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Weird Cases of Whole Towns That Vanished Without a Trace

There have long been mysterious disappearances and inexplicable vanishings throughout history, with numerous questions floating about the answers to which are not always apparent. Yet in addition to the various individuals who have stepped off the face of the earth are those cases when large numbers of people have apparently simply vanished into thin air. It is a subject which I have covered here at Mysterious Universe before, and which never ceases to inspire speculation and wonder. Among these various mysterious accounts of not only certain people who have disappeared into nothingness, there are also those of whole towns that seem to have melted away into the ether, never to be heard from again.

An early and very bizarre account of a vanishing town is that of the mysterious Urkhammer, in the state of Iowa, in the United States. The small rural town was apparently in rather good shape and just as normal as any other mid-American town until around 1928, when some aerial photos emerged that appeared to show that there was perhaps simply no one living there, and that the fields looked overgrown and untended. Things took a turn for the decidedly weird when there was a report from a tourist passing through, who stopped at a gas station in the town to fill his tank, after which he learned that he had been ripped off and that there was no gasoline in there at all. He then angrily headed back to town, but reported that he could not reach it, as it seemed to forever remain in the distance no matter how fast he drove. Even when he ran out of gas and walked he could not reach the town, which was still sitting there maddeningly before him, forever out of his reach.

Other people driving past the town began to report that the previously bustling town seemed to be abandoned and lifeless, and when some investigated they purportedly found rows and rows of houses sitting peacefully with no sign of the occupants. The story goes that this was indeed reported upon by several local newspapers, such as the the Clarion-Sun-Telegraph, but that these reports were drowned out by news of the impending stock market crash of 1929. Other reports of anomalies would come in from the town as well, such as people who seemed to have witnessed the town actually evaporating into thin air, as if being absorbed into some other dimension, with one such account concerning a group fleeing through the area during the dust bowl of 1932 and going to the town to retrieve supplies, the story which was written of on the Strange State website thus:

Imagine their surprise when they were unable to mount the steps leading to the store, their feet each time passing through the lowermost step as through a cloud. Convinced that this was some sort of plot to prevent outsiders from shopping at the store, they attempted to scale the steps using an old board found nearby. Imagine their surprise when their feet passed through both board and steps as easily as a potato passes through the smoke of a campfire! Terrified, the men ran back to their nomadic camp and reported what they had seen, only to be accused of spending the group’s hard-gotten money on illegal hooch rather than on beans and bacon. But they displayed the money and challenged others in the camp to try the same experiment. A group of a dozen men, some armed, went back to the general store, and lo! and behold! had the same eerie experience. The caravan covered its fires and decamped with all deliberate speed, but the story quickly circulated, and soon a group of State Police were ordered to investigate the phenomenon.

 

They went to the Urkhammer Sheriff’s office to confer, converse and otherwise hobnob with their brother law enforcement officials. The group’s leader approached the office of this guardian of the peace and attempted to knock on the door, only to see his had pass through the thick oak as though it were merely painted steam. Their report began the gradual decline of Urkhammer. It became less substantial with every passing day, and passersby noted the absence of children playing and the growing seediness of the houses and barns. Then, on May 7, 1932, Phineas Bumf, a Huguenot immigrant farmer, passed by at dawn with his cargo of produce, and what to his wondering eyes did appear but- nothing! Where the town had stood were only abandoned fields and long-rotted fences. A cast-iron bathtub, used long ago as a watering trough for livestock, sat alone in a field of weeds, the sole relic of human presence. Urkhammer was no more. Many years later a gypsy caravan camped on the site but left abruptly. The Ataman of the group, “Baxtalo,” told a Roma-friendly neighboring city councilman that the place was “saturated with the tears of the dispossessed, and with the despair of those who had never borne names.

In later years people would begin to move into the region and find that indeed there was a town there that had grown weed-choked and feral, crumbling away into nothingness. It remains unknown just where all of the people of this alleged town went, or even if it ever really existed in the first place, and it remains a strange historical oddity and unconfirmed mystery.

A very intriguing story that has made the rounds in recent times is the odd story of the town of Ashley, in the U.S. state of Kansas. Apparently Ashley was a tiny farming community of around 700 people and supposedly according to the United States Geological Survey on August 16, 1952, the area was rocked by a massive earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale. Considering that Ashley was rather remote, it managed to escape the news for the most part, but when investigators finally arrived it was oddly found that there was simply no one there.

