A TRAVELOGUE BY J.C. DRAKE
Sure, when you travel it’s fun to lie on the beach or hit the slopes or gamble away a few bucks in a casino. But not every holiday maker yearns for “fun in the sun.” Perhaps your tastes, like mine, turn to more mysterious encounters – those liminal places where shadows hang a bit longer and the space between this world and another feels thin.
I’ve made it a special interest to sculpt my wanderings around seeking out and exploring such places. Here I present a brief travelogue of the places I’ve been that have been the most eerie, mysterious, and disturbing. Not all of them are exotic. I recommend that you make it a point to research where to check out the local weirdness wherever you travel; perhaps you will have a truly unique experience.
- Avebury, Wiltshire, England, UK.
When people think of ancient standing stones they usually think of Stonehenge. Everyone goes to Stonehenge. But it isn’t creepy. It has a cozy gift shop where you can get a cuppa and unless you have special permission (which I had on my visit) you can’t even approach the stones. Yes, you should go to Stonehenge – but you should really go to Avebury.
Avebury is a series of three Neolithic stone circles so large the village sits within them. It’s a popular place for modern pagans, where actual witchcraft is still practiced. It was also the setting for a truly creepy film, “Children of the Stones” (1976) which even if you never get to visit, will communicate to you the spirit of the place. The local pub, the Red Lion, is also haunted.
2. White Bird Canyon, Lapwai, Idaho.
I wrote one sentence in my diary about White Bird Canyon: “This is a bad place.” Most historic battlefields in the US have lost a lot of their somber feeling in the age of mass market tourism. But the Battle of White Bird Canyon, in which a “peace party” of Nez Perce carrying the white flag of truce were fired upon by Company H of the 1st US Cavalry, sadly remains a footnote in American history. The walls of this canyon dance with ghosts and though I hiked it alone – I never felt alone.
- The Catacombs of Paris, Paris, France.
By the late eighteenth century the cemeteries of Paris were literally overflowing. In an effort to solve this problem 6 million bodies were exhumed and relocated to ancient mines beneath the City of Lights. In a perverse fit of whimsy those transporting the skeletal remains arranged them in grandiose designs, turning the abandoned mines into ornate sepulchers. About a hundred years later, the Catacombs became a site for curiosity seekers. Sure, you have to take a tour to enter the catacombs, but you will leave the modern city and travel back to the ancient past by doing so. The presence of so much morbidity is both thrilling and unnerving.
- Fort Mifflin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Built in 1771 on Mud Island in Philly, this fort saw action from the Revolution right up through World War II. The locals claim that it’s incredibly haunted and you, too, can take the opportunity to explore its paranormal legacy. Yes, it’s been featured on pretty much every major “ghost hunting” show, but when you’re locked in there at night exploring its windowless chambers, this place is seriously disturbing. It’s made this list because while exploring it on Halloween, 2015 as part of an organized ghost hunt I witnessed one of a handful of paranormal experiences I have yet to explain: a second floor door in the old Commander’s quarters flying open with no one standing behind it. If you can make an opportunity to explore this place at night, it is one of the few such historic forts that will allow you to do so.
- Goat Man’s Bridge, Alton, Denton County, Texas.
It’s an old nineteenth century iron bridge, like the thousands that survive across the country as remnants of our pre-automotive roadway system. But in North Texas this particular bridge is the stuff of legend: the haunt of the “Goat Man,” who is either a genuine satyr that appears in the night or the ghost of a lynched African American man who raised goats nearby. The site has been made famous, now, after its appearance in Season 12 of the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures,” where the hosts tried to summon a demon beneath it. It is a site where local neo-pagans work their magic, as is evidenced from an ever-present scattering of artifacts. Any legend tripper visiting Dallas or Fort Worth should make a point to go out to Alton late at night.
- The Edinburgh Vaults, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.
In the late eighteenth century two massive bridges were constructed to link various parts of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. Being pecuniary Scotsmen, the builders decided to use the supports – or vaults – that made up the foundations of the bridges as a separate real estate venture, fitting them out as rooms for businesses to lease. However, the damp conditions made them uninviting and eventually the vaults were taken over by the city’s impoverished as a squatters’ den. Finally, they were sealed up. The vaults were rediscovered in 1985, as was their significance to the city and the underclass that dwelt there. They have a paranormal story to tell as well; the place is supposedly infested with ghosts and recordings of unexplainable phenomena are frequent. Like the Paris Catacombs, you have to take a tour, but they go late at night in small groups. You are truly transported back in time.
- Site of the Witch Trial Hangings, Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts.
In 1692 nineteen innocent people were hanged on this site, now known as Proctor’s Ridge, located in a working class neighborhood of modern Salem. The exact site of the hangings was unknown until their rediscovery in 2015 and a monument now commemorates the tragic loss of life. But the site itself appears to have hardly changed since the seventeenth century and it is a miracle that it wasn’t dozed over to build suburban houses. The space has literally preserved itself by force of its own will as a witness to the tragedy. Among all the places I have been it is perhaps the most somber and transportive – an acre-sized window into the past surrounded by all the trapping of mundane modernity.
J.C. Drake is a general problem solving factotum for the government and spends his free time traveling, legend tripping, and investigating unsolved mysteries. He has contributed to CLASH previously. He is married to Vickie Drake, is a cat parent, and when not traveling divides his time between Washington, DC and York, Pennsylvania. His story ‘Corinne’ will be appearing in the upcoming Tragedy Queens anthology.