The 25 Most Popular Atlas Obscura Stories of 2016 - Atlas Obscura
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The 25 Most Popular Atlas Obscura Stories of 2016

From secret library apartments to creepy clowns—here are the stories that sparked the most reader enthusiasm this year.

Uncovering the local legend of the steamboat Arabia lying buried beneath a farmer’s field in Kansas. One of Atlas Obscura's most popular stories.
Uncovering the local legend of the steamboat Arabia lying buried beneath a farmer’s field in Kansas. One of Atlas Obscura's most popular stories. Courtesy of the Arabia Steamboat Museum

Don’t worry; none of Atlas Obscura’s most popular stories of 2016 had to do with the U.S. presidential election. Of course, we did write about the never-ending race, but more often than not our readers elected to visit our website for escapism and counter-programming.

You gravitated towards secret histories and linguistic mysteries, stories delving into hidden aspects of cities, the scientific world, the historical record, and the odder corners of the internet. These articles spanned the globe, from Chernobyl to Canada, the Marshall Islands to Mexico. Yet the majority of our top stories illuminated discoveries and events in the United States, where a large share of our readers live. Our most-read article of the year was set in the New York Public Library, just across the East River from the Atlas Obscura office in Brooklyn.

Here are the 25 most popular stories that we published this year.

On the third floor of the Fort Washington Library.
On the third floor of the Fort Washington Library. Zach Gross

1. Inside the New York Public Library’s Last, Secret Apartments

by Sarah Laskow

There are just 13 left.

Artur Korneyev, Deputy Director of Shelter Object, viewing the “elephants foot” lava flow at Chernobyl, 1996.
Artur Korneyev, Deputy Director of Shelter Object, viewing the “elephants foot” lava flow at Chernobyl, 1996. US Department of Energy

2. The Famous Photo of Chernobyl’s Most Dangerous Radioactive Material Was a Selfie

by David Goldenberg

This eerie photo shows the largest agglomeration of one of the most toxic substances ever created: corium.

A secret collection of Furbies.
A secret collection of Furbies. Dylan Thuras

3. Fascinating Photos from the Secret Trash Collection in a New York Sanitation Garage

by Dylan Thuras

Garbage can be beautiful, if sorted correctly.

Inside Salina Turda, a salt mine in Romania.
Inside Salina Turda, a salt mine in Romania. Gabriel Tocu/WikiCommons CC BY-SA 4.0

4. The 44 Most Wondrous Places to Visit in 2016

by Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura staff combed our 10,000-strong places database and came up with 44 suggestions for your expedition-planning pleasure.

Dolly Oesterreich, c. 1930.
Dolly Oesterreich, c. 1930. Public Domain

5. The Married Woman Who Kept Her Lover in the Attic

by Addison Nugent

Dolly Oesterreich, her “Bat Man,” and one of the strangest sex scandals ever.

The fruit of the Manchineel tree.
The fruit of the Manchineel tree. Hans Hillewaert/CC BY-SA 3.0

6. Do Not Eat, Touch, Or Even Inhale the Air Around the Manchineel Tree

by Dan Nosowitz

Meet America’s deadliest tree. Found in Florida, of course.

7. The Unsettling Mystery of the Creepiest Channel on YouTube

by Erik Shilling

An anonymous user uploaded 72,000 very brief and often silent videos to this channel.

None-too-subtle spikes at the 18th-century Miles Brewton House in Charleston, South Carolina.
None-too-subtle spikes at the 18th-century Miles Brewton House in Charleston, South Carolina. Spencer Means/CC BY-SA 2.0

8. The Subtle Design Features That Make Cities Feel More Hostile

by Ella Morton

Think your city doesn’t like you? You’re right.

American regions, based on commutes.
American regions, based on commutes. Nelson ET AL (2016)

9. Here Are the Real Boundaries of American Metropolises, Decided by an Algorithm

by Sarah Laskow

How is the U.S. actually split geographically?

A 13th-century Icelandic hymn sung in a train station.
A 13th-century Icelandic hymn sung in a train station. Arstidir/YouTube

10. Watch an Impromptu Medieval Icelandic Hymn Sung in a Modern Train Station

by Molly McBride Jacobson

The acoustics of the German transit hub perfectly suit the centuries-old song.

11. The Westboro Baptist Church Is Getting Owned in Pokémon Go

by Cara Giaimo

“We recruited Jigglypuff to deal with the sodomite Clefairy” is probably not a sentence you thought you’d read today.

Citizens Bank Park could also be called a jawn.
Citizens Bank Park could also be called a jawn. Jessica Rossi/CC BY-SA 2.0

12. The Enduring Mystery Of ‘Jawn’, Philadelphia’s All-Purpose Noun

by Dan Nosowitz

According to experts, it’s unlike any word, in any language.