Things were already apparently rather ominous as authorities approached the town, as there was found to be a smoking, heat-belching blazing fissure measuring 1,000 yards in length and approximately 500 yards in width, but as for the town itself there could be found not a single man, woman, child, or even pet, neither alive nor dead, even after a 12-day intensive search. It seemed that everyone had simply vanished off the face of the earth, or been swallowed by it. Interestingly, an aftershock allegedly rocked the region in the coming days after the aborted search, and when rescuers arrived this time the fissure was reportedly gone as mysteriously as it had appeared.

Taking things deeper into the bizarre, further investigation would supposedly turn up a variety of strange phenomena that had plagued the area before everyone had seemingly disappeared. Allegedly on August 8 there was a report coming from a local by the name of Gabriel Jonathan, who claimed that he had seen a “small, black opening in the sky,” and not long after that police were deluged with calls reporting the same exact thing. The following morning a police officer from the nearby town of Hays by the name of Allan Mace was sent in to investigate, after which he would radio in to claim that he had been headed down the only road towards Ashley but had somehow found himself back in the town of Hays, despite the fact that he had not turned around. He had apparently been rerouted by some mysterious force. When more officers were sent in to see what was going on they too apparently encountered the same strange phenomenon.

Things got stranger still when reports kept coming in about the weird atmospheric anomalies, and that there were also people who had mysteriously gone missing without a trace. Other reports would filter in that the town was in total darkness, as if the sun had never risen. Perhaps even more bizarre still were the reports that people were having conversations with long dead family members. The first such report was allegedly from a woman named Phoebe Danielewski, who reported that her daughter was talking with her father, who had died 3 years earlier, and more worrying the girl apparently kept trying to go outside to “join them.” Police would purportedly get hundreds of similar calls in the coming days, after which it was claimed that all of the children in the town had spontaneously vanished in the middle of the night on August 12, 1952.

On the evening of August 13, 1952, a caller named Scott Luntz claimed that there was a fire in the distance that was described as “bright red and orange [that] seemed to extend high into the sky,” and numerous other calls would begin to flood in claiming the same thing, further adding that the fire seemed to be coming from the sky itself. Throughout all of this there were no similar reports from any of the neighboring communities, and it seemed to be confined solely to Ashley. According to the story, another call of this came in on the morning of August 14, 1952, when a frantic local named Benjamin Endicott contacted police in an utter panic to claim that there was a vast fire in the sky that had turned night into day. The following day, just two days before the earthquake, would bring perhaps the strangest, and indeed the last purported call from Ashley, placed by a Ms. April Foster. The transcript of this conversation supposedly goes thus:

Officer Welsch:
Hays Police Department.
(muffled static)
Officer Welsch:
Hello?
Foster:
YES… yes, hello?
Officer Welsch:
Ma’am, who am I speaking with?
Foster:
My name is April, April Foster. (coughs) Please, sir. Please help me.
Officer Welsch:
What is happening, ma’am?
Foster:
Last night… last night they came back.
Officer Welsch:
Ma’am, I’m going to need you to –
Foster:
LAST NIGHT THEY CAME BACK! (cries)
Officer Welsch:
Ma’am, I’m going to need you to calm down, and speak clearly. What happened? Who came back?
Foster:
(sobbing) Everyone.
Officer Welsch:
Everyone?
Foster:
They all came in the fire.
Officer Welsch:
What do you mean everyone?
Foster:
My son… I saw my son last night. He was walking… he was walking down the street. He was burned. Jesus Christ HE WAS BURNED.
Officer Welsch:
Ma’am I –
Foster:
He died last year. I raised him since he was a baby… it was just me and him. I told him to watch for cars when he rode his bike. But he never wanted to listen.
Officer Welsch:
Ma’am, what you’re saying isn’t making any sense. You said everyone came back?
Foster:
ARE YOU FUCKING LISTENING TO ME? EVERYONE. Everyone came back. Everyone who died, or went missing, they’re back. And they’re looking for US! (cries)
He…he said: “Mommy, I’m okay now! See, I can walk again! Where are you, Mommy? I want to see you!” (sobs)
Officer Welsch:
… Ma’am, where are you now? Are you safe?
Foster:
I’m hiding. Just like everyone else. We saw them coming through the fields… and… some people opened their doors for them. God, the SCREAMING. (pause) I don’t know what happened to them. But their houses caught fire and they… caved in. I have my curtains drawn. I’m hiding in the closet right now and- (silence)
Officer Welsch:
Ma’am, is everything alright, are you okay?
Foster:
(silence)
Officer Welsh:
Ma’am?
Foster:
(glass breaking)
Oh… Oh my God.
Officer Welsh:
Ma’am?
Foster:
Something just came in. (muffled cries)
Officer Welsch:
Ma’am, stay as quiet as you can. Don’t make a sound.
Foster:
(Muffled: “Mommy… mommy?”)
(sobbing) He came inside.
Officer Welsch:
Stay absolutely still. Don’t leave.
Foster:
(Sound of muffled footsteps)
(Muffled: “Mommy? Mommy, where are you hiding?”)
Officer Welsch:
Stay quiet.
Foster:
(Sound of heavy footsteps. Laughter. Muffled: “I found you, MOMMY!”)
(Indiscernible screaming and noise)
Officer Welsch:
Ma’am? MA’AM?
[END PHONECALL]

