Japan’s Suicide Forrest
At first glance, the Aokigahara Forest near Mount Fuji is an ideal nature destination, filled with stunning trees growing on hard volcanic rock, and icy, rocky caverns. But the forest has a much darker side, one that was popularized with the 1960 novel Nami no T?, where the main characters end up committing suicide in the area. While Aokigahara was always a destination for the forlorn to end their lives, Nami no T? made the idea much more popular and since the book was released, an average of 30 people kill themselves in the area every year, with a record-setting body count of 108 deaths in 2004.
The government has put out a number of signs in both Japanese and English urging people to reconsider their decision and seek psychiatric help. Once a year, a group of volunteers patrols the forest looking for bodies. These body hunters mark off the areas they are exploring with plastic tape that is never removed. Thus, even if you never see a dead body or ghost roaming the forest, you are still bound to see signs of the forest’s secrets wherever you happen to go.
Image Via Al Kaiser [Flickr]
Mexico’s Island of the Dolls
Unless you already have a doll phobia, the idea of an island filled with dolls doesn’t sound all that creepy at first. It’s once you learn that the dolls are mutilated and left hung in trees while they rot away, all in honor of a drowned little girl that you start to realize just how creepy this macabre tourist destination really is.
It all started over fifty years ago, when the island’s only resident, Don Julian Santana found the body of a dead little girl in the canal where the island sits. He was haunted by her memory and soon started hanging dolls in the trees to appease the girl’s spirits and to ward off evil spirits from entering the island. Doll heads, arms, legs, etc. are sprawled out across the island in a strange sacrifice to prevent further evil. Strangely though, in 2001, Don Julian suffered the same fate as the little girl, drowning in the canal beside his home. Some people believe this was the work of the dolls who have since become inhabited by evil spirits. These days, the dolls remain the sole occupants of one of Mexico’s darkest tourist attractions.
Image Via SkilliShots [Flickr]
Italy’s Catacomb of Mummies
The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo started when the local monastery outgrew its original cemetery, so the monks decided to mummify one of their recently deceased brothers before placing him in their newly opened catacombs. The process seemed to work well, so the monks began mummifying all of their fallen comrades and placing them in the catacombs. After a few centuries, word spread about the monk’s unique burial methods and it soon began to be a status symbol for rich people to be entombed in the catacombs buried in their finest clothing. Some people even left wills requesting that their clothing be changed by their family members at regular intervals.
The last friar was buried in the catacombs in 1871, but famous people from the area continued to be interred up until the 1920s. There are now about 8000 mummies lining the walls of the many hallways, which have been organized into categories: men, women, virgins, children, priests, monks and professionals. Some of the bodies are even set in poses, including the bodies of two children who sit together in a rocking chair.
Austria’s Skull Ossuary
Halstatt is one of the oldest cities in Europe, but it’s not the town’s long history span that brings most tourists to the area. Instead, it is the small town’s massive ossuary that is filled with the painted skulls of more than 650 deceased residents of the town. The ossuary was built back in the twelfth century when the town became so large that the cemetery could no longer provide a final resting place for the residents. As a solution, graves began being rented for a span of 10-15 years, at which time, the bodies would be removed, the bones bleached in the sun and then left to rest in the ossuary.
While there are plenty of ossuaries in Europe, it’s the fact that the skulls in Halstatt are painted that make this one so special. The practice began in 1790, when members of the deceaseds’ families began adorning skulls with paintings of flowers, their names and the victim’s date of birth and death. Since their family members weren’t going to have a tombstone, it was their way of marking the “grave” of their loved ones.
These days, Halstatt is small enough that residents are no longer removed from their graves, but most people prefer cremation anyway. Anyone who wishes to be interred into the ossuary just needs to make the request before they die. The most recent addition to the collection was in 1997. Nowadays, most visitors to the ossuary are morbid tourists, not residents paying respects to their ancestors.
Image Via ambivalence [Flickr]
Portugal’s Chapel of Bones
Most of us like to relish life and ignore death as much as possible, but for the devoutly religious, the greatest rewards often come long after life has passed. That’s precisely what led a 16th century Franciscan monk to build the Capela dos Ossos (meaning “Chapel of Bones” in English) for his fellow monks. The concept that life is transitory was reflected both in the macabre décor and in the warning sign above the chapel’s entrance, which read, “We bones, lying here, for yours we wait.”
Of course, the ominous sign is still far less creepy than the interior, which is adorned with skeletal remains of around 5,000 monks held in place with cement. The bodies were removed from several dozen nearby cemeteries and, of course, the bodies of the monks who died while the chapel was being completed. As if the bone-covered walls weren’t enough, there are two bodies dangling from chains coming from the ceiling –one of which belonged to a young child. Near these bodies, along the ceiling, are written the words “Better is the day of death than the day of birth.”
