Friday, August 28, 2009

Creepy Towns: Creepy Vibes

(above: Hinton, West Virginia; Ellicott City, Maryland; Holbrook, Arizona; and Oregon City, Oregon)

There’s some places you visit and you want to pass through the town quickly and hopefully not have to stop, or if you’re like me, you stay for a while and observe the locals, pick up the ambiance, and try to figure out why the heck it gives you the heebie jeebies.

Being on road trips and vacations, we all end up eventually in some godawful town that “has no name” but has a Motel 6 at midnight. That’s a whole different story. This story I’m about to tell you is one about towns that unsettle, feel possessed, have dark secrets. You know, the kind of town that in old movies would have had the locals pulling their shutters closed when you come down the cobblestone street. Yeah, that kind of town.

If you stay long enough, you pick up a weird affect amongst the people, sometimes like they’re pod people, other times like they hate outsiders, or perhaps they rarely see out-of-towners in their neck of the woods, in the most unsettling ones you feel as if you're invisible to them or in a parallel universe.

On any trip, the air smells different, the food tastes strange, the streets don’t connect right. It just feels askew. The kind of towns I’m fixated on are the ones that aren’t just foreign to you, like traveling to Italy when you’re from the Midwest. I’m talking about towns that feel geologically, architecturally, and even spiritual whacked.

Now, don’t get me wrong. These are plenty fine places, even friendly places, but just have something a bit…wrong. When you can feel it in your bones and your senses are super alert, there’s something there. I tend to think it’s along the lines of the geology and architecture as in haunted places, but I guess we’ll never know what really sets off our protective instincts.

On my list of 4, I’ll count down backwards to the most creepy town I’ve been in:

4. Ellicott City, Maryland (west of Baltimore). This town (I’d call it a village myself) is strangely nestled between deep grooved hillsides. The descent into it is somewhat like driving Lombard Street in San Francisco. You can feel not only narrow streets like you might find in a place like Jerome, Arizona, but last time I was there, they still had water marks where a great flood put the town under. No wonder. It’s kind of a water trap. The buildings lining the street look much like what you find in an Old West town, all attached to each other, built mostly in the 1800s. In a nowadays world, this might look like a hip artist colony retreat, but it’s so strangely hidden it takes on a more “alternate reality” feeling, like a town you stumble upon in “Twilight Zone.” The people seem quite happy to live in this out-of-the-way spot that really only locals know is there. It even had a little creepy amusement park (now abandoned) called “Enchanted Forest” (can be seen in the movie “Cry-Baby” with Johnny Depp). It’s interesting to me, but when I was growing up and visiting there in the 70s, it wasn’t a time people or towns gloated about ghosts, but since that time, the town council now has ghost tours. Yes, I knew the place was haunted! My spi-dee senses told me at a young age. If you wanted to get lost from the world in the greater DC area, this is your place.

3. Holbrook, Arizona. More than likely, unless you decide to follow Route 66 or are headed for the Meteor Crater, this town will never be in your sites. Pity, that. Anyone who follows Oprah, probably saw her road trip with her buddy, Gayle and their stay over at the Wigman Motel. What you don’t know about Holbrook is the feel of the place. To get there, you’re basically driving across lunar landscape for miles and miles and miles, feeling as if you’re at some high point on the world, able to see the curve of the earth. The town itself is based upon the railroad tracks, showing you its earlier origins long ago. On a family road trip, I begged to stop somewhere else and stay the night. Anywhere, but this town. Checking into the hotel felt like I was checking into my doom. The whole town feels depressed and very very bleak. This is pod people weird. Soulless, strangely lifeless, drones wander about. Not that there aren’t pockets of niceness and cheerfulness, but think about it—this place is neither here nor there. It’s nestled between more and more vast high desert and nothingness, except a giant hole in the ground and Flagstaff. What in the hell would these people have to look forward to day after day in such a lonely setting that was never a destination, but only a drive-through spot? We looked for a place to have supper and I refused every place we drove by. My hackles were rising by the minute and I just knew there was something not right about any of it. We found a strange steakhouse place, a dark spooky cave of a restaurant and found a booth. The people didn’t feel right. The music didn’t sound right. The entire meal was a mind-numbing experience in the surreal. I’ve never done hallucinogenic’s, but I swear it felt like a very weird trip into an alternate universe. I truly didn’t feel like I was part of the Earth any longer, but some other life space running alongside the one we normally participate in. It’s hard to describe other than to say, I didn’t sleep that night and the minute we left the town, I felt myself again. I’ll never forget that feeling, nor do I want to experience it again. At the time, I attributed it to the kind of Native American aura that probably surrounds places of strangeness like Skinwalker Ranch in Utah. Whatever kind of magic was practiced there, it certainly left the place feeling rather beaten down and exhausted (myself included).

