - despair of the future of the colony. It’s an intriguing theory, but just what drove them from their ancestral home? We’ll likely never know for sure.
2. Disappearance of the Lighthouse Keepers of Eilean Mor
Image: Russel Mills
The Flannan Isles sit in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Scotland. A part of the Outer Hebrides, the islands have been uninhabited since 1971, when their lighthouse was automated. For decades, the lighthouse keepers were the islands’ only residents, and on 26 December 1900, Captain James Harvey and Joseph Moore - the replacement keeper - headed to the remote outpost. When they landed, there was no one there to meet them, and Moore would later say that he was overcome with a sense that something was terribly wrong as he walked up to the lighthouse alone.
He was expecting three lighthouse keepers to be there: Marshall, Ducat and McArthur. But there was no one. Two of their three coats were missing, the lighthouse door was unlocked, a single chair was knocked over, and the kitchen clock had stopped. The Captain quickly sent a telegram to the Northern Lighthouse Board Headquarters in Edinburgh. The following investigation found details that not only didn’t make much sense, but made the mystery even creepier.
The abandoned lighthouse logs were strange, mentioning not only a storm, but the relentless crying of William McArthur, a longtime mariner who had a reputation as a brawler. Marshall recorded severe winds and a storm unlike any the men had ever experienced. On December 13, 1900, he wrote that all three were praying for the storm to pass. The last entry was on December 15, and simply read, “Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.”
The only other item out of place was a missing brown crate and broken ropes that usually secured it. The official explanation was that it was knocked lose by the storm and the men had died trying to re-secure it. But their bodies were never recovered. The nearby Isle of Lewis, however, didn’t seem to experience a storm as intense as the one recorded by the lighthouse keepers of Eilean Mor. What really happened that night remains a mystery, but later lighthouse keepers reported hearing voices on the night wind, calling out the names of the dead men.
3. Why Was Jazirat Al Hamra Abandoned?
For generations, Jazirat Al Hamra - the Red Island - was a bustling village in the UAE that relied heavily on a lucrative trade: pearl diving. Home to the Zaabi - and others that came from around the world to dive for pearls - the village had a population of more than 4,000 during the 1830s.
The development of the cultured pearls industry was one blow to the village’s economy, and the other came with the oil boom of the 1960s. But still the town struggled on - until 1968. That was when the residents mysteriously abandoned their village en masse and the homes that some had passed down through their families for generations.
While economic difficulties certainly hastened the town’s downfall, nobody is sure exactly why everyone suddenly picked up and left in 1968. Local rumours say that Jazirat Al Hamra was suddenly plagued by djinns, flesh-eating creatures that prowl the desert and torment the living. Those that have spent the night in the abandoned village swear that it’s haunted, and that it’s not uncommon for spirits to leave behind hand-prints as a cautionary message to any living soul that encroaches on their territory.
4. Who Owned this 132-year-old Abandoned Winchester?
Image: National Park Service via the Washington Post
The .44-40 Winchester rifle is known as the “gun that won the West.” Thousands were manufactured, and their affordability meant that they weren’t difficult to come by. In January 2015, one was found leaning against a juniper bush in Nevada’s Great Basin State Park. It had been there for approximately 132 years.
The long-abandoned rifle was in understandably rough shape, but a model and serial number were still legible. That offered a few clues: the mysterious Winchester rifle was manufactured and bought in 1882, but there were no records to indicate where it was shipped to when it left the manufacturer. However, 1882 was also the year that the price of the Winchester dropped by half, making it an even more popular weapon.
There’s no doubt that the rifle has an incredible story to tell, if only it could talk. It was abandoned against a tree that still stands in the middle of nowhere, more than a decade before neighbouring territories were awarded statehood. Sadly, we’ll likely never know how it came to be left behind in the wild American West, but this abandoned Winchester rifle offers an intriguing mystery.
5. The Corpse Stain
Image: via Wikipedia
The Athens Lunatic Asylum in Ohio was a late 19th century institution for those with psychiatric illnesses, which has been abandoned since 1993. Since the facility closed, stories about what still goes on there have only increased, and it’s become one of the most haunted locations in Ohio. It’s perhaps no wonder - the abandoned asylum known as The Ridges was also known for its lobotomies, shock therapy treatment, and ice water baths. Today, it’s also known for its mysterious corpse stain.
The stain is still there. Sometimes, visitors leave offerings to the woman who died there. We’re not sure who she was exactly, but the most frequently told version of the story is that she was a patient named Margaret Schilling. She disappeared on December 1, 1978, and her body was found more than a month later, on January 12, 1979.
That’s really all we know for sure. Some say that Margaret was a deaf mute who was accidentally locked in an upstairs, unheated room, and was unable to call for help. Others believe she was a mentally ill woman playing hide-and-seek when she was forgotten, or that she was hiding from an orderly. There are also those who believe that Margaret’s decision to venture up into the freezing, remote part of the asylum, removing her clothes, and laying down on the concrete, was her way of dying on her terms.
It’s been suggested that she was murdered, or that she was so medicated she didn’t know what was happening to her. Sometimes her name is spelled Schilling, sometimes it’s Shilling. But with no newspaper reports of the incident and no patient information, the only record we (supposedly) have of Margaret is the corpse stain that has marked the place where she died decades ago.