Image Via Chrisiano Maia [Flickr]
Rome’s Bone-Riddled Chapels
Rome has a lot of tourist attractions, but located below the lesser-known church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini sits a tourist attraction that Frommer’s describes as “one of the most horrifying images in all of Christendom.” That’s because in the chapels below the church’s main floor, are the bones of more than 4,000 Capuchin friars. Like Capela dos Ossos, the intention here isn’t to be morbid, but to remind visitors of the swift passage of life.
Construction of the chapels began in 1631, when the monks brought 300 cartloads of deceased friars to be buried in the crypt, which contained soil imported directly from Jerusalem. As monks died while the crypt was open, the body that had been in the crypt the longest would then be exhumed and his bones would be used to adorn the chapels. There are six rooms in the underground area, including the main chapel, which does not hold any skeletal remains. Three of other rooms are decorated only by certain body parts, skulls, pelvises and torsos, and legs. The other two rooms are the most interesting.
The Crypt of the Resurrection features a large picture of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, framed by different skeleton parts. In the Crypt of the Three Skeletons, the center skeleton is enclosed in an oval to represent life coming to birth. This center skeleton also holds a scythe and scales symbolizing death and the judgment of the human soul. Beside this fixture sits a sign with translations into five languages that reads, “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.”
Image Via Thomas van Ardenne [Flickr]
The Czech Republic’s Chapel of Bones
While most of the places on this list are minor tourist attractions in their region, the Sedlec Ossuary is one of the most popular travel destinations in all of the Czech Republic, attracting over 200,000 annually. Of course, that wasn’t the intention of its creators and designers. Like many ossuaries, the building was created after the city’s cemetery became incredibly over crowded. In the year 1400, the church was constructed in the center of the cemetery with a massive lower chapel designed to be used as an ossuary. It was soon filled to the brim with the bones of around 55,000 people.
In 1870, a local aristocratic family, the Schwarzenbergs, hired woodcarver Frantisek Rint to put the bone heaps in some kind of order. Rint went further than just sorting things out, he turned the bones into works of art. He built massive bell-shaped mounds in the corners of the chapel and an enormous chandelier featuring every bone in the body. Garlands of skulls drape the vault and even the artist’s signature and the Schwarzenberg family coat of arms are recreated in bones inside the chapel.
Image Via kostnice03 [Wikipedia]
This is actually the only place on this list that I myself have visited and I must say, it was well worth the visit. The Catacombs of Paris were created after the city suffered from massive cemetery overcrowding for centuries. It was so bad that all but the rich were buried in mass grave sites. Unfortunately, because the city relied on well water, the rotting corpses started to contaminate the area’s drinking supply. Finally in the 18th century, the city decided to close down all cemeteries within the city limits and to move the bodies from the existing graves into a new ossuary located in the city’s massive underground stone quarries that had long since been abandoned. The exhumations started in 1786 and the whole process took over two years to complete –it takes a long time to transfer 6 million skeletons. In 1810, the Inspector General of Quarries Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury oversaw the renovations in the ossuary that would transform the piles of bones into a true mausoleum. He was responsible for arranging the bones into their iconic patterns and incorporating the handful of scavenged tombstones he could find into the overall design.
The deep underground ossuary ended up attracting visitors by the early 18th century and by 1867, the area was opened to the public for tours. It has remained a popular tourist attraction ever since.
Image Via Vlastula [Wikipedia]
Pennsylvania’s Constantly Burning Ghost Town
Centralia, Pennsylvania can be. While it might not be filled with dead bodies or dolls like the other places on this list, the ghost town is creepy enough to have inspired the location for one of the most terrifying video games ever created. Up until 1962, the town was just like every other small American town. But when a fire broke out in the abandoned coal mine below the town, residents started suffering adverse health effects from the resulting carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions. Despite multiple attempts to put out the fire, it continued to burn. Experts now believe it may continue to burn for another 250 years. Things didn’t get really bad until the sinkholes started to burst open in the early eighties, revealing burning infernos below the surface.
In 1984, congress offered residents buyout offers to allow them to move to away from the dangerous towns, but many insisted on staying. In 1992, the state claimed eminent domain on the city and condemned all the buildings inside the area. Despite the city’s decrees, at least ten people continue to live in the five buildings left in the evacuation zone.
Unlike the town of Silent Hill, these days, practically all the buildings have collapsed and the city looks more like a field filled with too many paved streets. The four cemeteries in the town continue to be well maintained though, despite the fact that one of them continues to have smoke rising around it at all times.
Have any of you ever visited any of these places? Are they worth a visit? Also, do you have any other creepy destinations to add to the list?