Empire of the Dead: The Paris Catacombs

Quick! Who wants a family photo?
Quick! Who wants a family photo?

I thought “Okay, October is over. Enough of that.” Then I thought “Nah, one more creepy article!”

Obviously everyone knows Paris as the City of Love, but did you know that Paris rests atop the Empire of the Dead? I know what you’re thinking, that’s even more romantic, right? I agree! But before you run off to plan your trip to Death Land, pop a squat and learn how this wonderful attraction took form! 😀

Typically, cities would bury their dead a short distance away from the more populated areas. Paris, however, is anything but typical. Through a series of unfortunate events (mainly being invaded to death and having to resettle,) Paris developed with the city’s cemeteries front and center. Frontiest and centeriest was Les Innocents cemetery.

That must be a baby-changing station!
That must be a baby-changing station!

Les Innocents cemetery soon became ground zero for like, all the dead people… centuries of dead people. Eventually the cemetery was full to overflowing. More room was made by exhuming many bodies and stuffing the bones into the walls of the cemetery. That space was quickly filled up, as were the new plots. By the late 1700’s, Les Innocents was full to bursting.

I mean that literally, too. A metric shit-ton of dead people led to the formation of a mound over two yards tall. Paris officials did the sensible thing and issued decrees limiting the use of the burial ground. Parisians did the sensible thing and flipped them the bird while stuffing more dead people into their ghastly pinata. Shit got real when said pinata finally burst into someone’s basement.

I mean, can you even imagine? Here you are, sitting in your mancave doing whatever French dudes do in French mancaves. Out of nowhere, a bunch of dead people/skeletons come bursting through your wall as if reaching for your very soul.

I think I’d either crap myself to death or die trying to run up the stairs in terror. Could end up being both, to be honest… 

Anyway, at the same time the Les Innocents death-bomb was growing, so too were limestone mines beneath the city. Eventually these mines were abandoned and, much like the mighty death wad of a cemetery, began to collapse. Paris officials looked at their cemeteries, then looked at the mines, then got an idea…

The work was started in 1785. A nightly procession of grisly proportions carted load after load of bony debris to the tunnels below the city. There were so many remains that it took a good two years to get them all tossed in. That’s not hyperbole either, the newly-crafted catacombs were more of a junky attic than a respectful mausoleum.

That’s where  Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury comes into play in 1810. The then-head of the Paris Mine Inspection Service (and badass long-name owner) was responsible for organizing the bones into the walls, patterns and semi-sculptures that can be seen in the catacombs to this day. Death never looked so good!

"Warning! Extreme creepiness ahead."
“Warning! Fun for the whole family.”

Today there are an estimated 6 million dead French people resting peacef… well, at least resting… in the now-infamous catacombs. A sign at the entrance to the catacombs cheerfully tells you “Arrete! C’est ici l’empire de la mort.”(Stop! This is the empire of death.) If you believe the tales told, some of the dead should be feared.

Stories abound of some dead that aren’t resting so peacefully in their underground play-around. Imagine that: the spirits of the jumbled dead being all worked up over their situation! Jeez, what’s their problem?

Even if you aren’t the supernatural kind, you should still be cautious. There’s a LOT of tunnels, like 200 miles worth. Not all of them are full of dead people, but they are always looking to expand.

You could end up contributing to the project if you lose your way. You wouldn’t be the first to do so, either. It is not unheard of to find fresh corpses of wayward adventurers who took a wrong turn down a dark tunnel. No word on whether they just stuff them into the wall right then and there.

Whether you are on your honeymoon and looking for a romantic place to hang out, or you want to give your kids wonderful lasting memories on their family vacation, the Paris Catacombs are the place for you! Just make sure to stay with your tour group (and buy something from the gift shop) lest you find yourself a permanent addition to the collection.

Sweet dreams, kiddies!

Enlarged: Supercharged Serial Killers

Mattel rightfully second-guessed the Serial Killer Barbie collection...
Mattel rightfully second-guessed the Serial Killer Barbie collection…

What says Sunday more than prolific serial killers? I thought I’d keep the Halloween theme going with a look at some real-life monsters: serial killers. A serial killer is defined as a person that has killed three or more people over the course of at least a month, with breaks in between. These aren’t just any serial killers, these are the most prolific in history, killing way the hell more than three people.