2. Hinton, West Virginia. This stop on the train rail is nestled between small remnants of the Appalachian chain with the New River rushing through it, bisecting it into even smaller villages. The downtown area is a tight little street with shops attached and crowded in like creepy shuttered viewers of the elderly men shuffling around out front having a smoke and watching the traffic (all 3 cars) go by. This is the town that time forgot. It’s not on the way to a destination so it therefore is a dead end or a purposeful destination (even more chilling). I’ve been going there (relatives in the area) for over 40 years and the only thing that’s changed, I believe, is the addition of a McDonald’s. The same said McDonald’s that when my family visits there, the entire crowd inside stills and stares at us. The restaurant becomes silent. We get our food and eat on the kiddie porch outside, where diners resume their conversations again. The local gas station attendant asks, “ya’all take a wrong turn?” When I was a child and we had to visit relatives here, I would sob and fight the whole way. I hated going there. It’s the most beautiful place and the people really are quite warm and friendly (even when they find out you’re not fundamentalist), but it has an undercurrent of bad energy in the water and the hills that corrupts what looks like a very gorgeous place, wonderful for rafting, fishing, and recreational boating at the dam. Perhaps it’s the dam, the geology, the north-running river… It just has very bad mojo. In fact, I used the town as the model for “The Lower” in my manuscript “The Thicket.” I used the town above it, Nimitz, for “The Upper” which has an equally strange feel in a rolling farmland. If you ever wanted to get lost from the rest of the world in a place that will never change one iota and the average person is about 60 years old, this is your place.

1. Oregon City, Oregon. Creepiest! We went on a family vacation before I had to have surgery on my Achilles tendon rupture. I wasn’t able to walk much, but we were able to drive the countryside and decided to explore Lake Oswego area and ended up stumbling across a river with a hydroelectric plant smack dab in the middle of the rushing water. It was very picturesque with a tall green hillside and buildings nestled into the hill overlooking it. I thought it was a picture-taking opportunity and nothing more until we followed the river across a bridge and saw the plant up close. I spotted a sturgeon hanging from the post on the bridge (they look like sharks!) and all of a sudden I got a rush through my body of “past life déjà vu.” We turned to drive away and (I am not the hysterical type in any sense of the word) I told my husband, “if you don’t go back to that town, I’ll jump out of the moving car.” (It's scary because I really meant it!) He did a fast u-turn. I’ve never done something like that in my entire life. We edged across the bridge, passing fisherman after fisherman lined up, sturgeon dangling from the posts. The churning water from the hydroelectric plant caused a constant static feeling in the air, a crackling and energy, the hillsides locked it in with the geology of the area, and the buildings were quaint and looked well established in age along a narrow roadway lining the river. The people seemed odd. They didn’t even glance over or see us. It was as if we were invisible. It was another unsettling feeling. When I stood there and breathed the air, felt the energy of the place, I realized this would be the setting of my next erotic horror novel. Something incorporating the town’s isolation, the hillside, the geology, and the hydroelectric plant. I think about that town still and I shake my head. It was unsettling and yet at the same time, so unsettling that I would love to go and rent a place for a few months and finish the novel just to be in with the locals and figure out how the elements of this town make it feel the way it does, both dynamic and energetic and yet zen-like without thought. I had a particularly hard time opening up to the minds of the people there when I tested it. I wonder if the energy of the geology/waterway make it impossible to do psychic reads? Intriguing thought. It was relaxing to be amongst people whose internal chatter didn’t make me uncomfortably “busy” feeling inside. I was truly able to clear my mind and feel the energy from the earth in my body, so I was alert and silent simultaneously. Yeah, this was the creepiest most visceral town I’ve been to and yet the one I’d most like to spend the rest of my life living in. In other words, it’s just strange enough for me, which says a lot.

Please feel free to mention your creepy towns, I'd love to find more with these vibes


  1. The creepiest place i have been was actually a small village. It is where Petros grandfather lived. It definitely gave me the chills! You could tell it was full of life. But it was empty. When i entered Petros 's home, after he begged and begged, it was even scarier. You could actually live there, although no one has been there for dacades. Nothing was moved or thrown away. Nothing was taken from the house as if someone was using them. And we left without even taking a picture or something of his to remember him by.
    I do not think Petros had his good karma luck yet. Although my mom yesterday brought us a food he liked and today we went to buy a sofa and ended with two in less than what we were about to pay. I do not think it is over yet...

  2. Georgina;
    That village sounds very creepy and the home, super scary. I love more than anything going into abandoned places where stuff was just left behind. There was a house in the hills in AZ where the elderly lady had stored things for the year 2000 (thinking the world would end-like many people did). She became ill and relatives removed her from the home, but the hoarded stuff was still sitting there in stacks and boxes around the house, attracting rodents and spiders. It was very smelly and nasty, but also really intriguing to see someone's life sort of frozen in time, as if that moment continues to live without advancement of age or the clock...

