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Spooky cities: Five weird abandoned towns

By Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter
Friday, August 29, 2014, 11:15 AM

There are more people living in towns and cities today than there ever were. In many societies, they're the beating heart of the local culture.

It's hard to look at urban neighbourhoods and imagine them crumbling and completely devoid of people, but over the centuries, people have abandoned their communities for various reasons. For some, all that remains is ruins, but for others, even abandonment didn't mean the end of their story.

Here are five such ex-communities around the globe.

Ireland's Eye, Newfoundland

With hundreds of years of history, and a huge landmass, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to find that Canada has more than its fair share of abandoned towns.

The video above, put together someone who otherwise knows his stuff, has a few, but the entry for “Ireland’s Eye” actually has a picture of the site of that name in actual Ireland. Newfoundland had its own Ireland’s Eye, on Trinity Bay on the Avalon Peninsula.

It wasn’t a city. In fact, it was barely a village, with only 157 people in 1911. Like other communities in Newfoundland, the fishery declined and many of its inhabitants moved away under government resettlement programs, and only 16 souls were there in 1966.

Still, it stands out among all the others because that unassuming, abandoned cove was where the downfall of Canada’s most famous crime boss began … almost.

Ireland’s Eye suited the purposes of Vito Rizzuto just fine: Secluded and barely patrolled, it was the perfect place for smuggling in drugs from around the world, to be transported covertly to Montreal and then distributed across Canada and into New York.

It would have been fine had police not been tipped off, catching the smugglers and incriminating Rizzuto with a haul of $225 million, which according to this great look-back by the Telegram says was by far the largest in Canadian history at the time.

We said “almost,” because Rizzuto walked away, acquitted in 1990 on a technicality under due to a botched police investigation. He later pleaded guilty in 2007 to three murders in New York in 1981, and died in 2013.

Fordlandia, Brazil

If anyone knew how to outsource foreign labour in splendid style, it was Henry Ford. Yes, that Henry Ford.He's the guy whose cars became a global household name, and whose production methods revolutionized the way modern manufacturing works.

Last year was his 150th birthday, so there was a lot of introspection in the press about his legacy, which naturally turned to his less-than-stellar achievements. Like that one time he tried to build a North American factory town in the Brazilian Amazon.

Called “Fordlandia,” this bizarre story began in 1928 when Ford, hoping to sidestep east Asian sources of the rubber he desperately needed for his cars, sent a team to the jungle to build his own private alternative. 

According to the Daily Mail, they built homes, shops, hospitals, a proper mess hall, and even swimming pools, to support the population of 400 workers that would eventually call this place home.

The documentary below, shot in 1944, sounds downright optimistic at first:

It didn’t work. To a thorough and hilarious extent.

First, the place was designed to be American to a T. That meant only North American food was served, a big turn off for the Brazilian workers. Then, according to Gizmodo, Ford tried to impose his own strict code of morals: No alcohol and no women. Also, mandatory square dancing. Seriously.

The result, apparently, was riots, even before Ford got the bad news: The area was unsuitable for large-scale rubber cultivation.

Not to be deterred, he moved the operation elsewhere, this time planned for up to 2,000 workers. Just in time for the invention of synthetic rubber, making the whole natural-cultivation scheme obsolete.

All that’s left of Fordlandia is a few hulking industrial ruins in the jungle, surrounded by homes that wouldn’t look out of place in small-town Michigan.

Centralia, Pennsylvania

2012, meanwhile, marked a wholly different anniversary: 50 years since the Centralia mine fire began burning.

Back in 1962, firefighters in this small Pennsylvania town took the law of unintended consequences to a whole other level, igniting the contents of a garbage dump in the hopes of burning some of it off ahead of a major holiday.

According to the Associated Press, the blaze ignited a nearby coal seam. And it’s been smouldering ever since.

That part of the United States is riddled with coal seams, so the fire had plenty of room to grow. The Smithsonian says its 100 m deep in spots, and it could easily burn for 250 more years.

Aside from the occasional flames, there’s also the risk of poisonous gases. The constant burning has also left parts of the landscape brittle, and a 12-year-old boy was almost swallowed by a sinkhole in 1981.

Most of the town’s 1,400 people were evacuated over the decades, and around 500 structures have been demolished. Still, a handful of people remain, and not only are they apparently content, in 2012 they sued the state government for the right to remain rather than be evicted.

Coal seam fires aren’t anything new, and sometimes they even occur naturally. The longest-known blaze, in Australia, is believed to have been going for some 6,000 years.

But you can expect to see more of them. Thanks to rapid industrialization, China now hosts the largest number of coal seam fires in the world, while India has the largest concentration of them.

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