Our first subject is the only American serial killer in the top ten list of most prolific serial killers. That dishonor falls to Gary Leon Ridgway, better known as the “Green River Killer”. Ridgway grew up as the middle-child of a troubled family. Violent arguments between his parents were a common occurrence.

The Green River Killer
The Green River Killer

Ridgway first showed signs of trouble as a teenager. At the age of 16, he led a six year old boy into the woods and stabbed him in the ribs. The boy’s liver was injured, but he survived. The future serial killer reportedly walked away from the boy saying, “I always wondered what it would be like to kill someone.”

While married twice, both marriages ended bitterly with both partners admitting to infidelity. Somewhat ironically, Ridgway became quite religious around the time he got married for the second time. Part of his mental instability is believed to be linked to struggling between his religious beliefs and an insatiable sex drive. He both denounced prostitutes and visited them frequently.

The result of this mental wrestling match was a minimum of 71 murdered women. The victims were believed to be made up of prostitutes and runaways picked up along the highway. Most of the bodies were dumped at sites around Green River, hence his serial killer moniker. The exact number of victims could be higher. Ridgway himself has said that he’s killed so many women that he had lost count.

Yang Xinhai of China may not have been quite as prolific as the Green River killer, but the way the “Monster Killer” brutally and senselessly butchered his victims takes him a step above. Yang was also convicted of all of his known murders. Ridgway may have killed 71-plus women, but was only convicted of 49 murders.

China’s most prolific serial killer was born in 1948 to one of the poorest families in his village. The youngest of four children, Yang was very clever but very introverted. He eventually dropped out of school and set out on his own. He traveled China working as a hired hand.

Yang’s murder spree took place between 1999 and 2003. He would sneak into a family’s home in the middle of the night and kill everyone inside using axes, hammers, and shovels. This at times meant killing entire families at once. Perhaps Yang’s most brutal attack resulted in the murder of a father and his six year old daughter. He then violently raped the man’s pregnant wife, who miraculously survived with serious head injuries.

The Beast
The Beast

The undisputed “king of death” hails from peaceful Colombia, where nothing bad ever happens and unicorns fart rainbows. Surely the fact that the top-three most prolific serial killers are from there is surely just coincidence, right? Luis Garavito beats the other two by being convicted of an unholy 138 murders, but possibly having been responsible for 400-plus deaths.

“La Bestia” (“The Beast”) had a textbook tragic childhood. He is the oldest of seven brothers, all of whom suffered at the hands of their father. All seven brothers were allegedly physically and mentally abused by their father on a regular basis. Garavito himself described being regularly sexually abused by his father in testimony at his trial.

The abuse handed down by his father clearly warped Garavito’s mind. His victims of choice were street children between the ages of 8 and 16. “The Beast” would approach them with small gifts or small amounts of money to gain their trust. He’d then lead them on a walk out of town. They would walk until the child would become too tired to continue.

Garavito would then proceed to molest and rape them, ultimately cutting their throats and most-often dismembering their dead bodies. The remains of his victims often showed signs of torture. He was convicted on 139 murder charges. However, because of Colombian law, Garavito could be out of prison in 22 years or less.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the scariest part of this entire article.

Diversions: Poveglia Island

Abandoned building or college dorm room? You decide...
Abandoned building or college dorm room? You decide…

Humans have a funny way of subconsciously labeling things and places for certain tasks. Churches have become not only a place of worship, but a place to hold all sacred rights, such as marriages and funerals. Swampy areas become dumping areas, and eventually plain old dumps. In the case of Poveglia, an island became a depository for thousands of tortured souls.

Venice, Italy’s Poveglia island wasn’t always the cursed wasteland it is today. The modern history of the island begins all the way back in 421. People from two nearby communities initially fled there to escape the clutches of the barbarian hordes invading the area. Poveglia was highly defensible, making an ideal permanent home for it’s newest residents.

