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Essential Guide to Waking Nightmares

Ghost Catchers Capitalvia State Library of NSW

Happy Friday the 13th, and welcome to our nightmare! Sometimes what is real truly is stranger than fiction, and even more terrifying than the realm of dreams. Here are 13 places that spook us the hell out, from a clown motel by a cemetery to an island of abandoned dolls. Just don’t fall asleep…

LA ISLA DE LAS MUNECAS
Mexico City, Mexico

Doll Island Mexicophotograph by Esparta Palma

Story goes that a man named Don Julian Santana witnessed, or imagined he did, a girl drowning. As a tribute to her memory, he filled a Mexican island with hundreds of dolls, hanging in trees, their faces left to decompose, their broken limbs as he found them when he scavenged the toys from the trash or nearby canals. To add to the eeriness, in 2001 Santana was discovered drowned — right in the same place he believed the girl died. 

CLOWN MOTEL
Tonopah, Nevada

Clown Motel in Nevadaphotograph by librianguish

In an unholy convergence of terror, a Nevada hotel crowded with thousands of clowns is right next to an abandoned cemetery. The Clown Motel and Tonopah Cemetery, one with its painted-faced, glassy-eyed decorative clowns staring blankly, the other with corpses of Wild West miners, join in a fertile grounds for horror. 

THE SILENT PEOPLE
Finland

The Silent People in Finlandphotograph by Timo Newton-Syms

Along Highway 5 outside of Suomussalmi, Finland, thousands of faceless figures stand quietly. The Silent People were created by artist Reijo Kela, who never gave an explanation of their meaning. Day and night, through rain and fog, the peat-headed people covered in straw loom upright in colorful clothes, like some mob of static specters. 

WYCHBURY OBELISK
Hagley, England

Who put bella in the witch elm? on the Wychbury Obeliskphotograph by David Buttery

This phrase has regularly been found on the Wychbury Obelisk in Hagley, England: WHO PUT BELLA IN THE WYCH-ELM? In the 1940s, a woman’s decayed corpse was found in a hollow witch hazel tree, a murder that was never solved. The graffiti started in the 1970s, and although repeatedly scrubbed away returns periodically like a stain on the city that will never fade. 

MUSEO DE LAS MOMIAS DE GUANAJUATO
Guanajuato, Mexico 

Mexico mummy museumphotograph by Adri Lagunes

With gaped jaws, propped up in display cases or coffins with metal and twine, the dead in this Guanajuato, Mexico, museum look like some infernal level of Dante’s hell. They’re actually a congregation of naturally-preserved mummies, pulled out of the soil of the city cemetery after their families stopped paying for their tombs. Due to the dryness of the soil, their skin and even hair linger. The cemetery stored the warped bodies for a time in the ossuary and then, enterprisingly, opened the museum in 1894. It even includes the world’s smallest mummy… which is not as cute as you might think. 

CAPELA DE OSSOS BONE CHAPEL
Faro, Portugal

Capela de Ossos in Portugalphotograph by Gustavo Marin

Sure, there are bone churches aplenty in Europe, where someone got creative with the ossuary and built a chandelier or layered the skulls in a fashionable design. However, at Capela de Ossos in Portugal, the walls of the chapel itself are made from bones. Femurs with mortar make up the architecture, along with some skulls and other remains tossed in for good flair. An inscription over the door reads: “Stop here and think of the fate that will befall you.”

LA PASCUALITA
Chihuahua, Mexico

La Pascualita in Mexicophotograph by Kiara Ramirez

When La Pascualita appeared in the window of a clothing shop in Chihuahua, Mexico, the townspeople couldn’t help but notice an uncanny resemblance to the store owner, and to her daughter who had died suddenly before her wedding. Now 80 years on, there are still rumors that the mannequin is actually a preserved corpse, so real are the hands as they reach out from the latest fashions. 

THE DARK HEDGES
Ballymoney, Ireland

Ireland's Dark Hedgesphotograph by Kyle Monahan

Ireland’s Dark Hedges were meant to be a pleasant welcome to a manor, but as the beech trees grew from their 18th century planting they took on a supernatural form. Reaching over the road, they seem to be stretching like arms to block your path, threatening to one day close the route completely in their grasp.

THE DUPLICATIVE FOREST
Lexington, Oregon

The Duplicative Forest in Oregonphotograph by Andy Simonds

Each tree of the Duplicative Forest along I-84 in Oregon is the same distance from the last, the same height, the same width. Walking through the forest is disorienting, and speeding by might even cause a seizure. It’s actually the Boardman Tree Farm, but an unnerving experience, like some surreal fever dream. 

ALEISTER CROWLEY’S THELEMA ABBEY
Cefalù, Italy

Aleister Crowley's Thelema Abbeyphotograph by Hunter333/Flickr

Aleister Crowley’s occult temple rests in ruins in Italy. Thelema Abbey on the Mediterranean Sea was where rituals were held in the common area, and he painted his own bedroom — the “Room of Nightmares” — with frescos of abominable monsters and erotic scenes of terror. It all came to an end when one of his disciples died, and despite efforts from Kenneth Anger and Alfred Kinsey to restore it, has been abandoned ever since. Some air of unease still remains over the walls, which, even with whitewashing from paranoid locals, still reveal occult fantasies. 

ODESSA CATACOMBS
Odessa, Ukraine

Odessa Catacombs in Ukrainevia Wikimedia

Underground tunnels weaving deep in the Earth below us are scary in themselves, but the Odessa Catacombs take it to another level. With 2,500 kilometers of tunnels, it is a true labyrinth (as comparison, it’s less than that distance to go from Odessa to Paris). People have gotten horribly lost there, including a girl in 2005 who died after three days of wandering. It’s like the living version of the dreams of disorientation where you feel you might wander into a pit of darkness for eternity. 

DEVIL’S GATE
South Pasadena, California

Devil's Gate in Californiaphotograph by Mr. Babyman

Devil’s Gate in California has long been considered a tumultuous zone of spiritual activity, even drawing occultists Jack Parsons, and Aleister Crowley again. The rock face in its gorge does look like a devil, but now gated up the cavern is even spookier, like some sort of portal to the netherworld just barely closed. 

ENCHANTED FOREST THEME PARK
Ellicott City, Maryland

Enchanted Forest Theme Parkvia urbanatrophy.com

To conclude, what’s more horrifying than the desecration of childhood joy into a grotesque nightmare? Enchanted Forest Theme Park in Maryland was once an amusement park with fairy tale and nursery rhyme-themed attractions. It opened in 1955, closed in 1989, and now lurks behind a strip mall in decay. So if you go wandering in the woods, suddenly the battered face of Willie the Whale grins up at you in a pond of stagnant water, and Cinderella’s castle emerges from the overgrowth with its spires mutilated by neglect. 

Sweet dreams… just remember, what your mind conjures in the night may not be nearly as disturbing as the waking world.