What makes a place creepy? Since creepy is often in the eye of the beholder, there is no formula for gauging creepiness, so that’s not so easy to answer. Places where many people died can be creepy and this may be the only real criteria for judging a place’s creepiness. But there are other factors to consider. Things that should be happy become creepy when left derelict. An entire town without anyone living in it is creepy. The presence of certain items can take a site from merely weird to full-tilt creepy.
Below is a selection of genuinely creepy places, some of which you will not find on the list of “usual suspects.” Some of the sites are reputedly haunted and have been featured on shows about the paranormal. Whether they are haunted or not is almost immaterial when everything about them creates genuine creeps. It’s easy to shrug off the creeps as you sit in your comfy home and read about these places and look at pictures. But try to imagine being in these spots. Alone. At night.
10. Mo’okini Heiau
On the Big Island of Hawai’i, we find a heiau with a dark purpose. When the original Hawaiians found these islands, their religion was primitive, with animism embodied in thousands of gods. Their temples were small rock platforms where they left offerings. When the Tahitians came to Hawaii, they brought their, much darker, religion with them. Some heiau became dedicated to their bloodthirsty gods and human sacrifice became part of Hawaiian religion. Mo’okini lies on the northwest corner of the Big Island, not far from Hawi. Kamehameha was born in its shadow before he was taken to Waipio for his protection. This heiau was a luakini (“many graves”) dedicated to the war-god, Ku, and thousands were sacrificed here. Many people feel chilled here, despite the warm temperatures and breathtaking scenery. One woman said she saw the ghosts of naked men being led up to the top of the heiau. Another, that a warrior appeared to him, wanting to sacrifice him so that the warrior’s spirit would be freed from the heiau. Even people who don’t believe in the paranormal have felt the cold in their bones and a feeling of dread. Mo’okini Heiau is a state historic monument and can be visited during daylight hours. You can visit here; drive in any car up to the end of the small airport runway, but you will need a 4WD or good hiking shoes for the rest of the journey. It might not hurt to bring an offering of a lei or fruit because you just never know…
This is a French village that was wiped out during WWII. On June 10, 1944. soldiers from the 2nd Panzer Division marched into Oradour, near Limoges, and surrounded the town. Telling the occupants that they were searching for arms, they took the women and children to the church, where they killed them all. The gas bomb they used first didn’t do the job so the soldiers turned to machine guns and hand grenades. They then piled wood on the bodies — some were still alive — and burned the church down. One woman escaped. While this was happening, the town’s men had been divided into 6 groups and taken to barns where the soldiers opened fire, wounding the men so that they could then set the barns ablaze and burn them to death. Five men escaped that ghastly scene. The soldiers then “cleaned up,” killing any stragglers they found, including a bed-ridden old man and an infant. A total of 642 people died. Anyone who came to the town limits to see what was going on, were shot. The soldiers then looted the town and left. There was never any explanation given for the massacre, but historians believe it was a mistake, that the SS was seeking Oradour-sur-Vayres. Which makes it even sadder, to my mind. What is left is a town frozen in time, though a newer town surrounds it. Everything has been left as the inhabitants left it on 6/10/1944 when they were led to slaughter. Rusting cars, meals on tables, toys scattered, clothes… and the bodies still in the church and barns. You can visit the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane and the memorial center/museum. There is no charge walk the empty streets. You can find more information at this website — which is an excellent place to learn more about the attack and the circumstances surrounding it.
In Italy, just off Venice, there is an island that has been called “nothing more than a cesspool of pure dread” (by the hysterical folks at Ghost Adventures). Poveglia Island has served over the centuries as a quarantine area, mass grave for plague victims, a mental asylum and a home for “aged indigents.” It sits abandoned today, 2 miles from the Grand Canal, crumbling and stewing in the Mediterranean heat. Venetians will gloss over the island’s reputation, saying that the ruins are nothing more than a rest home. Getting to Poveglia is not easy: you must find a boat operator who will take you. Estimates of plague victims lying in mass graves hover in the hundreds of thousands (Venice endured 22 plague outbreaks!). The mental asylum was built in 1922. Legend has it that the director of the hospital tortured patients and that, mad with guilt (or the ghosts of plague victims, some say), he eventually threw himself off the bell tower and was engulfed by a strange white mist. Reports from recent adventurers vary widely: from the Mental Floss writer who experienced nothing, to a family looking to buy the island who fled during the night. Many people who manage to visit Poveglia say that they sensed death there. Maybe it’s the layer of fine ash that covers everything, and knowing that it’s from human bodies. It could be that some hear voices that tell them to leave and never return. If you want to find out, you’ll have to find someone who will take you there and, more important, come back for you.
Next up, Brussels, Belgium and a deserted veterinary college. Abandoned in 1990, it still contains the remains of animals floating in jars and bins of formaldehyde, yellowing with age. Discovered by a British “urban explorer” named Chaos, the building has been featured in the UK Daily Mail. The pictures are beyond creepy: cat heads, goat snouts, organs, brains, whole small animals. The gruesome samples floating in their containers brings to mind some mad scientist’s lab. They earned their nickname, “The Horror Labs.” The school consists of 19 buildings, all but one of which have been turned into residences. The last one is full of the grisly relics of a thriving veterinary college. Everywhere you look, there are animal parts. Some float in jars, some are sewn together (that’s right, and who wants to even contemplate why?). Of course, it makes you wonder about animal spirits and whether they haunt the place. And then there is the smell… you will need a shower after roaming this one! You really have to look at the photos to get the full creepy effect of this place.
