article-image"Singing, Ringing Tree," played by the wind in Lancashire (photograph by Mark Tighe)

Other than the ubiquitous wind-chimes sounding on your balcony, there are a variety of instruments that are played only by the wind, ranging from those small enough to sit on your windowsill to massive pieces of modern art and poorly-designed skyscrapers.

While known in ancient Greece, India, and China, the Aeolian harp ("Aeolian" from the ancient Greek god and "keeper of the winds," Aeolus) was "rediscovered" in Europe during the 1650s, by Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit priest, and went on to become a popular feature in Romantic-era households. The idea is simple: a number of strings (usually an even number) are strung over a sound chamber, and the instrument is then left somewhere with a strong breeze. The wind does the rest.

article-imageAeolian harp revived by Athanasius Kircher, illustrated by Friedrich Schultes, woodcut on paper (1684) (via Deutsche Fotothek)

The modern world has never gotten over this obsession with wind-played instruments, and Aeolian harps can be found all across the planet. And there are other instruments played by or involving nature, such as the Wave Organ in San Francisco, the Singing Drain Pipes in Kunsthofpassage, Germany, and the Great Stalactite Organ in Luray, Virginia. Yet from the coast of California to the Eden Project, the humming of Aeolian harps can be heard. The instruments themselves are interesting, not only because they are played by the wind, but also because they are the only instruments that can play only chords. 

At the Exploratorium in San Francisco, quite near the Wave Organ, sits a 27-foot-tall Aeolian harp, designed by local artist Doug Hollis. The harp is situated to be strummed by the fingers of the wind that pass through a wind tunnel, creating an eerie humming sound.

Other Californian Aeolian Harps include the Lucia and Aristides Demetrios Wind Harp, also in San Francisco, which, at 92 feet, is the largest wind harp in the world, and the Solvang Wind Harp, which appears to have fallen into a terrible state of disrepair.  

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article-imageSanta Muerte in Tepito (all photographs by Toni François)

The Santa Muerte rosary service held in Tepito, Mexico City's most notorious barrio, is the signature public ritual of the burgeoning cult of the skeleton saint.

On the first day of each month, thousands of devotees converge on tiny Alfareria street to participate in both the recitation of the rosary and the carnivalesque street scene that precedes the epic prayer to both the Virgin Mary and Saint Death. Many arrive hours in advance of the late afternoon service to claim a few feet of sidewalk space for their portable altars.

As seen in these photographs, the diversity of images of the Bony Lady is astounding, and gives testament to the creativity and dedication of devotees. True to the reputation of the barrio, the air is thick with an intoxicating mix of marijuana, tobacco, and glue, which is huffed by some of the teens. On the first of August, 2014, Mexican photographer Toni François and I teamed up and spent the afternoon at this, the most famous Santa Muerte shrine founded by cult pioneer, Enriqueta Romero, on Halloween, 2001.




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The foundation of Atlas Obscura is contributed by intrepid users around the world, out exploring the places no one else is noticing, or delving into history that's been all but forgotten. Here we are highlighting five of our favorite recent additions to the Atlas. Have a place we've missed? Create an account and become a part of our community.

Treviso, Italy

article-imagephotograph by Oriol Ferrer Mesià

One man spent over 40 years handcrafting the Ai Pioppi Playground out in an Italian forest. Contributed by Atlas Obscura user viliusdidit, the enchanting amusement park is filled with complex rides, all off the grid and designed to blend into nature, such as swinging bridges and other kinetic wonders.

Luya, Peru

article-imagephotograph by Gaston E.

Look closely at this assemblage of giants and you'll see some are wearing human skulls. These are the Sarcophagi of Carajía in Peru's Utcabamba Valley, contributed by Atlas Obscura user pnasrat. Standing eight feet tall, the mysterious sculptures date back to the 15th century and are burial vessels for human remains. 

Hinterbrühl, Austria

article-imagephotograph by Victor Wong

The largest underground lake in Europe was never intended to be. In 1912 a detonation gone awry caused a gypsum mine beneath the Austrian town of Hinterbrühl to fill with water. Now the Seegrotte, added by Atlas Obscura user Quisquilia, is a subterranean attraction, inviting visitors to ride an eerie gold boat on its lake, which must be drained each day.

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Pausing on the NYC subway (photograph by Susan Sermoneta)

No one expects the intense velocity of New York City to stop for them. But human beings are known to short circuit without a moment of pause here and there to reflect. No matter your religious belief or method of practice, meditation can be an incredibly healing mind-body therapy. One just needs to find a place of their own to be still and breathe.

