American Ghost Towns

If the anti-hero Mad Max were cruising America’s best ghost towns, striving to live in an isolated, parched world, he’d find himself driving his V8 Interceptor to these classic places. Should you venture to any of these fun (and scary) locales, remember Mad Max’s creed: “Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves?” Or — in our case — where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of ghostly wisps and a taste of our country’s haunted history? Only time will tell.

Jerome, Arizona

“Wickedest City in the West”

The largest ghost town in the U.S., Jerome, retains a small population to run active hotels, restaurants and tour companies that show off the abandoned mines, jails and bordellos.

Founded by the Yavapai tribe to mine copper they used in bracelets, Jerome became a 15,000-person copper mining town by the 1920s, then known for gunfights, stabbings, stranglings and opium.

You can wander through ghostly remains of the city jail, the mine and the House of Joy brothel (now an art studio). The more adventurous can go on a chilling nighttime tour by flashlight of only haunted sites, sure to put you face-to-face with a ghastly ghoul or two.

Check out to start planning your visit.

Old Cahawba Archaeological Park, Alabama

“Ghoulish Ball of Light”

Once a thriving river town and the capital of Alabama, Old Cahawba is in Orrville, about 63 miles west of Montgomery. A flood and the Civil War left the town practically abandoned by 1870. If you’re looking for ghosts at Old Cahawba, you are not alone. Every October, Alabama’s Paranormal Research team offers haunted tours. The ghosts never disappoint, always making appearances at one of the two abandoned cemeteries.

Visit Old Cahawba at night, and you stand a good chance of stumbling into the orb-shaped, phosphorescent ghost of Colonel C.C. Pegues, which first appeared to the colonel himself, as a warning just months before he was killed in the Civil War. To this day, night photographers
report seeing the glowing orb. Recently, a stuffed animal in one of the former slave quarters began speaking, and its energy was recorded by a paranormal research group.

Contact the Old Cahawba Visitor’s Center for a hair-raising tour.

Bannack, Montana

“Population: One”

Founded in 1862, the gold mining town of Bannack is still home to 60 original buildings. Settled near Dillon, Montana, Bannack was home to 3,000 residents at its peak. Although the last living residents left in 1970, one ghostly resident remains. At just 15, Dorothy Dunn
tragically drowned in Grasshopper Creek. Ever since, she has ensured she will never be forgotten. You are certain to hear her at Hotel Meade where she is a lifelong guest. If you’re looking for more screams in the night, visit the “Crying Baby House,” where children’s wailing has been reported. Enter at your own risk

Other ghosts have been spotted that resemble the scurrilous Bannack sheriff, Henry Plummer, who organized a gang of thieves to murder hundreds in the late 1800s. The ghosts of Plummer, his killers and the victims have been spotted by paranormal detectives.

The third weekend of July, re-enactments bring the town alive, with ghost tours and an old-fashioned breakfast at the Hotel Meade. If you go in the winter, dress warmly. Temperatures in
Bannack reached minus 62 degrees in 1989.

Are you feeling brave enough to plan your trip? Contact
the Bannack State Park for more details.

St. Elmo, Colorado

“Where Annabelle Stark Went Insane”

Founded in 1880 as a gold and silver mining town, St. Elmo was abandoned in the 1920s. What spooks locals is how the town continues to be well-preserved, for 100 years, without any attention. It’s as if the ghosts of former residents keep the town in shape.

One of the most well-known residents was Annabelle Stark, the daughter of the respectable hotel owner. Annabelle tried to escape the lonely town, fleeing to Trinidad for love. When her marriage didn’t work out, she returned a broken woman. As the town declined, so did Annabelle. She was seen walking the streets with dirty hair and smelly clothes. Residents committed her to a mental institution, but after she died, her ghost returned to St. Elmo. Annabelle’s ghost has been seen by paranormal investigators. You can often see her standing in the abandoned hotel window, wearing a white dress, occasionally unleashing a blood-curdling scream.

Bodie, California

“The City with an Active Curse”

Originally a gold-mining town, Bodie, California, is now home to many ghosts. Visitors are welcome to explore the ruins for as long as they like but are warned not to sneak off with any “souvenirs.” If you pocket even a glass shard or nail, you’ve invited the Bodie Curse upon yourself and your family.

The curse is alive and well. Every week, the staff of the historic state park (open year-round), receive letters returning these souvenirs and detailing the curse upon the person who took them: broken legs, lost jobs, torment from a ghost, sickness or even divorce.

Speaking of the curse, the town’s founder, prospector W.S. Bodey, died in a blizzard before ever reaching the town.

Bodie struck gold in 1861, leading the town to grow to 10,000 people over 20 years. However, by 1880, the gold was depleted, causing residents to leave as quickly as they came. Although Bodie wasn’t completely abandoned until 1942, homes and businesses appear as though they were vacated in an instant. It’s as if a hydrogen bomb vaped the inhabitants but left the rest of the place untouched. In one home, a kitchen table is set with plates and silverware in anticipation of a dinner that never happened. In the town bar, pool cues covered with decades of dust lie on the pool table, ready for the next ghost to take their shot.

Visit Bodie, but leave it the way you found it, or you may go home with more than you bargained for. To learn more about making a visit, contact the park office.

Ghost town tour tips from Mad Max

Mad Max might blast through these ghost towns during the day, mainly scouting post-apocalyptic landscapes and looking for fresh water. But if ghosts are what you’re after, prepare for night visits to the haunted buildings and graveyards. Bring flashlights, night vision cameras, warm clothes, electromagnetic ghost meters and digital audio recorders calibrated to be more sensitive than the human ear — and it might not hurt to bring along a few friends to keep you safe!