Ever walk past a vacant lot or a closed down restaurant and wonder what it's like on the inside? What got left behind? Urban explorers are the kind of people that don't just wonder, they go inside. They'll explore deserted hotels, empty jails, rotting theme parks, or spelunk through sewers and mine shafts. And there have been some unsettling things waiting for them there.
Urban explorers are travelers, and urbexing is popular around the world – in Japan in particular. Japanese urbexing is called "haikyo" and economic changes in Japan have left many sites to explore. We have all imagined being that type of curious person that goes looking for treasure whenever they find a new place. We have seen some of the consequences in horror movies, but also some pretty fascinating structures that definitely were worth the explorations. Put on your haikyo hats and your urbexing goggles as we take a look at some of the creepiest places that urbex-ers have visited.
This Six Flags theme park was abandoned fairly recently, but it remains as a haunting reminder of past tragedy. Six Flags was expanding the park to include a waterpark when the infamous Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. With a new focus on rebuilding the city, the park's building project was abandoned and the park was never reopened. It still stands vacant and is a popular haunt for urbex-ers (huffingtonpost).
Grossinger’s Catskills Resort is still waiting for visitors, but they won’t be coming. This once-popular mountain resort is overgrown, its swimming pool is filled with ice and debris instead of swimmers. It was a busy getaway for city-dwellers in the summers and one of the first to make artificial snow for skiers. Now its only visitors are urban explorers, and they don’t stay for very long (bcd-urbex.com).
In the Jonathan Swift novel, Gulliver's Travels, the eponymous hero never made it to Japan. It is now his final resting place, in effigy at least, because the Gulliver’s Kingdom Theme Park – complete with a “life size” tied down Gulliver – was built there, at the foot of Mt. Fuji, and later abandoned. The creepiest part is the park’s main attraction; Gulliver, now covered in graffiti, stares listlessly at the sky with unblinking eyes. The park was never popular and was only open for ten years. It has found a new popularity among haikyo explorers (weburbanist.com).
The empty halls of the old Royal Hospital in London were once busy with the sick and ill and as much sadness as healing. That knowledge makes the dim halls of the hospital ominous for the emptiness alone. Located in Whitechapel, the building dates back to the 1750s and was once home to Joseph Carey Merrick (AKA the Elephant Man). Andy Kay, the urbexer behind Behind Closed Doors, explored the haunting operating theaters with sci-fi ceiling lights and a boarded up chapel. This hospital is also rumored to be haunted by a gray lady who wanders the halls (bcd-urbex.com).
The deserted North Wales Hospital is the quintessential abandoned asylum on a hill, with its decaying turrets looming over the countryside. It’s the stuff of gothic nightmare, and urban explorer dreams. The mental institution known as both the Denbigh Asylum and North Wales Hospital, closed its doors in 1995, although it was slated to close in the 1960s. The main portion of the building was constructed between 1844 and 1848, and was later expanded to alleviate overcrowding. The building fell into disrepair after it closed in the mid-90s, and was targeted by arsonists. It’s crumbling halls, patient rooms, and solitary confinement cells offer a lot for urbex-ers and ghost hunters to wade through. The hospital is said to be haunted, with phantom bangs and footsteps being the most reported phenomena (atlasobscura).
The subterranean Steinert Hall was a just legend of the Boston theater district for a long time. Was there really an underground theater downtown? It turns out the theater wasn’t a myth created by the local college students.
The street-level exterior of the building is labeled Steinert Hall, but that goes largely unnoticed above the storefronts in the building today. But 40 feet underground is the forgotten theater, originally built for piano recitals. The building was built in 1896 and was a popular concert venue before it was shut down in 1942. The peeling walls and faded murals of the water-damaged theater would make the Phantom of the Opera feel at home.
