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Where Do Objects Go When They Die?

Just like human beings, machines eventually wear out and cease being useful. But where do machines—and other types of inanimate objects—go when they die? Around the world, there are many areas set aside (formally or informally) for the rusting carcasses of airplanes, tanks, ships, neon signs, and other objects. Below, a look at some of the most fascinating such sites around the world: 

309TH AEROSPACE MAINTENANCE AND REGENERATION GROUP
Tucson, Arizona 

article-imageA partial view of the Davis Monthan Air Force Base (image via GoogleEarth)

A whopping 2,600 acres of the Davis-Montham Air Force Base in Tucson are reserved for an aircraft cemetery, officially known as the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group but popularly called “The Boneyard.” The US Air Force began parking planes here shortly after World War II, and today the grounds are filled with almost 4,000 aircraft and 7,000 engines that were once used by the Air Force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and other branches of the US government. (The combined purchase price of the machines in The Boneyard is estimated at $35 billion.) Tucson’s low humidity, rare rainfall, and alkaline soil are useful for keeping rust and corrosion at bay, and the planes are routinely stripped for parts used to repair active aircraft. The dystopic setting has also made it a popular location for movies and films, including 2013’s Man of Steel. (Until recently, there was another airplane graveyard in St. Augustine, Florida; others exist around the world.)

BAY OF NOUADHIBOU SHIP GRAVEYARD
Nouadhibou, Mauritania 

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Shipwreck of the United Malika in the Bay of Nouadhibou (photo by jbdodane on Flickr)

Over 300 naval cruisers, cargo vessels, fishing trawlers and other ships are slowly rusting throughout Nouadhibou Bay in Mauritania, near one of the North African nation’s largest and poorest cities. Poverty and corruption have reportedly led local officials to turn a blind eye to ship owners who abandon their vessels in the harbor rather than pay for proper disposal. The ship graveyard has been a boon to the local economy, since companies pay workers to salvage from the vessels, while many of the ships have also formed artificial reefs that support fish and other creatures. Nouadhibou Bay is home to just one of several ship graveyards around the world: you can see an abandoned wooden-hulled World War I fleet in Maryland, a rusting World War II fleet in California, a Tugboat Graveyard in Staten Island, and massive ship-breaking yards in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and elsewhere.  

SOVIET TANK GRAVEYARD
Kabul, Afghanistan

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Tank graveyard on the outskirts of Kabul (photo by Andy Kelly-Price)

Leftovers from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan of the 1970s and 1980s still linger in an industrial area on the outskirts of Kabul. Most of the rusting hulks at this site have been stripped, but their skeletons remain as testament to the prolonged war, which some call “the Soviet Union’s Vietnam.” Tank graveyards themselves are not uncommon: there are examples in Croatia, India, Pakistan, Kuwait, Ukraine, Eritrea, and other locations where armies have left in a hurry.

CINECITTÀ STUDIOS
Rome, Italy

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Props on the Cinecittà lot (photo by Luca Di Ciaccio)

Cinecittà Studios, which sits just outside Rome, was founded by Benito Mussolini in 1937 to promote Fascist ideals through film. Fortunately, that experiment didn’t last long, and the studios were repurposed to churn out a stream of Italian and international classics in the 1950s and 1960s. Today the studios are used far less frequently, and the site has become known as a graveyard for large-scale props and film sets. The grounds are littered with pieces from movies both old (Ben Hur, Fellini classics including La Dolce Vita and Satyricon) and new (Gangs of New York, HBO’s Rome)making for some eerie juxtapositions and powerful reminders of how nature can take over even the most carefully produced fantasy. Elsewhere in the world, other film sets still stand in the places where they were set up, and have been slowly left to rot.

NEON BONEYARD
Las Vegas, Nevada

article-imageOld neon signs in various states of decay at the Neon Boneyard (photograph by Michelle Enemark)

Not all object graveyards are for extremely massive items. The two-acre lot of the Neon Boneyard is filled with more than 150 signs from Las Vegas’ past in various states of decay, providing a fascinating overview of changes in design and technology. (Atlas Obscura visited the Boneyard in July 2013; read the round-up article here.) There are also object cemeteries devoted to phone boothsmonster trucks, and other items—even the humble ice box.