The community and their influence in the area slowly but steadily grew throughout the next several centuries. However, Poveglia’s period of peace and prosperity was not destined to last. Venice came under attack in 1379, prompting the relocation of the island’s residents to Giudecca, a larger island to the north.

Well that's not TOO creepy...
Well that’s not too creepy…

The island spent the next few centuries largely abandoned, though legend says that the island was used to quarantine the sick and dying during the times of the Bubonic plague. Tens of thousands of corpses are said to have been cremated on the island. Some say that the island’s topsoil is 50% human ash. What once gave life was now cursed by death.

It wasn’t until 1776 that the island saw semi-regular habitation once more. The Public Health Office used the island as a checkpoint for all goods and people entering Venice via ship. A pair of plague-infested ships arriving in 1793 made it necessary to once again use the island for the purposes of isolation. This role continued until the early 1800’s, when the island fell silent once again.

An asylum for the mentally ill was established on the island in 1922, adding to the mystique of the island. Rumors persisted for years that strange and unethical experiments were being carried out on the asylum’s residents. The culmination of those rumors was the suicide of the doctor said to be performing those experiments. He claimed to have been driven mad by the island’s ghostly residents shortly before jumping from the hospital tower.

The asylum was eventually converted to a home for long-term geriatric care. It is clear that at some point, the community decided the island was no longer a haven, but a place where people were sent to die. The facilities at Poveglia island were at last shuttered in 1968. The island was abandoned completely by the mid-seventies.

Poveglia’s legacy of death has led to the island having a reputation for being one of the most haunted locations on earth, if not a direct portal to hell itself. Local fishermen give the island a wide-berth, fearing their nets may dredge up bone fragments as well as fish. Visitors are no longer allowed on the island, and the government is very restrictive about access.

OK, that... that's definitely creepy.
OK, that… that’s definitely creepy.

While your chances of getting permission from the local government to visit the island are slim, there are a handful of boat owners that could be, shall we say, persuaded… Like all good spooky places, there are more than enough people willing to find a way to get into them, legally or otherwise. Those who have made it have come back with harrowing tales to share.

The standard haunting phenomena have been recorded: orbs, cold spots, mists, etc. But there have been other, darker experiences that only an island like this could deliver. Visitors have heard dark, demonic voices in the abandoned buildings. Doors slam shut of their own accord. The glowing eyes of something inhuman glare at you from a distance.

One particular area near the hospital is said to harbor fully-formed apparitions. Victims of the plague coalesce out of the gloom, at times right before their would-be victims, before fading away to nothingness. Others have reported being touched or even shoved in the same area. A feeling of dread is said to permeate the area right before things get interesting.

The island’s fate is now up in the air. Cash-strapped Italy auctioned off a 99-year lease on the island. An Italian businessman was the lucky bidder at $640,000. He has yet to decide what he will do with the island, but it sounds like access will be considerably less restricted in the years to come. The question now is…

Are you brave enough to visit the most haunted place in the world?

Diversions: Spooky New Orleans

"Boobs and beer, huh? I'm listening..."
“Boobs and beer, huh? I’m listening…”

If Beetlejuice were to pick a retirement destination, I’d have to think it would be New Orleans. The city is world-renowned for being America’s number-one party destination thanks to its annual Mardi Gras and Halloween celebrations. Also: Enough ghost stories to fill a book. Me? I’m going to focus on three of the more popular ones.

Many of the ghostly tales that come out of New Orleans end up being tall tales. I’m pretty sure this first haunting falls under that banner, but it has become entrenched enough in the fabric of New Orleans to be mentioned. It’s also been mentioned on here before. I am of course talking about Jean Lafitte’s Black Smith Shop.

The Shop is located on the corner of infamous Bourbon Street and St. Phillip Street. The building is one of the oldest in New Orleans, dating back to 1772 or earlier. The building is said to have been purchased at some point by none other than infamous pirate Jean Lafitte himself. It is alleged he used it as a secret base of operations during his lifetime.