On the side of Mount Baden-Powell lies a rickety hut on stilts that caps off the opening to the abandoned Big Horn Mine. Found by Charles Tom Vincent when he was hunting for bighorn sheep, the mineral mine was started in 1895 and was active for nearly a hundred years. The deep, waterlogged, and graffitied tunnels that wend their way into the mountain are creepy, to say the least.
Why are larger-than-life fish and Cthulean tentacles trying to eat this otherwise unassuming brick building? You’ll have to ask Soviet Russia. Explored by Darmon Richter of The Bohemian Blog, this is an abandoned Young Pioneer Camp, one of thousands of holiday sites built and controlled by the government under the regime of the USSR. The Young Pioneers were a scout-like organization that taught children survival and life skills and how to be a good communist.
Richter and some friends found this particular camp deep in the woods north of Moscow. It’s hard to imagine anyone having fun at this nightmare camp.
The empty Lake Shawnee Amusement park is the real-life equivalent of the ghost playground in the Goosebumps opening credits. And it’s history will give you goosebumps. Originally a Native American burial ground, the land was bought by the Clay family, who were later taken by a local tribe. The spot was turned into a small amusement park in the 1920s, but the park was hardly more lucky than the Clays. After 6 people lost their lives at the park, it was shut down. It is reportedly haunted.
The powers to be of the time seem to have had a thing for scaring children. The now-decaying Spreepark was built in East Germany in 1969 and ceased operation when the USSR did. The park is now a graffitied landscape of large creatures with gaping mouths, ready to eat passersby, and some slightly less frightening toppled dinosaurs. It gives us the heebie-jeebies just looking at it, but it may have been a pretty fun place to be, way back when, maybe to escape some of the less-fun things of the time.
This remnants of this asylum could be the perfect backdrop to any Italian gothic horror film. Cryptic, peeling letters and murals are scrawled across the walls. Abandoned wheelchairs litter the property. Vandals have gone wild painting graffiti and breaking windows. Left behind in 1978, Ospedale di Psichiatrico di Volterra was built in 1888 and by the early 1900s had expanded to include shops, agricultural areas, and even an institution-specific judiciary. But the staff at the hospital also inflicted harsh and even harmful treatments on their patients, which led to the eventual closure of the asylum.
Gonjiam State Hospital is truly nightmare fuel. It is the subject of a number of fantastical ghost stories. It was closed in the mid-1990s due to sewage problems, but the hunt for ghosts and the horrors that create ghosts linger. The hospital is widely considered to be one of the most haunted in the country. It is a popular stomping ground for urbex-ers and ghost hunters alike.
Burwash Correctional Center is broken and unassuming, eery in its quietude, but it was once the force that built an entire town. When the prison was opened in 1914, it stood entirely alone in the Ontario countryside. But as the prison population grew, and with the construction of a nearby highway, and the staples of a town followed. When the correctional center was closed because of cost, it became a ghost town.
The mold and disrepair of this former house of corrections looks more like a crime scene itself. The ceilings are peeling like string cheese; the walls are crumbling, piece by piece; every bar is weakened with rust, and there are stains that can’t quite be identified. This long-vacant prison is a frequent fixture on lists of the United States’ creepiest prisons.
Detroit is an urban explorer’s dream; although it’s on the upswing, huge swathes of the city were abandoned after car manufacturing moved overseas. The Grande Ballroom is one of at least a dozen theaters standing unused in Motor City, but it is one of the most beautifully decayed and spooky. The Grande Ballroom began life as a jazz hall in the 1920s, but became most famous as a sixties and seventies rock venue that hosted hometown legends like MC5 and The Stooges and other legendary acts.
Businesses weren’t the only things that got left behind in Detroit. When rent became untenable, tenants had to move or were forced out. Although many are being razed by developers, apartment blocks upon blocks are left open and in states of eerie disrepair. This apartment block, one of many on Highland St, has a unique Moorish style exterior, and all the secrets of the people who used to live there.
