The Scariest Places on Earth
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Do you dare?
This time of year, there are plenty of man-made terrors lurking, ready to leap out and pounce. But vampires, the undead and other ghoulish fictional horrors can at least be explained away. Our planet offers up some very real scary spots, and no amount of rationalizing will snuff them out of existence. Here we've put together a list of a few terrifying places you may not have thought of. A crucifix and garlic will do nothing to save you in these places...
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Waverly Hills Sanatorium
Ready to be scared out of your wits? Then head over to the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, located on the edge of Louisville, Kentucky. This hospital was built in 1910 as a treatment center for tuberculosis patients.
The bat-winged building earned a harrowing reputation after thousands of patients died there of the "white plague," a tuberculosis epidemic that ravaged the United States throughout the early 20th century. At the time of the epidemic, there was no known cure for tuberculosis, and many patients — historians put the number at around 8,000 — died at Waverly Hills over a period of 50 years. After the discovery of antibiotics to treat tuberculosis, the sanatorium was reopened as a geriatric hospital. Now privately owned, the sanatorium is a popular site for haunted Halloween tours, and plans are in the works to turn the allegedly haunted building into a hotel and conference center. Stay the night, if you dare.
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What's the most haunted place in the United States? Ironically, it's the "Hostess City of the South," or Savannah, Georgia. Savannah is home to dozens of haunted houses and hundreds of ghost sightings and is a popular place for ghost tours. One of the city's spookiest locales is the Bonaventure Cemetery, a veritable jungle of tombstones and Spanish moss-covered trees.
Among Savannah's haunted homes is the Hampton Lilybridge House. Built in 1797, the house was later moved to a new location, which happened to contain a mysterious underground crypt. Since it was moved, dozens of people who lived in the home have complained of supernatural activities in the residence, including furniture that rearranged itself and doors that locked of their own volition.
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Bachelor's Grove Cemetery
All cemeteries are a bit spooky, but which cemetery is the scariest of them all? Many argue that the distinction belongs to Bachelor's Grove Cemetery on the outskirts of Chicago, Illinois. More than 100 documented ghost sightings and supernatural episodes have been reported in and around the burial ground.
Many of these ghoulish reports reference a ghost farmer and his horse, while other visitors report seeing a 1940s-style car that appears and disappears along the roads leading to the cemetery. The image above was published in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1991. It shows what appears to be a woman sitting on a gravestone inside Bachelor's Grove. However, the photographer claims that the woman was not present when the picture was taken. The figure, now known as the "Madonna of Bachelor's Grove" is popularly believed to be the ghost of a woman buried next to her young child. She allegedly walks the graveyard during the full moon with the child in her arms.
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Tower of London
What historic building in England has been home to queens, criminals, the crown jewels, a menagerie and a whole slew of ghosts? The Tower of London, of course. The 900-year-old castle and fortress is said to be haunted by a number of specters, including the ghost of Arabella Stuart, a cousin of King James I. Arabella made the grave mistake of marrying against the king's wishes, and she's still serving her time inside the tower, according to legend. Other famous Tower of London ghosts include Queen Anne Boleyn (decapitated wife of the fickle King Henry VIII) and Thomas Becket (murdered Archbishop of Canterbury).
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Nestled at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan is one of the world's most terrifying places: Aokigahara Woods. Also known as the Suicide Forest, Aokigahara is a 14-square-mile (35 square kilometers) swath of trees where hundreds of people have committed suicide over the past several decades. In 2010, 247 people attempted suicide within the forest's boundaries, and 54 of those people succeeded in their attempt, according to a report by the Japan Times. The same report also states that the number of attempted and successful suicides in the woods continues to rise every year.
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El Aziza, Libya
If the idea of a hot summer day with no available air conditioning scares you, then get ready to scream about this next location. Often cited as the hottest inhabited place on Earth, El Azizia in Libya has experienced temperatures of 136 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius). The reason for the extreme heat has to do with southerly winds that blow hot air into this small town from over the Sahara Desert. Sounds a bit like hell on Earth, doesn't it?
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No list of spooky places would be complete without a haunted house, and perhaps no house does a better job of looking haunted than the Croke-Patterson Mansion in Denver, Colorado. Built in 1890, the mansion resembles a small castle, with its red sandstone turrets and high garret windows. Those who have lived in the house claim to hear the incessant cries of a baby coming from the attic. And local lore suggests that one of the home's former owners committed suicide in the attic by inhaling poison gas.
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If an island chock full of disintegrating doll parts isn't your thing, perhaps you'd prefer a quaint mountain town full of life-size dolls. Nagoro is a tiny village in Japan with a population of about 30 people. However, the village's doll population is booming; about 350 scarecrow-like dolls reside there.