It’s also thought that Lafitte never left the Shop after shuffling off this mortal coil. The most popular tale is that either Lafitte’s gold is buried in or behind the bar’s fireplace, an area where a great many patrons feel very uneasy. Another theory posits that the fireplace serves as a marker to point adventurers in the right direction towards the burial location of said gold. How does it point the way?

With Jean Lafitte’s own eyes, staring out of the fireplace, glowing blood red. Cozy notion, innit? It is said that a “lucky” few might lock eyes with the specter before Lafitte gazes in a specific direction out of the bar. Supposedly the gaze points the way to his treasure. The other story is that he’s trying to scare people off from his horde hidden away right there on the spot. That spot, which should be warm from a fire, is said to often have a cold aura surrounding it.

Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau

Existing somewhere between legend and reality is the queen of New Orleans herself, Marie Laveau. The voodoo queen was very much a real person, born in 1801 and passed in 1881. Her and her daughter of the same name held great influence in both black and white communities in the city during their lives, an influence that has extended well beyond the end of their mortal lives.

While it’s not entirely clear, Laveau is believed to be buried in a plot in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, in the Glapion family crypt. Some believe that the voodoo priestess can still be reached through her grave by following a specific protocol. If you wish for Laveau to do something for you, you are to draw an “X” on her grave. Then you must spin around three times and clearly announce what you wish to be done. If it comes to pass, you must come back, circle your “X”, and leave an offering in thanks.

From the queen to the mean: My bet would be many 1800’s-era New Orleans residents would have been thankful if Delphine LaLaurie had never reared her twisted head in their city. LaLaurie built her three-story mansion, complete with slave quarters, in the city in 1832. She lived there with her husband and two of her daughters, eventually becoming a major New Orleans socialite.

Her standing in society quickly crumbled after a fire at the residence in 1834. It turned out to be a suicide attempt made by a 70 year old slave chained to the stove. The cook said she was attempting to take her life in order to avoid being sent to the uppermost room of the mansion. She told authorities that every slave that had been sent to that room never came back down.

LaLaurie's mansion today
LaLaurie’s mansion today

Suspicions were furthered when the keys to the slave quarters were not relinquished. Bystanders broke down the door, wishing to make sure that the slaves had been evacuated in wake of the fire. What they saw likely haunted them for the rest of their lives. Seven horribly mutilated slaves were discovered, all hanging by their necks. Their limbs had been “stretched and torn.” The slaves said they had been there for months.

Ultimately two of the slaves died. The bodies of two other slaves were discovered on the premises after irate citizens descended on the mansion and literally tore apart and gutted the building. Delphine LaLaurie fled New Orleans during the turmoil, never to return… at least not alive.

LaLaurie is said to have returned to her mansion in the years since her death, sometimes in good spirits, more often in bad. While one woman reported seeing a woman in elegant evening clothes bending over her infant, many more reported being attacked by the crazed apparition of a woman wielding a whip. Other times she was seen merely passing by, wrapped in shrouds and looking bereaved.

Some of the abused slaves have apparently not found peace, either. They also have varying moods. A couple of people reported being attacked by a stark-naked black man that vanished as quickly as he had appeared. The most common appearance of the slaves have been in auditory form: moans, whispers and even screams.

Another layer to New Orleans, and another reason to visit. Stick around after the sun goes down and see if you can commune with Marie Laveau, or perhaps catch a glimpse of Delphine LaLaurie peering out from behind a window. Just don’t stare too long into Lafitte’s fireplace…

New Orleans: Come for the booze, stay for the boos! …I’ll see myself out.

Diversions: Haunted Gettysburg

Things only seem quiet at one of America's largest graveyards...
Things only seem quiet at one of America’s largest graveyards…

Did you know that it’s Halloween month? Because it’s totally Halloween month. The site of the Battle of Gettysburg is widely thought of as one of the most haunted places in the US. Good place to start? Oh, yeah…

The actual battle took place from July 1st through the 3rd of 1863. While this battle was not the longest of the war, it was most certainly the bloodiest. Many consider it a turning point for the war. Some 8,900 men lost their lives. Another 27,000 were injured, and approximately 11,000 were captured or declared missing. If any place deserves to be haunted, it’s this one.