On to another island, as we check out the Takara Hotel ruins on Okinawa. The hotel and theme park was built in the 1970s by a Japanese businessman. He hoped to get business from the resorts proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Shuri Castle, which sits on a hill nearby. The ruins cover their hill in a maze of stairs, hallways and weirdly shaped rooms. The villagers warned that the hill was sacred, with burial caves and tombs, but he ignored them and built anyway. Construction accidents plagued the site until the businessman decided to prove the place wasn’t cursed by spending every night there until it was finished. After three nights, he fled and was either institutionalized or killed himself — nobody knows for sure. Local Buddhist monks set up altars in the ruins to placate the spirits but the hotel was doomed to be reclaimed by the jungle. Those who have visited tell of staircases that lead nowhere, hallways that grow smaller, abandoned furniture and finishings, crooked columns and signs of a mysterious fire. The site also boasts a zoo full of broken cages and a water park with slides. Those who have explored the ruins say that its “like being trapped in an Escher print,” which seems appropriate since the hotel was built without blueprints. The site is not open to the public but one can access it from the castle site.
The island of Taiwan is next on our creepy tour. Back when it was Formosa, and was colonized by the Dutch East India Company, life wasn’t much fun for the Chinese natives. They finally got angry at being charged a tax for simply being alive and attacked the Dutch at Fort Zeelandia, massacring the troops and their families. Hundreds of years later, in the 1970s, the Taiwanese government built a resort for soldiers on tour there… on the exact spot where the Fort stood. During the construction, the number of deaths at the site caused the government to close the place before it was even opened. We’ll never know how many people died –or continue to die on the road next to the site — because the government won’t say. There haven’t been any reports of ghosts but when a place is this eerie, who needs them? The buildings were slated for demolition but as recently as May of 2013, they were still there and creeping visitors out.
This small island off of Nagasaki was built by the Mitsubishi Corporation when they discovered that it sat on a huge deposit of coal. They built mines and a city for the miners that included high-rise apartments, restaurants, schools and everything a small city would need. Then, after 50-odd years of production, the coal ran out. The population of almost 6,000 left and nature began to move in. The island became a ghost town and sat empty, unexplored save by the most intrepid of explorers until recently. In 2009, the site was opened to tours. Everything is just as it was when the city was deserted, except that much of it is crumbling and unsafe. Walking through the ruins of a movie theater or school or temple that had been left as it was decades ago, feeling the echos of a long-gone population, is decidedly eerie. Knowing that more than 200 miners died almost 2,000 feet below you only adds to that. Tours to “Battleship Island” (so called because its silhouette resembles one) are available from several companies all leaving from the Nagasaki waterfront. If you’re a James Bond fan, there’s the additional perk of the island being used in the film, “Skyfall.”
Is there anything creepier than an abandoned amusement park? All those bumper cars and roller coasters nobody will ever enjoy again, old games and shops empty now but for debris and let’s not forget the dark rides. Jazzland opened in 2000, near Lake Ponchartrain, in a flood basin. The Six Flags company bought the park in 2003. They were planning on making some upgrades when they closed on August 21, 2005. I bet you can figure out what happened next… yep, Hurricane Katrina came through, the levees broke and SFNO was under 4-7 feet of dirty, brackish water. The Six Flags folks wrote it off as a total loss. The city owns it now and have been able to make some money on renting it out as a movie set: the second Percy Jackson movie and the remake of Planet of the Apes are two films you can see the park in. Other than that, it’s a favorite spot for urban explorers and graffiti artists. It’s pretty sad-looking in the daylight, but just imagine how freaky it would be at night. No ghosts, save those of families having fun, haunt this place. But the creep factor is turned up to eleven. Look through this gallery of photos (yes, a few have been Photoshopped for effect) and think about walking this park after dark. Yeah. Creepy.
Next up on our creepy tour is Cambodia, where we find Pol Pot’s secret prison, Tuol Sleng. During the rule of Pol Pot, this site saw as many as 2 million Cambodians tortured and killed at what was known by the Khmer as S-21. Thousands of photos were discovered when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979: the staff of S-21 fled, leaving the images of their cruelty. Many were published in a book (Killing Fields) and displayed in a traveling exhibit. The former prison now houses the Museum of Genocide. Looking through the pictures is like a waking nightmare. The faces of victims are haunting — most are unidentified and knowing that they probably were tortured before they died is unsettling, to say the least. Viewing the photos in the building where those people died is even worse. It’s one reason this prison-turned-museum makes many lists of the world’s most terrifying places. Oh, did I mention it’s haunted, too? Considering the number of Cambodians and foreigners who fell victim to the Khmer’s brutal regime, it’s not surprising.
But the creepiest place is…
Finally, we come to Mexico and the Island of the Dolls (notice how many islands are creepy?). Now, I don’t know about you but I’ve always found dolls a little creepy to begin with. Even as a child I preferred stuffed toys. Something about the eyes just messed with me. The tale begins with a drowned girl and a grief-stricken man who could not save her; add their spirits, mix with a mass of dolls and you get one hella creepy spot. Not far south of Mexico City, the island — which is actually a floating garden — draws visitors who bring even more dolls. The caretaker, Don Julian Santana Barrera, found the drowned girl and, shortly after, a doll. Figuring that the doll belonged to the girl, Barrera hung the doll in a tree to honor the girl’s spirit. Some say that Barrera made up the story of the girl. Either way, he felt haunted by her spirit and hung up more dolls to appease her. Then he realized that the dolls were being possessed by the spirits of dead girls. After 50 years of hanging dolls around the island, Barrera died. Some believe that his spirit haunts the island now, too. The locals hold that the island is a charmed, but haunted, place. Visitors say that the dolls move, blink and speak. Even if it’s just their imagination, the place is uber creepy. Dolls! Ugh.