The sunken steamship held over 4,000 shoes and boots, among other treasures.
The sunken steamship held over 4,000 shoes and boots, among other treasures. Courtesy of the Arabia Steamboat Museum

13. How a Champagne-Laden Steamship Ended Up in a Kansas Cornfield

by Luke Spencer

The steamboat Arabia carried 200 tons of treasure when it sank in 1856.

The most destructive part of the blast was the misty cloud of radioactive water.
The most destructive part of the blast was the misty cloud of radioactive water. U.S. Army Photographic Signal Corps

14. 70 Years Ago, the U.S. Military Set Off a Nuke Underwater, And It Went Very Badly

by Sarah Laskow

Then they tried it four more times.

A graphic depicting a selection of insects included in entomologist Justin Schmidt’s Sting Pain Index above, scaling the insects by how agonizing their stings are.
A graphic depicting a selection of insects included in entomologist Justin Schmidt’s Sting Pain Index above, scaling the insects by how agonizing their stings are. Michelle Enemark

15. Ranking the Pain of Stinging Insects, From ‘Caustic’ to ‘Blinding’

by Lauren Young and Michelle Enemark

One passionate entomologist poetically describes and ranks over 70 species’ painful stings.

An engraving of a "macaroni's dressing room," from 1772.
An engraving of a “macaroni’s dressing room,” from 1772. Wellcome Images, London/CC BY 4.0

16. The Macaroni in ‘Yankee Doodle’ is Not What You Think

by Michael Waters

Meet the stylish gender-role rebels of 1770s England.

The rebels of early Christianity, like Melania, Paula, Susan and that guy Jerome.
The rebels of early Christianity, like Melania, Paula, Susan and that guy Jerome. Matt Lubchansky

17. The Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers Who Have Been Written Out of Christianity’s Early History

by Alex Mar

Christianity took shape with the support of female leaders and mystics and activists. But what we have left of them now are only the remembrances of a handful of men.

The classic purveyors of Canadian accents in the U.S.—from sketch comedy troupe SCTV.
The classic purveyors of Canadian accents in the U.S.—from sketch comedy troupe SCTV. YouTube

18. What’s Going On with the Way Canadians Say ‘About’?

by Dan Nosowitz

It’s not pronounced how you think it is.

Work progresses on Cincinnati’s subway in 1920. But the construction would soon stop for good.
Work progresses on Cincinnati’s subway in 1920. But the construction would soon stop for good. Courtesy University of Cincinnati Library Archives

19. Cincinnati Built a Subway System 100 Years Ago—But Never Used It

by Kevin Williams

Cincinnati is home to the largest unused subway system in the world.

F.D.C. Willard was a Siamese cat just like this one.
F.D.C. Willard was a Siamese cat just like this one. rehaji/Public Domain

20. In 1975, a Cat Co-Authored a Physics Paper

by Eric Grundhauser

Meet F.D.C. Willard, the feline who published.

An image accompanying the “Sexual Intercourse” section in multiple editions of the Birth Control Handbook.
An image accompanying the “Sexual Intercourse” section in multiple editions of the Birth Control Handbook. Courtesy Canadian Museum of Human Rights

21. The Illegal Birth Control Handbook That Spread Across College Campuses in 1968

by Tao Tao Holmes

A group of Canadian teenagers wrote the first popular text on contraception.

Eggs from the Clown Egg Register.
Eggs from the Clown Egg Register. Like Stephenson

22. Why Smart Clowns Immortalize Their Make-up Designs on Ceramic Eggs

by Ella Morton

A unique, egg-based system protects clowns’ intellectual property rights.

A screenshot of the interactive map that tracks over 100 clown signtings and threats across America, beginning in early August.
A screenshot of the interactive map that tracks over 100 clown signtings and threats across America, beginning in early August.

23. The Definitive Map of America’s Creepy Clown Epidemic

by Erik Shilling

Our interactive map tracks clown sightings, threats, and scares.

Royal Courts of Justice
Royal Courts of Justice ELISA.ROLLE/CC BY-SA 3.0

24. London Is Still Paying Rent to the Queen on a Property Leased in 1211

by Sarah Laskow

In a small annual ceremony the city hands over an axe, a knife, 6 horseshoes, and 61 nails.

The 15th of 20 seed bottles that make up the world’s longest-running experiment “Some people say it looks like a whiskey flask,” says curator Dr. Frank Telewski.
The 15th of 20 seed bottles that make up the world’s longest-running experiment “Some people say it looks like a whiskey flask,” says curator Dr. Frank Telewski. Kurt Stepnitz/Michigan State University

25. The World’s Longest-Running Experiment is Buried in a Secret Spot in Michigan

by Cara Giaimo

The unusual agricultural study has lasted 137 years and counting.