Old prisons are just plain creepy. This 18th century Belgian prison, Tuchthuis Vilvoorde (or Vilvoorde Prison), proves it. Built in 1779, this prison housed nearly 200 years of military and civilian prisoners and hospital patients, many of whom scratched haunting messages on the walls, as well as pictures of crosses and a solar calendar (urbex.nl).
At the very limits of Texas, near the Rio Grande, lies this abandoned cold storage plant, a gray monolith against the landscape. The cavernous plant itself is a forest of graffiti, suggesting the crimes that have happened there since it ceased to function.
The place has become more of a social haven for teens, who use it as their own personal lair, to get rowdy and have their own space. Unfortunately, it also attracted a few hazardous fires, probably due to its unwelcomed residents (mysanantonio.com).
On a trip through the Bulgarian mountains, urbexer Darmon Richter (the journalist behind The Bohemian Blog) stumbled upon a monastery chapel. While the chapel appeared to still be in use, beyond a nearby graveyard was an ossuary, or bone crypt. Inside, he found the carefully labelled skulls of monks. Macabre, to be sure, but Richter said he found this crypt "moving" and "strangely comforting." Mind you, he did find the skulls in the daytime.
With New York City as crowded as it is, it seems unthinkable that there could be a whole island nearby that is completely deserted, but there is. North Brother Island sits in the East River, about a mile away from Manhattan. Ivy, mold, and the waters of the river have started to reclaim the structures on the island, which include different dormitories, a morgue, a tennis court, and docks. Starting in the 1880s, the island was used to quarantine people with infectious diseases, such as smallpox and typhus. The infamous Typhoid Mary was once exiled there. In the early 1940s, it was turned into a rehab center. People abandoned the island to nature in 1963.
William Porter was a reformatory prison and school for boys founded in the late 1800s. Founded with the object of helping these “wayward” boys learn discipline, obedience, and earn an education, the reality was much less idyllic. It was a harsh and abusive environment far away from other people, and was, in the end, a prison. Its sparseness is what makes it so creepy: those boys had nothing but four bland walls and heavy doors that now swing open and off their hinges.
Almost anything related to WWII Germany can qualify as creepy. The abandoned Beelitz-Heilstätten Hospital in Berlin is downright frightening. The imposing building complex was built in 1898 as a sanatorium that treated tuberculosis and other lung conditions. It was in operation during both world wars and treated both a young Adolf and countless other injured soldiers. Sickness and events aside, though, is there anything that will give you goosebumps quite like a derelict operating theatre?
Funeral homes are unsettling places, to say the least, and that’s when they are in use. But what about when the mourners and the deceased are no longer there, when the embalming room is empty? The Canadian urbexer behind the blog Freaktography visited this abandoned Victorian mansion turned funeral home in Ontario. The prim sterility leaves you wondering what must be hiding around the next turn.
Now entirely abandoned, this small island off the coast of Nagasaki has a complicated history. Also called Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) because of its shape, the powerhouse producer of coal, started in the late 1880s when it became a mining colony. During WWII, prisoners were kept on the island and forced to work. By the 1970s, the demand for coal had slagged off and so had the deposits near the island and it was deserted. Today, the apartment blocks are mere husks, strewn with debris, all windows devoid of glass. The entire ghostly island has been left to the sea and the birds – and haikyo explorers.
The Labyrinth tunnels beneath St. Paul, Minnesota, have gained a peculiar level of reverence and secrecy about them. Flocks of urban explorers have descended into the tunnels, and many have left their marks: one portion is painted to look something like a time vortex, while another is a crypt-like cavern sometimes lit floor to ceiling with candles. The 70 mile series of subterranean tunnels were originally built as utility network starting as far back as 1865. Stumbling through the underground city, in the dark and dank, is a rite of passage for some urbex-ers. Local Nathan Anderson told Minnesota Daily that it “was the holy grail.”
References: walesonline.co.uk; bcd-urbex.com; detroiturbex.com; allthatsinteresting.com; thebohemianblog.com; atlasobscura.com; thisisinsider.com; businessinsider.com