Dec 02, 2022 I Brent Swancer

Strange Tales of Mysterious Vanishing Phantom Towns

There have long been stories of phantom people with no known past, and of those individuals who have gone missing without a trace, their identities forever specters. Yet, it seems it is not only people who have populated this partiucular realm of the weird, but also entire locations. Here we will look at a selection of mysterious phantom towns that seem to have no known past, but which have sprung up to mystify before evaporating into nothingness. 

During the 1920s, the town of Urkhammer, along Route 41, in Iowa was just a typical, unassuming and nondescript small town of just 300 inhabitants, just like countless others like it dotted around America’s Midwest. There was nothing really to see here, the people kept to themselves and went on with their quiet, rural lives, and it was the sort of place one could just drive right on by without giving much though to it. It was just a little dusty town that could have very well been forgotten by history if it wasn’t for a bizarre series of events that changed it from a forgotten backwater town to a persistent mystery.

In 1929, it was reported that aerial photographs taken of the area oddly showed that the town appeared to be not only completely abandoned, but practically in a state of utter ruin. Buildings seemed to be overrun with weeds, there were empty fields where houses once stood, and the whole place had an unkempt, feral look. It was all pretty weird, but the fact that Urkhammer was so unknown and such a speck on the map and there was more pressing news covering the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression, made it that most people just shrugged their shoulders and went on with their day, with no one really giving it much thought. A week after this, a passing motorist claimed that he had run out of gas along Route 41 and had tried to walk towards Urkhammer, but that no matter how far he walked towards the town, which was visible in the distance and had signs pointing the way, he never seemed to get any closer. He apparently walked for over two hours and was not able to ever get any closer to the town. The perplexed man was finally picked up by a passing motorist, and they noticed as they passed the gas station near the town that it was completely abandoned, and even in the car they claimed to have been unable to reach it, despite the roadside signs claiming that it was close. The whole experience had deeply unsettled the witness, with some versions of the tale even claiming that he had spent some time in a mental institution because of it. 

Other odd stories revolving around the town began to come in as well, with people claiming to have passed through the town to find the streets deserted and the houses empty husks, or of occasionally seeing very pale people lurking about that appeared to be mute. Such stories supposedly kept making the news and the rumor now was that something very bad had happened in the town to cause all of the inhabitants to leave and vanish, and that the town simply did not exist anymore. Making it even stranger was that there was a woman calling herself “Fatima Morgana,” who contacted one of the newspapers carrying these stories to insist that she was a resident of Urkhammer and had worked there for many years as a schoolteacher, and in the meantime Urkhammer’s own newspaper, the Bugle-Picayune Advertiser, ran an article hilariously titled “Rumors of Our Nonexistence Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.” Even so, the tales of weirdness continued.

In 1932, a caravan of farmers traveling by horse-drawn wagon was allegedly headed from Illinois towards California fleeing the ruins of their Dust Bowl farms when they saw signs for Urkhammer and decided to stop there for supplies. Two of the men from the group took their meager funds and headed into town, but they soon realized that no one seemed to be there. Even more bizarre still was that they claimed that when they reached the general store and tried to go in, their feet just seemed to mysteriously pass through the lowest step every time they tried to go up the steps. Bewildered, they put a board there and tried up to walk up it into the store, but their feet then passed through that as well, making it impossible for them to enter. They went back to camp to tell their strange story, and when a half a dozen very skeptical farmers went back to see for themselves, they found that they could not mount the steps either. It was quickly decided to put as much distance between themselves and that creepy town as possible. A report from the site Strange State would say of what happened after this:

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. 

The ruins of the town were then apparently half buried by dust and sand from the Dust Bowl sweeping the area at the time and sort of just faded into history, it’s fate just as mysterious as ever. It is all a very creepy and not a little spooky story, but it is quite likely that the town never existed at all. The story has mostly been dismissed as an urban legend and eerie road story, and this is not helped by the fact that most sources for the tale seem to lead back to the site Strange State, whose owner Cullan Hudson shared it and described it as a historical overview of the town that his mother had received as an email. This doesn’t not seem like the most solid of sources, and making it even more suspicious is that the main newspaper that supposedly ran articles on the matter, the Davenport Clarion-Sun-Telegraph, seems to have never actually existed at all.  