6. What Happened to the MV Joyita?
Image: via Wikipedia
The MV Joyita left Samoa on October 3, 1955 on a 41 to 48 hour journey to the Tokelau Islands. She was carrying nine passengers, 16 crew and a cargo of assorted foodstuffs, medical supplies, and 80 empty oil drums. The ship and her crew never showed up, and five weeks later the MV Joyita was discovered around 600 miles (1,000 km) off course. She was listing badly. What’s more, there was no trace of her crew and passengers, and around four tons of her cargo was missing.
There were a few clues, but those clues only served to make the ghost ship‘s plight more mysterious. The remaining fuel suggested she had been only about 50 miles from her destination when fuel consumption stopped. Her lower decks were flooded, but the hull was intact. Barnacles had already begun to grow on the listing hull - suggesting she’d been that way for some time. The ship’s radio was tuned to the international distress channel, but the range was only a few miles. A doctor’s bag was found on deck, along with some bloody bandages. Only one engine was operational. The other had been buried under mattresses.
There’s been plenty of speculation about what happened on the small vessel. Among the theories put forward have been an injured captain, a mutiny, a failed bid to destroy the ship for an insurance payoff, and even an attack by the Japanese. In 2012, all passengers and crew were still considered to be “missing.”
7. Great Zimbabwe, Africa
Image: Janice Bell
The Great Zimbabwe ruins are among the most mysterious structures in Africa - mainly because we know next to nothing about them. They’re the largest ruins south of the Sahara, and what remains of the walls and abandoned buildings demonstrate an impressive architectural and engineering know-how.
Great Zimbabwe is first mentioned in writing in 1531 and, by then, the settlement was already in ruins. It’s suspected that it was built sometime between the 4th and 7th centuries, and that they were probably the work of the Gokomere. That’s all speculation, though, with no absolute consensus on who built this advanced settlement.
Similarly, no one’s sure why Great Zimbabwe was ultimately abandoned. It was likely a central trading hub, and suggestions include a shift in trade routes, political instability, or even water shortages.
The ruins have been excavated and explored numerous times, and among the artifacts found there are eight soapstone Zimbabwe birds. The birds have long been a symbol of the African country, and those unearthed in Great Zimbabwe are the oldest examples ever found. Scholars are not certain what they signify - although they likely represented royalty in some way.
8. The Abandoned Boat of Bouvet Island
Image: François Guerraz
Bouvet Island has been called one of the most isolated places on earth, and for good reason. It’s hundreds of miles from anywhere, and the closest major land mass is the almost equally desolate Antarctica. It was discovered in 1739 but only explored in 1927, and historian Mike Dash wrote about a most unlikely discovery.
In 1964, a South African survey team was investigating the island when they found a small, still-seaworthy boat abandoned in a lagoon about 30 yards offshore. There were no markings and no human remains, but the oars still lay a short distance away. The men reported that it was the type of vessel often used as a lifeboat on larger ships, but Bouvet Island was so remote that no whaling or merchantman would have been within a thousand miles.
The team was only on Bouvet Island for about 45 minutes, but their find would ignite a mystery that would go largely overlooked until Dash’s blog. Interested internet denizens took to cracking the case, and some leads appear to have surfaced.
One determined online detective dug up a likely answer on page 129 of “Transactions of the Oceanographical Institute.” The entry describes a group of sailors from the scientific reconnaissance ship Slava-9, who were stranded on the island on November 27, 1958. They stayed there for three days - presumably with their lifeboat, which was abandoned when they were rescued by helicopter.
9. What Moved the “Jumping” Church of Kildemock?
Image: Google Street View
The medieval Kildemock Church in County Louth, Ireland, is little more than a ruin today. Built in the 14th century for St. Catherine, it was later passed to the Knights Templar and seems to have fallen out of use some time in the 16th century. A few gravestones bear later dates, however, making it unclear when the church was abandoned.
Over time, one of the abandoned church walls has been moved, and for reasons unknown now stands about a metre off its original foundation. In true Irish fashion, a handful of colourful local legends have arisen in a bid to explain the mystery, the most popular being that the church ‘jumped’ when an excommunicated person was buried there on consecrated ground.
Another story says that the wall was moved by an epic storm that’s even given a date: Candlemas Day of 1715. Excavations carried out in 1953 didn’t yield any clues as to how - or indeed why - the wall was actually moved, and ‘the jumping church’ of Kildemock remains a strange stop for curiosity-seekers on the trail of Irish lore and legends.
10. Who’s in Couch’s Tomb?
Image: Richie Diesterheft
Chicago’s City Cemetery was founded in 1837, and over the next years it became the final resting place of some 20,000 people. By the 1850s, people were complaining that contaminants were leaking into the soil and the groundwater, making the cemetery unsuitable. The city listened, and the Chicago City Cemetery was abandoned in 1870. Many bodies were moved, but the Couch family petitioned to have their grand mausoleum left where it was.
The city allowed the mausoleum to stay where it was, and it was sealed. But nobody’s sure exactly what was sealed inside. It’s supposed to be the resting place of Ira Couch and several others members of the Couch family, but according to Chicago city records, all those who are supposed to be buried there are actually in Rosehill Cemetery.
Then, there’s the question of how many bodies were left behind when the Chicago City Cemetery was abandoned and turned into what’s now Lincoln Park. In 2000, the Chicago Historical Society called in archaeologists to catalog and remove any human remains that were unearthed during a construction project. Nearby homeowners have also dug up the city’s dead, making this one-time cemetery one of Chicago’s most grisly locations.
Top image: The Great Zimbabwe ruins. Credit: Thomas Wozniak/Wikimedia Commons.
[Source: Urban Ghosts Media. Edited. Top image added.]