It was after this harrowing call that the earthquake would strike and hundreds of people would apparently evaporate into thin air. It is all a spooky story to be sure, but it is uncertain just what truth any of it has. The tale originally came up in 2012, when it began making the rounds on the Internet on a variety of forums including the r/NoSleep subreddit and of course the Creepypasta wiki, which is a red flag, but it remains unclear just what reality any of it holds if any. It certainly does not help that no record of such a large earthquake can be found anywhere in the history of the state of Kansas, nor any news stories on the matter in Hays newspaper archives, but when has this ever stopped a good conspiracy theory? There are those who maintain that the event was merely covered up, and that this is why it does not appear in public records, but there is no way to really know if the town of Ashley Kansas really did vanish or not, or if it ever even existed at all, and it remains a creepy yet unverified, almost certainly fictional story that is nevertheless just believable enough to create an air of believability and has thus generated a fair bit of discussion.

Another equally curious and unverified account of a disappearing settlement is that of the village of Hoer Verde in Brazil. On February 5, 1923, a group of visitors to this small hamlet of 600 people were amazed to discover that there was not a soul to be found anywhere in the town, and homes and other buildings had been abandoned in great haste, with personal belongings and food left behind as is. Authorities launched an investigation, but could find no sign of where any of the inhabitants had gone. The only clues left behind were a single gun that had been recently fired, and a message scrawled on a blackboard that read “There is no salvation.” Theories of what happened to the 600 vanished residents of Hoer Verde range from the plausible notion that they were forced to evacuate due to attacks from roving guerrillas or drug dealers, to the more far out idea that they were abducted by aliens, but there is unfortunately very little evidence to make any conclusions and the case of Brazil’s vanishing village remains a baffling conundrum.

More recently still is the weird story of a town which was originally called The New City Complex, in New Jersey, in the U.S., but which has for reason that will soon be clear come to be called “Demon’s Alley.” Located in West Milford, New Jersey, along Route 23, the town was built by the City of Newark Water and Reservoir Plant in order to ouse workers of the facility. Things seemed to be pretty normal for awhile, and then in 1992 it was found that the homes were suddenly and inexplicably abandoned, with no sign of burglary and everything in order, all possessions left behind, and in some cases even meals left out for people who would never come to eat them. Ever since legends have abounded.

One very popular story is that in the 1980s a stranger moved into the town, after which there were various unexplained phenomena, and it was soon suspected that this newcomer was a cult leader. The mysterious individual then apparently led most of the townspeople down into the basement of one of the homes on false pretenses and then proceeded to have them massacred by members of his cult. There is no evidence that any such mass killing ever took place, and it was never reported upon in the local news, but the legend persists. Other theories are that these homes are the abandoned set of a movie or the site of a bout of radon or carbon monoxide poisoning, or that it was haunted, but no one really knows. For now these houses sit rotting away, lost to the tides of history, and have become a popular urban legend of the area.

There is no doubt that many of these cases remain unconfirmed and the stuff of possible urban legend. The veracity of these claims has eluded us, but these stories still stubbornly continue to circulate and generate discussion. Is there anything to any of this? Why should such cases become so entrenched in the realms of Fortean phenomena if they are not real? In the end they lie out in that murky realm of reports that cannot be confirmed or denied, teasing us and flitting about on the periphery of our attempts to gain an understanding of them. Whether they are real or not, they are nevertheless spooky tales that stir the imagination.