One of the strangest cases of a phantom town is the tale of Doveland, which was supposedly a quaint, rustic small town in rural Wisconsin. It was supposedly a tight-knit, charming little isolated community of around 1,000 residents, just like many others in this corner of the Midwest, but it seems that sometime in the 1990s the town just suddenly ceased to exist. People who drove through the area would find nothing there, even though they were certain there had been a town there, and those who had visited would try to return and find nothing but rural farmland where there had clearly in their mind once been a town. What’s more, people who swore that a town had been there would look at a map and find no trace of any Doveland, perplexing those who were sure it existed and that they had been there or even had relatives who lived there. 

When the story got out online, all sorts of people came out of the woodwork claiming to have been there or to have friends or relatives there, and there were even those who claimed to have been from there and grown up there who were completely flabbergasted that it seemed to just not exist anymore. There were also those who brought forward as proof of its existence various memorabilia such as postcards, t-shirts, mugs, and other souvenirs from the town, and there was even a grainy photograph that supposedly was taken there. There was even supposedly further evidence in the form of a digital "ghost trace" of Doveland in the form of Google search autocorrect and recommended search options suggesting the term Doveland. In addition to all of this, it was claimed that one could Goggle two newspaper articles about the town, with one titled “More than 1,000 Wisconsinites reported as missing,” and the other being “Who are they? Wisconsin's missing children.” Rather interestingly, or perhaps conveniently, these articles would soon disappear from the Internet into the ether and could no longer be found. What was going on here? 

There was a lot of speculation on the existence and possible fate of Doveland, and one of the more conspiratorial was the town had been part of a secretive government U.S. Navy project called “Project Sanguine.” Although it was never officially implemented, it was originally proposed as a system for communication with submerged submarines using extremely low frequency (ELF) radio waves. According to this theory, the project indeed did go ahead as scheduled, and that it was not for communicating with submarines but rather something more sinister, perhaps even something to do with UFOs or interdimensional portals. In this scenario, something had gone wrong, and for whatever reasons the town was erased from existence. Evidence was offered for this by witnesses who claimed that most of the town’s inhabitants had been in the military, and one of these would say:

Doveland was very real. My father lived there for a year or two and used to mention it occasionally before he passed, and the only reason I remember it is because I found it ironic that a town named “Doveland” was populated by almost exclusively military personnel and their families. I will dig around for a shirt when back home next in early September. If I remember correctly, the town was built as part of “Project Sanguine” in the mid to late 60’s. Maybe everyone left when the project was cancelled, but I thought something went very wrong. You can only dig up that much turf for so long before you’re bound to have problems.

Was this town part of some government project and the whole thing was covered up? Another possibility is that this is an example of what is called the “Mandela Effect,” in which large numbers of people remember things that don’t exist or that never really happened in the reality we know it. These people will often remember the same things very clearly in their minds, and yet there is no evidence any of it is real. Theories on what causes the Mandela Effect run from that this is just a type of mass delusion or misremembering of details, or that it is even indicative of these people having been transported between alternate realities, with them crossing the multiverse to find themselves in this reality while still remembering their old one. In the case of Doveland, those who remember being there are having memories of a reality in which the town does exist, but they have unbeknownst to them somehow crossed over into this reality where it does not. Of course it could also just be tall tales and an Internet urban legend, a sort of spooky online campfire story with no basis in reality. Whatever the case may be, the strange tale of Doveland is still talked about and debated to this day. 

An equally creepy story revolves around a town called Ashley, in the state of Kansas. According to the tale, in August of 1952 residents of the town began experiencing a range of strange phenomena, including unexplained lights in the sky and what appeared to be a “small, black opening in the sky.” One law enforcement officer was apparently sent from the neighboring town of Hays to go check things out, but he would report becoming inexplicably lost and unable to reach Ashley. In his communication with his superiors, he would claim that the road never bent or curved, and "continued along its normal path, but somehow ended up back in Hays." More officers were apparently sent in and they all said the same thing, that every time they took the road to Ashley it would somehow loop them around to end up back in Hays and there was no explanation for it. 

