Ghost Towns: Escaping Into the Past

Posted on Friday, February 17, 2017 by cs

photo of ghost townIf you have ever made the drive to St. Louis from Columbia, you might have noticed a house that has been deteriorating for at least the last 30 years. I have watched it over the years as I drive back and forth; each time it is a little more dilapidated. It used to have a porch. That is gone now. The roof, windows and door frame sag; vines and bushes have grown around and throughout the house. Yet, you can tell it was a good, solid house at one point. I hope that it had a time of being cherished and a place people lovingly called home.

It is in this same way that I am in love with ghost towns, particularly ones found in remote locations in the mountains. As I have lived in and spent a lot of time in mountainous states, I have had the opportunity to visit many such locations. One particular favorite is a town called Ashcroft, located at 11,000 feet in the mountains above Aspen, Colorado. A glimpse into an open window and I begin to create an image of what it might have looked like when inhabited. As I hold on to the window frame and look out, am I seeing the same scenery they saw so many years ago? Did they look at the same patterns on the walls and ceiling? I wonder at the strength it took to decide to settle in a place so challenging — negotiating the cold, snow, altitude and isolation that seem daunting even now.

This time of year often makes me feel a little claustrophobic, so I spend an inordinate amount of time daydreaming. The other day, my daydreams wandered back to some of the ghost towns I have visited. I decided to explore our library collection and discovered some great books on this topic. If you are feeling a little closed-in with the weather and gray skies, maybe some of these will help you escape. And if you decide to physically visit a ghost town, you don’t even have to travel to the mountains – we have some in Missouri.

Ghost Towns of the American West book coverGhost Towns of the American West” by Berthold Steinhilber

This is a gorgeous collection of photographs of 19 ghost towns from the Gold Rush era. Steinhilber was commissioned by National Geographic for this project, and his photographs bring these towns to life in a surreal and beautiful manner with a little spooky thrown in on the side.

Ghosts in the Wilderness book coverGhosts in the Wilderness: Abandoned America” by Tony Worobiec

This is photo essay explores forgotten towns in the West and Midwest accompanied by thoughts of residents who still call these places home.

Colorado's Scenic Ghost Towns book coverColorado’s Scenic Ghost Towns” by Bill Bonebrake

This book offers a beautiful photographic journey through some of Colorado’s ghost towns with a little history and narrative to further pique your interest.

Dogtown book coverDogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town” by Elyssa East

Dogtown is an abandoned inland settlement on Cape Ann in Massachusetts and has a long, strange, dark history, including a brutal murder in 1984. The author weaves in and out of the history and murder to tell the story of this abandoned town.

You might also want to check out “Weird Missouri: Your Travel Guide to Missouri’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets” by James Strait and “Historic Missouri Roadsides” by Bill Hart.


photo credit: Dick Rowan, “Ghost” Town via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)