Maybe it is no surprise that a city notorious for never sleeping would also hold so many beautiful little tranquil spots of weary citizen asylum. But when millions of resourceful New Yorkers are seeking out a transcendental corner of their own, what aloneness can still be found out there? Here is a guide to finding secret, silent places of pause waiting for a contemplative soul to makes its way there for some solitude. 

Main Concourse, Barclays Center
620 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn

screenshot from News12 Brooklyn

Tucked inside Brooklyn's giant sports and music arena constructed over an MTA rail yard, is a 150-square-foot lavender room with walls proclaiming “Love” and “Joy.” This is the meditation room of Barclay's Center, where there is mostly empty seating and always silence, so those seeking it can find the headspace they need and set some intentions before or after the game. 

346 Houston Street, betwwwn Avene C & D, East Village, Manhattan

photograph by Mat McDermott

This community garden hosts public art and culture events and celebrations, but it was created to offer a place of daily meditation to wandering souls of the East Village. Hours of le Petit Versailles in the East Village are 2 pm to 7 pm Thursday through Sunday. Enjoy all the botanical whimsy and creative landscaping on a breezy afternoon, and strings of twinkling lights in the evening. If you need inspiration, just soak up the history of social activism and art connected to the garden since its birth in 1996. 

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From August to September, Eames Demetrios, Geographer-at-Large for Kcymaerxthaere, is serving as the Geographer-in-Residence at Atlas Obscura. Here he explains more about how a Kcymaerxthaere site, one of the many of points around the globe that tell the story of a world parallel to our own, comes to be.

When I accepted the geographer residency at Atlas Obscura, I really hoped a Kcymaerxthaere installation would be pulled off during the time of the residency itself, so I could capture a timeline in a way that I haven't really tried before. And we lucked out. Some Kcymaerxthaere installations happen really fast, others take forever; most do both. The story of Rising of the Gehlyrns, our 101st marker or historical site, installed last Saturday in Taitung, Taiwan, is a perfect example. This is how it looked at 8:30 on last Sunday morning.


How did it get this way? First, I am always looking for new locations to install Kcymaerxthaere markers, particularly internationally. We are only in 22 countries so far and it is a big planet.

There are so many stories in this parallel world and at this point the stories have their own momentum. So, do I turn down locations? Alas, yes, quite often. For starters, I can only install under certain circumstances, the most important of which is that I have permission for the marker to be there permanently — or at least 50 to 75 years.

People often think of the project as being like graffiti. But it is more like the opposite. I can't simply create a stone and then have a municipality remove it the next day. After all, the best way to give the feeling of permanence is for something to be permanent. 

My first trip to Taiwan was in 2007, and at that time I explored opportunities to install, but nothing ever quite gelled. Then, Jason Hsu, curator of TEDxTaipei, invited me to speak about Kcymaerxthaere at that event. We felt it was a great time to see if there was a way to do work on the insanely beautiful East Coast of Taiwan. We went to an area called Taitung, where many of the aboriginal people live, and some are relearning old techniques and sharing them, including the building of houses like this, by the artist Sokuru:


Though nothing panned out on that trip, another Taiwanese friend and her partner generously offered a beautiful corner of farmland on which I could tell a story. It's outside Tainan, a larger city in the south of the island. We are still fine-tuning details on the site, but the hard core of its installation is complete. It tells the story of cultures where words are numbers and numbers are words. I will touch more on that in a later post (when we share it here on Atlas Obscura).

Future work in Taiwan remained of interest, but laid a bit fallow. Knowing my interest in the location and the city's interest in expanding its identity as a cultural center, Jason of TEDxTaitung approached Chi-Yi Chang, the Taitung County Deputy Governor, about a possible installation. Chi-Yi was supportive from the get-go, and also sensitive to the time and other logistical challenges.

It also wasn't clear exactly where in Taitung City it would be. This actually was a plus for me as in the process of securing permission, almost invariably, I have seen the location. And it is almost impossible not to be impacted by it in the writing of the story — even if one consciously ignores it (because deliberately ignoring something is a response, too). So each year I try to do two markers without visiting the site or even seeing pictures of it. 

For some time I had been wanting to tell a story that elaborated on the idea of a Ghelyrn. In Kcymaerxthaere, Ghelyrns were dirigible-like vessels developed by the rabansg, playful dolphin-like creatures who tired of swimming around the continents. They developed the ghelyrns to float over the continents.