The easiest way to find dead people in Gettysburg.
The easiest way to find dead people in Gettysburg.

So many were the dead that they were initially buried where they fell. This was a common practice in the aftermath of Civil War battles. Eventually over 3,500 Union soldiers were reburied in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Hundreds of bodies were also disinterred and shipped off to other cemeteries to be laid to rest. It’s no wonder there would be lost, restless spirits with all these bodies flying everywhere.

The Gettysburg National Military Park now covers some 3.3 by 5.3 miles of land in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The National Park Service manages over 1,300 monuments, 410 cannons, and 148 historic buildings. This has provided a veritable playground for Civil War enthusiasts, and plenty of opportunity for so-called ghost hunters to find paranormal hot spots.

One such spot is the Devil’s Den, located near Little Round Top. It was used by artillery and infantry as a sniper position. Originally held by Union soldiers, the spot was captured by the Confederate army. Initially offering an advantage, the Confederates were eventually pressed back and forced to seek refuge in the rocky area. A nasty-looking Confederate soldier with long, grey hair is said to be seen there on occasion.

Another proposed paranormal hot-spot is the Farnsworth House Inn. The Confederate army used the house as a makeshift hospital during the battle. Soldiers also used it as a place to rest between engagements. Nowadays a whole host of ghosts are said to walk the Inn’s dark corridors, ranging from children to midwives to Confederate soldiers. As always, these stories (many of which come from the owners) must be taken with a grain of salt. The Inn quite obviously stands to profit from thrill seekers coming to investigate for themselves.

That place was <strong>built</strong> for haunting.
That place was built for haunting.

Gettysburg college, as would befit any such place of higher learning, is also flush with tales of the paranormal. Attending school at the time were students who had also volunteered for Union service. The students saw battle, but did not suffer many casualties. The college’s unique placement in the area interestingly led to both Union and Confederate armies using the complex as a makeshift hospital.

Perhaps the most interesting story related about the college comes from a pair of school administrators. The two were taking an elevator in Pennsylvania Hall. The elevator went past their floor and down into the basement instead. The doors opened, revealing a Civil War era hospital scene devoid of sound. One of the orderlies peered up to look at the new arrivals before the elevator doors closed once again.

What I would argue is the most curious and eerie of all the stories concerning Gettysburg comes from Little Round Top. The smaller of two rocky hills, Little Round Top proved to be a key defensive and offensive spot for Union soldiers. Confederate forces were unable to take the position, the Union being afforded the advantage of having the high ground.

The following story is difficult to verify, if only because it came from a bunch of actors. A group of Civil War re-enactors working on the film Gettysburg claimed to have had a supernatural encounter. They were visited by a man dressed in Union dress that handed them ammunition.

At first the men assumed the man was a fellow actor, and that the rounds offered were blanks. Closer inspection revealed that the ammunition consisted of real musket rounds. It was later determined that the rounds could be dated back to the appropriate time period and were in pristine condition.

Is a Confederate soldier still wearily patrolling the Devil’s Den? Are soldiers still reliving their last moments in makeshift hospitals of the past? And did one Union soldier pass through time itself to lend mistaken aid to a group of Civil War re-enactors? It’s hard to say for certain, but you can go find out for yourself, if you dare…

Venomous Terrors of the Deep

Dying horribly and alone never looked so fun!
Dying horribly and alone never looked so fun!

There are many, many dangerous things in the ocean. Whales, sharks, humans… But some of these creatures aren’t so big or so obvious. They are however very venomous, and very deadly. Here’s three of the worst for your viewing pleasure.

Someone needs a hug!
Someone needs a hug!

Probably the best known and most feared is the Box jellyfish. These translucent pain factories can be found in most coastal areas around the world. The most venomous and therefore most deadly incarnations can be found off the coast of Japan and, naturally, off the coast of Australia.

While the dimensions of a full grown jelly fish are somewhat diminutive(approximately 12 inches in diameter,) the tentacles of the wee beasty can grow to nearly ten feet in length. The important thing to keep in mind is that every inch of every tentacle is searing, stinging pain waiting to happen. Each one has half a million microscopic, harpoon-shaped nematocysts that inject venom.