  3. What a fascinating article! I wish I could have had some of these "deeply" unsettling experiences-even tho I'd probably run haha. The closest I came feeling totally creeped out location wise -actually two places-when I went to Europe with fellow high schoolers in 1982-we stayed for a bit (divided into ones and twos) with a German family, Austrian and at the end of the trip an English family. well I went on a walk by myself (the town/village was called Yately in Berkshire county-on a wooded path near the town-and even tho it was close to population -I suddenly think I got the feeling of being alone in the middle of nowhere-and the "OZ" factor that is talked about with paranormal events started coming over me-I didnt let it reach the stage of terror-and almost ran back to my "homestay" house! I wonder to this day what if anything would have happened had I stayed on the wooded path longer. the other incident happened in prob the mid-70s-my brother and I were being driven back to Colorado from Texas by our paternal grandmother-we stopped in one of those tiny Texas towns with a silly name-cant remember exactly-like "Friendly" or "Peaches" and went into this restaurant to eat-the door was open-and it was around lunchtime-well we no more than got in the door than this wizened old man said something to the effect of "Go away-we dont need you here" haha needless to say I dont know how the place stayed in business-we laughed about it and just ate later down the road-but 30 years or so after the incident with the grouchy restauranteur(spell error?) I still think of how crazy that seemed-but all in all I havent experienced anything like what you have! great and thought provoking post as always-hope you have a beautiful weekend!!

  4. Hey Devin;
    Glad you enjoyed my foray into the unknown villages of the US. I have to admit, if you're talking about I-40 (RT 66) in Texas through the panhandle--yeah, it runs along railroad tracks and generally has a creepy feel. When I first moved to AZ, I spent two weeks in Midland (I thought Phoenix was bad--oh my God!!!) I had to sit through countless rodeos (not my thing at all) and men chewing tobacco (not anyone's thing at all) and the whole Texas mentality--almost walked home. I have to admit that whole area around I-40--super creepy. Your experience in Berkshire sounds like a legitimate stroll into the unknown. Sometimes, I'm rather Rod Serling-ish. I wonder what would happen if we stayed longer, followed the path further...I tend to be counterphobic--so if it scares me, I push myself trying to figure out what scares me about it and master my mind with logic. I usually do gkeep taking that road and hence, I've felt a lot of strange towns (up and down my spine!)

  5. I'm totally with you on Holbrook. I drive through that town every time I go to visit my mom. I've never gotten out of the car there, not even for a bathroom break!

  6. Creeeeepy stuff there. I'll not be driving through Holbrook certainly.

    Here's my creepiest. My last residence, where I was completely, totally and thoroughly inundated with everything paranormal from the day I arrived until the day I finally got my butt out of there. HATE this town.

    Placerville, CA

  7. Pamela;
    I'm with you. I begged hubby to go to Winslow and sleepover. What a night!

    Looking at Placerville, it has a lot of great components:
    tectonic, mining, waterways, train tracks, edge of the Sierra Nevada, not far from Nevada's Area 51. Lots of stuff that could just plain old make it weird. I hear the UFO action up there is outstanding and some folks have tried to tie it to the mining lands because of some refueling issues for aliens. Don't know about that theory, but I think if you use the earth's geomagnetic forces to help navigate or propel you, you might want to pick up some energy in such spots. I think mining towns are the most disruptive. I can barely sleep when I visit Globe, Jerome, or Bisbee. All that, well, unsettling.

  8. First off, I have been out of the loop and hadn't seen your blog since you made the changes. Looks AWESOME!

    Second...what a great post! And weird, because I just wrote about some Haunt Jaunts in Oregon, but not about Oregon City, which jsut sounds creepy as creepy can be.

    Again, another neat post. Hopefully I'll be back to following regularly again. I've missed reading you!

  9. Hinton, WV. Ah yes, I have spent alot of time in that area and you are right. Creepy, creepy. And the more you explore that place the more creepy things you find. But there are some parts of it or close by that are so absolutely beautiful! Some of the best autumn photos I have ever taken were at Sandstone Falls.

  10. Courtney; Glad you're back. I hope to revise the site one more time. My son is a computer expert, so I'm hoping to get him to find me the right template for the look I want as a b-day gift in September. Can't wait until the site looks like how I see it.

    Yup! I think I know all of Hinton/Nimitz like the back of my hand, as well as Pipestem. I go to the falls every time I visit because my sister lives along the river directly across from "downtown" and so I just take the road back. My mother's people are from that Sandstone area. I absolutely love the falls and the new thing they have done in recent years with the wooden walkways that go back. There's no doubt that it's truly beautiful country, and also geologically a bit...foreboding. In fact, in my novel I'm writing, the rock in the mountains plays a huge role in the magic...

  11. If Hinton WV is one of the creepiest towns you've been to... then I highly suggest you become more