This story was first installed on the Kahlenberg, a mountain just outside what we call Vienna — on a marker called Seen des Himmels (Lakes of the Sky). It tells the story of Miskeks, a beautiful saltwater lake that floated high above the Earth. Shortly after I installed that story, I began thinking about other aspects of the Ghelyrn, and I realized it must have been so cool to see them take off from the water as they floated up into the sky. I had been hoping for a coast installation site at some point, and when Taitung popped up it seemed perfect.

I wrote the story, but it still needed to be translated. All markers are in the local language, plus English. Translating the stories of Kcymaerxthaere is not a simple matter; it cannot be sent to be translated until everything about the layout of the stone is finalized. And I wanted stone partly because the work could be done locally. At 24 days out from its projected completion, we still had two big challenges: find the stone (fortunately, Claire Lee and Apple Huang from the TEDxTaitung team had found a carver) and finalize the translation.

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article-imagephotograph by Darmon Richter

Freemasonry arrived in the Caribbean in the 18th century. It came by water, carried on the ships that sailed from Spain, England, the Netherlands, and France. Military men established many of the first lodges, although the practice was subsequently spread and maintained by colonial governments, merchants, and traveling businessmen. 

In the mid-to-late 18th century, the "Craft" would see alternating periods of rapid growth, and stagnation. Lodges opened and closed in quick succession as the European powers battled both amongst their Caribbean colonies, as well as back at home. The French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and others would all have an impact on the practice of freemasonry in the Caribbean.

Masonic graves in the Cristóbal Colón Cemetery, Havana, Cuba (photograph by Darmon Richter)

Masonic graves in the Cristóbal Colón Cemetery, Havana, Cuba (photograph by Darmon Richter)

The earliest record of an English-speaking lodge in the Caribbean is Antigua’s Parham Lodge No. 154 — consecrated in 1738. It was around the same time that other pioneer lodges began springing up in St. Kitts (St. Christopher’s Lodge No. 174) and Jamaica (Great Lodge of St. John No. 192, and Port Royal Lodge No. 193).

Meanwhile, provincial grand lodges were appeared soon after both in Barbados (1740) and Bermuda (1745). In 1788, Irish Freemasonry would follow the English and Scottish rites, to establish the Union Lodge No. 690 in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as a significant presence in both Jamaica and Bermuda. 

It’s interesting to note that in the Spanish colonies, however, freemasonry took much longer to establish itself.

A masonic lodge in the backstreets of the Dominican Capital (photograph by Darmon Richter)

"Esperanza" Lodge No. 9, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (photograph by Darmon Richter)

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Maybe there's a carnival or amusement park in your childhood memories where horses turned as if by magic, illuminated in the dark of a summer night. Whether it was a traveling pop-up in a parking lot or a more elaborate affair, there's something nostalgic about those carousels. These five examples from around the world let you return to that magic. 

Nantes, France

article-imagephotograph by Phool Proof

Created in 1999 from salvaged motorcycles and other discarded materials, wood, metal, and leather, Le Manège d'Andrea has traveled around Europe with its mechanical wonders, and returns this summer as part of les Machines de l'Île kinetic art project in Nantes, France. Each animal or fantastical machine invites riders to control part of the assemblage, whether it's flapping the wings of a swan, nodding the head of a flying unicorn, or shooting steam from an engine. It's joined in Nantes by the even more steampunk le Manège Magique, as well as a towering walking elephant

article-imagephotograph by Rafael Ibáñez Fernández

article-imagephotograph by Laurent Chicoineau


Efteling, Netherlands

article-imagephotograph by Tom & Katrien

Over in the Netherlands is a much older carousel that celebrates steam power — the Stoomcarrousel. This "steam carousel" was built in 1895 and traveled around until it was purchased for an amusement park in Efteling. Since 1956 it's offered a surreal experience of walking through an illuminated arcade to a tent filled with the music of an original Gavioli organ as the carousel (now electric since the 1970s) turns round and round on a rail track with its menagerie of horses and pigs. 

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Libraries are often public spaces with a rather private focus, each visitor engrossed in quiet contemplation or simply curled up with a good book. However, the beauty of London is found in its nooks and crannies, so let's take a look at eight libraries that are tucked a little further off the beaten track.

St. Bride Library
Bride Lane, Fleet Street, London EC4Y 8EE

article-imageOne of the many typographic treasures at St. Bride Library (photograph by Kim Anh)

Within an 1894 brick Victorian building, the St. Bride Library specializes in "something for everyone in the world of graphics." This means more than 50,000 books on printing techniques, visual styles, typography, graphic design, and calligraphy, as well as a massive store of artifacts spanning the 17th to the 20th centuries, including wood blocks, copper plates, and lithographic stones. A strong smell of ink permeates the space, so you can get a whiff of the history of hundreds of years of printed word.