Simply brushing against a single tentacle, even if it’s not attached to the jellyfish, will lead to thousands of teeny-tiny injections of venom. Victims commonly have a visible red or purple trail that marks exactly where the tentacle touched them. While most species of Box jellyfish will just leave you in serious pain for a few hours, one or two subspecies are extra spicy. The venom is potent enough to cause cardiovascular collapse followed by death in as little as five minutes.

Do NOT try to listen for the ocean.
Do NOT try to listen for the ocean.

Just as unassuming is the Conus Geographus, or the Cone snail. It is just as slow as any other snail, but it has a secret weapon. See, this snail has a craving for flesh. Hidden away in its mouth is a harpoon-like tooth that it literally shoots at passing fish.

Smaller fish are paralyzed nearly instantly. Once the meal has stopped throwing a fit, the snail then reels in its catch and slurps it down. Eventually the fishy bones and used harpoon comes out the other end. They are disposable, and the snail has many of them.

The largest Cone snails are the ones that are the most deadly to humans, the Conus Geographus chief among them. It is also known by its nickname, the “cigarette snail”. The idea is that you’d have enough time to smoke a cigarette before succumbing to the venom. The mode of death is paralysis that spreads to the lungs, thus suffocating you.

Speaking of swift deaths, that brings us to the third and final terror of the deep: the Blue-ringed Octopus. Yup, that’s the colorful little fellow in the main picture above. Isn’t he cute? Yeah, he’s also deadly as hell.

Found mainly off the coasts of Australia(surprise, surprise,) these relatively timid looking cephalopods feed mostly on small crabs and shrimp. The octopus attacks like most octopi do by grasping the victim in its tentacles and stuffing it in its mouth. The difference here is it also gives the crab a healthy dose of life-ending venom.

The octopus turns those fun colors when it’s scared and/or POed. This, coupled with its relatively small size (around six inches) may leave you inclined to play with the cute widdle squiddy, but don’t be fooled! The worst part about a bite from one of these critters is that you may not even know you’ve been bit.

The bite is painless, so you might not even bother to surface right away. That sucks, because you start to be paralyzed a minute or two after the “attack”. Now you have no way to wave for help as the venom steals away your ability to breathe. You won’t even be able to flip off the octopus as you succumb to the venom and drown.

Happy snorkeling!

Prodigious Plant Life

Both those kids were gone and the plant was burping like, three seconds later.
Both those kids were gone and the plant was burping three seconds later.

A few months ago I wrote about how awesome plants can be. Well, recent research shows that plants can be incredibly terrifying as well. How can something that can’t even move invoke such terror in your incredibly awesome narrator? Here’s three damn good examples.

Let’s start with that comically over-sized flower up yonder. That’s an example of Rafflesia arnoldii, better known as the CORPSE FLOWER(dun, dun dunnnn!) Found primarily in the rain forests of Borneo and Sumatra, the Corpse Flower grows to an average of three feet across and weighs as much as 24 pounds. Just a big, colorful flower with an unfortunate name, right?

Wrong! It didn’t come across that name by accident. The big red flower appears when the plant is ready to reproduce, and that’s when a terrible smell starts pouring out of it. The plant releases a scent that smells like rotting flesh to attract flies to pollinate it. As a final insult, the plant can only survive by attaching to and feeding off of other plants, usually the Tetrastigma vine. First it leaches off you and then it starts stinking like crap. I’m usually for preserving rare species, but this one… Yeah, no.

At least the Corpse Flower is relatively unobtrusive(save for the wonderful odor.) Bamboo is a different story altogether. Don’t get me wrong, bamboo has many uses, ranging from culinary to construction. It’s been used to make everything from paper to musical instruments. Nowadays it’s mostly known as an ornamental plant.

They're watching... plotting...
They’re watching… plotting

Part of the reason it’s so popular is also because it’s a hardy plant. Some species can survive down to 18 degrees f. It also grows insanely fast. Some species of bamboo can grow at a rate of 35 inches a day. You can literally go to bed one night, get up in the morning, and find a new three-foot tall bamboo stalk in your garden.