The dolls are the work of local artist Tsukimi Ayano, who creates the life-size figures to replace all the people who have left Nagoro for larger cities and for those who have died over the years. The inanimate doppelgangers inhabit the town in much like their human counterparts once did — sitting outside the local shops, attending classes and fishing by the river. Despite the dolls' sentimental underpinnings, some visitors to Nagoro say their presence all over town is a bit unsettling.
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Isla de la Muñecas, Mexico
What could possibly be creepier than a tree full of hanging dolls? How about a whole island of trees full of hanging dolls?
Isla de la Muñecas, or Island of the Dolls, is a small island located in a canal south of Mexico City. The island is named for its doll population — a collection of intact toy dolls, doll heads and other disembodied doll parts that are strung from the island's trees and perched on overhead branches. The dolls were put there by a local man who reported finding a young girl's body washed up on the shore of the island about 50 years ago, according to Atlas Obscura. The man has since died, but the island now serves as a popular (and super creepy) tourist attraction. Some visitors say they have heard the now decrepit dolls whispering to each other in the treetops…
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Bell Witch Cave
Bell Witch Cave has become a must-see attraction for ghost hunters in the U.S. The Adams, Tennessee, cave is located on a farm that once belonged to the Bell family. Legend has it that, beginning in 1817, the Bells were tortured by an evil "witch being." The family reported seeing strange animals around their farm and waking up to inexplicable noises throughout the house, such as scratching at the doors and the sound of chains being dragged across the floor. The Bell Witch, as this spirit came to be known, was thought to be the spirit of a deceased (and seemingly vengeful) neighbor named Kate Batts, according to the official Bell Witch Cave website.
Today, tourists are invited to roam the cave where the Bell Witch once taunted the youngest Bell daughter.
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Door to Hell, Turkmenistan
This next spooky spot is quite literally hell on Earth. Commonly known as the "Door to Hell," the natural gas crater pictured above can be found in Derweze, Turkmenistan.
Located in the Karakum Desert, the Door to Hell became a 230-foot-wide (70 meters) burning hole back in 1971. That's when a group of engineers drilling for oil accidentally tapped into a pocket of natural gas, which caused their drilling rig to collapse and form a crater. Fearing that poisonous methane gas would seep out of the crater, the engineers decided to set the gas on fire. The engineers expected the natural gas reserve they had disrupted to burn for a few weeks, but they clearly underestimated the inferno. The Door to Hell continues to burn to this day.
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What's so creepy about Beelitz-Heilstätten hospital in the German state of Brandenburg? It's hard to choose just one thing; it could be the crumbling vine-covered buildings, the abandoned medical equipment, the rusty hospital beds or the fact that the hospital once treated Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Hitler was a patient at Beelitz-Heilstätten after he sustained a leg injury at the Battle of Somme in 1916. The hospital was later occupied by Soviet forces and remained a Soviet military hospital until the 1990s. Some parts of the hospital remain open to patients, while others are frequented by camera-toting explorers.
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Most catacombs are a little eerie, but the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Sicily, in southern Italy, are truly freaky. The catacombs contain about 8,000 skeletons and more than 1,000 mummified bodies. But what's strange about these corpses is that most of them are wearing clothes, and some of them are posing together in little groups.
One of the best-known mummies of Capuchin is that of 2-year-old Rosalia Lombardo, an Italian child who died of pneumonia in 1920. Her corpse is so well preserved by embalming fluids that she appears to be merely sleeping nearly 100 years after her death.
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If mummified corpses are a bit too much for you to stomach, then perhaps you should skip Sicily and head straight to the Czech Republic's Sedlec Ossuary. Located beneath a cemetery, the ossuary (or catacomb) contains the bones of an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 people. But, it's not the bones themselves that are freaky; it's the way the bones are presented.
In the late 1800s, the woodcarver František Rint was hired to organize the bones in the ossuary, which had become a bit overcrowded. Rint took some artistic liberties, carefully arranging the bones to create a giant chandelier, a coat of arms and other ghastly decorations. The morbid artist even signed his name in bone on the ossuary wall.
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"The Boneyard" (Monthan Air Force Base)
Let's move on to a different kind of cemetery — one where old military aircraft go to die. The Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, is commonly referred to as "The Boneyard." And while this spot might not be super scary, it certainly looks like the backdrop for a post-apocalyptic thriller. In fact, this 600-acre cemetery of steel has been captured on film before. It was the setting for the video "Learning to Fly" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
This strange graveyard contains almost every plane flown by U.S. military pilots since World War II, including the B-52 StratoFortress and the much newer F-14 Tomcat. But don't try to enter this private Air Force Base because it's not open to the public. However, you can gawk at the dusty metal carcasses on Google Earth (try coordinates 32 08'59.96" N, 110 50'09.03"W).
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Yes, the name itself is sinister, but Death Valley has its name for a reason. Spend too much time in the area the hottest, driest and lowest place in North America and you'll learn why early settlers bestowed such a forbidding name upon the place.