In the meantime, calls were pouring in to the police from frightened Ashley residents describing some sort of portal in the sky, which appeared to be getting larger and larger. After this it would appear that the town lost all power and was plunged into darkness, all while children were reported as eerily talking to dead family or relatives when there was no one in the room with them. After this, it was claimed that children were going missing without a trace. Another strange phenomenon that occurred was some sort of fiery phenomenon in the sky, and one early report of it says:

At 5:19 PM on the evening August 13, 1952, Ashley elderly man Scott Luntz reported a growing, distant fire to the south. According to his description, the fire seemed to turn the distant black into "bright red and orange [that] seemed to extend high into the sky." Throughout the rest of the day, calls continued in, stating that the fire, in addition to moving north, now seemed to "come out of the black sky." No fire was ever witnessed by any of the neighboring communities or law enforcement officials. The reports continued until 12:09 AM on the morning of August 14, 1952. The last phone call, placed by a Mr. Benjamin Endicott, reported that the fire in the sky had grown so intense that it began to appear as daytime over the town. The phone call ended abruptly.

For a time, no one in Ashley could be reached, but then one final phone call would be placed to police from the town, and it is bizarre and creepy to say the least. The call allegedly came from Ashley resident April Foster, and a purported transcript of her call says:

My name is April, April Foster. (coughs) Please, sir. Please help me. Last night... last night they came back. They all came in the fire. 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. 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. 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). 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)

The eerie call then ends. The following morning, on August 17, 1952, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake was measured by the United States Geological Survey, and it was apparently found that its epicenter had been directly under the small, dusty town of Ashley. Police this time were able to reach the town, but when they did all they allegedly saw was a smoldering, burning fissure in the earth measuring 1,000 yards in length and approximately 500 yards in width. Of the town and its residents there was no sign, and they were never seen again. 

It is all certainly a spooky tale, and has been presented as a genuine unsolved mystery on many sites, but the reality is that this is most likely an Internet urban legend. For one, similarly to Doveland there is no evidence that Ashley Kansas ever existed at all. It is in no maps, it appears in no census records, and there is no historical mention of it at all. Furthermore, there is no record of such a strong earthquake on the date stated, which seems odd since it would have most definitely ended up in local, if not national news, yet there is no mention of anything like that. Indeed, there was only one earthquake recorded in Kansas in 1952, but it occurred in April and was nowhere near a magnitude 7.9. Making it all even more suspicious is that the whole story seems to lead back to just 2012, where it started making the rounds on Reddit, so this strongly suggests this is just a tall tale that has sort of taken on a life of its own. It is still pretty damn strange, to say the least. 

Finally, we come to the weird case of Langville, Montana, which is yet another phantoms town that seems to just have vanished off the face of the earth. Apparently, up until the early 2000s Langville existed, and just as with Doveland there are numerous people who claimed to have been there or even lived there. It was even said to have shown up on Google maps, complete with Google Street views, but it is claimed that these just sort of disappeared from the net. There have also been reports over the years of the town appearing in Google search autocomplete boxes for a time as well as recommended search options, neither of which yielded any results. By all accounts, despite many people insisting the town once existed, it seems as if all evidence of the town has been simply wiped from existence, not appearing on any maps, nor in historical records or consensus records.

The legend of Langford has become so persistent that it was even mentioned in the new Ghostbusters sequel, when one character called Agent Rourke says “A police officer in New Mexico reports a UFO encounter; the crew of the SS Ourang Medan mysteriously dies, the entire town of Langville, Montana goes missing.” Some skeptics have mentioned that the whole story probably originates from the movie, but lots of people on various forums are adamant that Langville was a real place that existed long before the movie and which they remember clearly. There were even supposedly film reviewers who commented on Langville being a real place. We are left to wonder just what is going on here with what has come to be known as “the town the internet wants you to forget.” Was this some sort of government cover-up, a rift in time and space, the Mandela Effect, or simply viral marketing for a movie and another Internet urban legend? Who knows? In the end, all of these cases skirt about on the periphery of our understanding, flirting with both reality and urban legend, and no matter what truth any of these tales hold, they are definately damn weird cases that are fun to think about at the very least. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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