Bamboo can also kill. Rumors persist that bamboo shoots have been used to torture and kill prisoners. The victim is tied to the ground over a bamboo sprout. The plants grow so strongly and swiftly in the first days of their life that it literally stabs its way through the victim in its search for life-giving sun. Bamboo ain’t nothing to mess with, yo.

This final plant makes bamboo look like your slobby stoner college roommate. You know, the one who had the lazy eye? Yeah, that one. Anyway… Let me introduce you to Kudzu, the creeping menace.

That's kudzu... It ate a HOUSE.
That’s kudzu… It ate a HOUSE.

Kudzu was introduced in the United States from Japan as an ornamental bush that could double as a shade plant. It was also marketed as a handy way to stop soil erosion. It stops a lot more than soil erosion, as it turns out. It also stops all native plants from existing. The plant covers and essentially suffocates other plant life, thus killing it. It also grows like your uncle at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Across the US, it’s been growing at an estimated 150,000 acres per year.

Much like a zombie, the key to killing kudzu is to go for the head. Called the crown, it’s the ball of hatred immediately above the roots, and from which the vines of much evil grow. Unlike zombies, the destruction of the crown must be complete. If even a tiny bit of the crown remains, the plant will rise from the dead like a… you know. Maybe it’s time for another Walking Dead spin-off…

Diversions: The Incredible Disappearing Town

Damn potholes
Damn potholes

Welcome to Centralia, Pennsylvania, Population: 7. Mind the roads. They haven’t been cared for in a little while. None of the town has been cared for in some time, really. In fact you’ll find most of the town is missing, having been reduced to rubble and reclaimed by nature.

Incorporated in 1866, the Pennsylvania borough was born out of what would eventually be the cause of its demise: coal mining. Significant coal deposits were found beneath the land where the town would soon be built. Five separate mines were open and operating by the time the town gained official status.

Centralia hit its peak in 1890 with a population of 2,761. Things took a change for the worse with the stock market crash of 1929. Five major coal mines closed down. Those series of events heralded the start of the towns decline. Most of the remaining coal mines closed down by the early 1960’s. It was specifically an event in 1962 that sounded the death knell for the tiny community.

The town hired five volunteer firefighters to clean up the town landfill that May. They finished by setting the site on fire to burn off remaining trash. The fire was not fully extinguished at the end of the burn, as it should have been. This allowed the fire to unknowingly breach the seal on an abandoned mine and enter the mine system.

Did I mention that they put a burn pit right next to an abandoned coal mine? Because they totally put a burn pit right next to the an abandoned coal mine.

Many fingers have been pointed and alternative explanations (and expletives) bandied about over the years. However events unfolded, the end result was a fire that steadily grew out of control deep beneath the town of Centralia. The scope of the problem first came to public attention in 1979 when the temperature of the gasoline tank at the local gas station was measured at 172 degrees f.

Concerns heightened considerably two years later when a twelve year old boy fell into a sinkhole that had opened up in his backyard. His cousin was able to pull him out before he fell the rest of the way in. The hole measured 4 feet wide and 150 feet deep, and was releasing toxic gas. I will not make a joke about this(the boy was okay, though.)

The government acted to relocate residents to other communities starting back in 1984. A small contingent of townspeople refused to acknowledge the danger and refused to relocate. The government of Pennsylvania invoked eminent domain on the borough in 1992 in an effort to force the remaining townspeople to move.

As is the american way, the people of Centralia brought their own lawsuit to allow them to continue living in the town. The suit was settled in 2013, and the remaining 7 residents are free to remain for the rest of their lives. The fires continue to burn below them.

The remains of the town have become somewhat of a tourist mecca in recent years, much to the chagrin of remaining residents and local law enforcement. Various spots in town continue to belch out gas and radiate heat. Various houses not razed by the government have been swallowed by the ground.

“Visitors” have become far more belligerent in recent years, spreading graffiti and trespassing on private property. The state government has warned off people wishing to visit the borough, as have the angry residents. There are plenty of pictures and webpages dedicated to the town, however. Wikipedia is a great place to start looking.