Nestled between steep mountains, Death Valley stretches for 140 long, hot miles (225 kilometers), and lies 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level. In July, temperatures hover around 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius). The scorched valley boasts the second-highest temperature ever recorded, a stunning 134 F (57 C) in July of 1913.
Make sure to bring plenty of water if you visit. Large parts of the valley have no cell phone coverage, so you may not be able to call for help.
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This continent is rife with biting beasts that may not steal your eternal soul but can definitely do some nasty things to your corporeal parts.
It's the only place on Earth where venomous snakes outnumber non-venomous snakes. Australia's brown snakes and tiger snakes can kill humans with a single strike, but life-saving anti-venom treatments are widely available.
However, no amount of anti-venom can protect against the saltwater crocodile, one of Australia's most dangerous animals. Common in the northern Outback, the crocs kill one or two people a year. They are monstrous; the largest males can grow up to almost 23 feet (7 meters) long, and they are very aggressive.
Add to that the infamous great white shark and a host of venomous creatures the deadly box jellyfish, the blue ring octopus, the creepy-looking stone fish, dangerous spiders and Australia lives up to its reputation as a spot that'll toughen you up if it doesn't kill you first.
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Perfect for aspiring Dr. Frankensteins, pretty scary for everybody else. This area gets more lightning strikes than any other place on the planet, as shown in this satellite map of global lightning flash density.
The average lightning bolt carries about 30,000 amps of charge, has 100 million volts of electric potential, and is about 50,000 F (27,760 C). Lightning strikes are the second-deadliest weather-related threat in the United States, killing, on average, 58 people a year.
The odds of being struck in your lifetime (if you live to be 80) are 1 in 3000 in the United States, but probably a bit higher if you spend time in the planet's lightning capital.
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Komodo Island, Indonesia
On Komodo Island no one can hear you scream...at least the Komodo dragons can't. Their ears can't pick up high-pitched frequencies like a human howling in pain, but their tongues can smell you, even if you are hiding a couple of miles away.
The largest lizards in the world, these cannibalistic, scavenging, predatory monsters would do well in a B-grade horror movie. Not only are they big and scary-looking, they're also just plain gross.
The largest recorded Komodo was 10.3 feet (3.13 m) long and weighed 366 pounds (166 kg).
Komodo dragons eat carrion, but they also hunt, attacking everything from smaller lizards to rodents to water buffalo. To kill, the Komodos will knock an animal off its feet and tear it to pieces. If the Komodo's large, serrated teeth don't do the trick, the venom and deadly bacteria in a Komodo's saliva will kill any animal that escapes within a few days, and the dragons can then feast on the carcass.
The lizards are efficient eaters, polishing off bones, hide, hooves, even intestines to clean out the feces of their victims, they vigorously swing the innards around. Since Komodo dragons are cannibalistic, juveniles often roll in fecal matter. The smell keeps the bigger adults from turning the little ones into breakfast.
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During the Antarctic winter, darkness rules the land. From late March until mid-September, the sun never appears above the horizon, vicious blizzards can reduce visibility to just a few feet, and temperatures stay around or below minus 76 F (minus 60 C).
Vostok Station, a Russian research center, holds the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded at the surface of the Earth: minus 128 F (minus 89.2 C), in 1983.
If you don't freeze to death on the southernmost continent, you might die of loneliness. Antarctica is the only continent on Earth with no native population. Only scientists and adventurers spend time in this windswept, frozen, forsaken place.
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Gomantong Cave, Malaysia
Like a self-contained horror film, in this cave, the darkness is alive!
If the millions of bats don't creep you out, maybe the millions of cockroaches feasting on massive mounds of bat guano will. And the roaches don't just eat the guano. Bats or birds foolhardy enough to fall into the heaving mountains of insects are quickly devoured, their tiny bones picked clean by the insatiable cockroaches.
However, there is some poetic justice at work. Enormous, cockroach-eating centipedes skitter across the cave's walls. And so the circle of life, in all its beauty, rolls onward.
Don't get caught in here without a flashlight. Or perhaps a completely-sealed space suit.
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Madidi National Park, Bolivia
We humans are accustomed to our spot at the top of the food chain. The conditions in this tropical rainforest turn that paradigm on its head. In this steamy spot, you are the food.
Photographer Joel Sartore's unforgettable account of his time in the park, first published in National Geographic in 2000, was so terrifying we still can't get it out of our heads.
During frightening days and dark nights filled with the cries of mysterious beasts, Sartore recounts horror after horror: botfly maggots that burrow into the flesh; packs of wild pigs that will tear a man to pieces; stingray bites that can leave a person bedridden for more than a month; parasitic worms that infest the human stomach; stinging ants; fungus that attacks human skin.
Even the leaves and moths here are venomous, and touching them can leave a person in pain for several hours.
Sweet dreams tonight...