Guildhall Library 
Aldermanbury EC2V 7HH

article-imageThree queens, Elizabeth I, Anne, and Victoria, carved in 1873 on the outside of the Guildhall Library (photograph by Julian Walker)

The Guildhall Library prides itself as the library of London history, and its collections comprise over 200,000 titles from the past seven centuries. Books, pamphlets, periodicals, and other materials cover every aspect of life in London, ranging from clockmakers' records and British parliamentary papers to books on wine and maritime history. 

article-imageEntrance of the Guildhall Library (photograph by Darren Hurley)

The Women's Library
10 Portugal Street, London WC2A 2HD

article-imageExhibition in the Women's Library (photograph by David Nottingham)

Located within the London School of Economics, the Women’s Library emphasizes the political, economic, and social changes in the lives of women in the United Kingdom over the past 150 years. The collections include over 60,000 books and pamphlets, 3,000 periodical titles, 500 archives, and over 5,000 artifacts. Notable items include the campaign materials of women's suffrage societies and personal archives of British female activists.

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article-imageSpreepark, Berlin (all photographs by Mathias Wasik)

Much to the dismay of urban explorers, forest ravers, and kings of carousels with dreams to build German Disneylands, the abandoned Berlin amusement park Spreepark is at the end of its era.

Not only does 2014 mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but with it the fall of one of Berlin's most beloved former GDR pleasure palaces. Just like the city it inhabits, Spreepark has seen it all over the last quarter century — communism, the end of the Berlin Wall's divide, bankruptcy, drug trafficking, nature taking its hold, gentrification — and now, arson.

In the early hours of Monday morning on August 11, Spreepark’s “Old England” village, which makes up a significant chunk of the park, was burned down by delinquents who wanted to have one last hurrah on the rundown carousels before one of them went to jail the following day

Built in Berlin-Treptow during the communist GDR government's spending spree of the 60s, Kulturpark Plänterwald, as it was called back then, remained a popular attraction until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The following year it was bought by Norbert Witte, the descendent of a German “carnie” family, and his wife, Pia, who dreamed of turning the revered state-owned amusement park of the former East into the biggest fairground in newly reunified Germany. After it reopened in 1991 as a 74-acre amusement park, their dreams initially came into fruition as Spreepark enjoyed an early outpouring of success, bringing in 1.5 million annual visitors. Unfortunately the Witte family then stumbled into a Monopoly-esque “Do not pass go. Do not collect $200” predicament as the city decided to eliminate 3,000 parking spaces to conserve the surrounding Plänterwald forest. As a consequence, attendance dropped sharply and, despite the Wittes’ best efforts, by 2001, dwindling ticket sales forced them to declare insolvency. The park closed, and the family packed up their lives —six rides in tow — and moved to Peru for a fresh start.

Across the other side of the Atlantic, things went even more downhill in horrific rollercoaster-from-hell proportions. Desperate to recoup his finances after failing in his attempts to open a new theme park, and suffering multiple heart attacks, Norbert Witte and his son were arrested in 2003 when they attempted to smuggle 400 pounds of cocaine stuffed inside machinery of a “Flying Carpet” ride back into Germany. Norbert served four years in a low-security prison in Germany, but his son Marcel, who had little involvement in the fiasco, was caught and imprisoned in one of the world's toughest prisons on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, where he still resides today. After Norbert was released from jail, he lived in a caravan on the rundown amusement park grounds making wooden stalls for public festivals in a former bumper-car ride.


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Recently we interviewed Chandler O'Leary of the fantastic illustrated travel blog Drawn the Road Again. We are thrilled to be sharing a series of O'Leary's illustrations of roadside attractions, along with their place on Atlas Obscura, in a summer series. 

article-imageSalem Sue, illustrated by Chandler O'Leary

Lording over the farmland of North Dakota is Salem Sue — the world's largest Holstein cow. The city of New Salem constructed the 38-foot high, 50-foot long animal in 1974 as a tribute to the cows that had made their dairy farming great. Sketched by Chandler O'Leary on Drawn the Road, two humans are dwarfed in her majesty.

While there are many giant creatures looming over our world, Salem Sue is so beloved she has her own ballad. Sing along if you like:

Her presence shows that New Salem grows,
With milk-producers' yields;
We've got the cow, world's largest cow
That looks across our fields.

article-imagephotograph by Nic McPhee

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