Of Murder Houses and Hell Gardens: A Top-Ten List for the Morbid Traveler

Travel broadens the mind...and can also scare it silly.

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Oct 26 2016, 5:30pm

Image: Andrew Bossi/Hans Gieng

The Halloween season, resplendent in all its macabre glory, is now in full swing. Whether you're planning to spend the holiday hunkered down for a horror movie marathon, out for a night of trick-or-treating, or at a meetup with your friendly neighborhood coven, it's sure to be a frightfully fun evening.

Those restless spirits looking for a truly unique Halloween adventure, meanwhile, should check out the newly published travel compendium Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders. Mined from the wanderlust-addled brains of the Atlas Obscura staff, the book compiles information on over 600 destinations, most of which have remained off the beaten path.

The book is packed with all kinds of oddities, ranging from a garden lush with botanical poisons (in Alnwick, England) to a temple known for displaying the bodies of self-mummified monks (on Mount Yudono, Japan). It was a real challenge to narrow down the spookiest locations into this top-ten list, but we are heroes here at Motherboard, and we stand by these weird, mind-boggling, and sometimes outright terrifying picks.

Scroll down—if you dare—and have a very happy Halloween. *cackles evilly*

Highgate Cemetery

London, United Kingdom

Highgate Cemetery. Image: Panyd

While the new book features writeups on several fascinating burial grounds, Highgate Cemetery is our favorite. First opened in 1839, the cemetery is the final resting place of about 170,000 people, including philosopher Karl Marx and author Douglas Adams, as well as being home to legendary vampires rumored to stalk the grounds at night.

Highgate fell into disrepair in the 20th century; the overgrowth now gives the cemetery an extra-eerie vibe to match its growing reputation as a cultural touchstone and excellent shooting location for horror films like Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Tales from the Crypt (1972) and From Beyond the Grave (1974).

Park of the Monsters

Bomarzo, Italy

Park of the Monsters. Image: Alessio Damato

Haunted by the brutalities of war and the deaths of his loved ones, the 16th century Italian prince Pier Francesco Orsini hired architect Pirro Ligorio to construct huge stone grotesqueries to preserve Orsini's horror, grief, and trauma for posterity. The resulting Parco dei Monstri, or Park of the Monsters, is filled with nightmarish visions of Hannibal's war elephants goring Roman soldiers, giants ripping each other apart, and a tortured face with a gaping "Mouth of Hell" that visitors can enter. Just more proof that the Renaissance Era produced some of history's gnarliest artistic visions.

Odessa Catacombs

Odessa, Ukraine

Inside the Odessa Catacombs. Image: Adam Jones

The Atlas Obscura book catalogues a wide selection of catacomb locations that might interest the morbidly inclined traveler. But even with all that competition, the Odessa Catacombs stand out because of their rich history and labyrinthine passageways, which stretch for an astonishing 1,500 miles under this Ukrainian beach town.

First dug out as a limestone mine during 1800s, this massive subterranean network of tunnels later evolved into a criminal and rebel hideout during the Soviet era, and possibly a site of unsanctioned Nazi executions. Today, most of the catacombs are off-limits for safety reasons, but that doesn't stop people from trespassing in them—and sometimes, even adding to the structure's body count, if rumors are to be believed.

For instance, a teen girl named Masha is said to have gotten lost in the catacombs while celebrating New Year's Eve 2005 with her friends, eventually dying from dehydration days later. VICE has since disputed the story, but whether it is an urban legend or a real tragic event, it fits into the chilling narrative of Odessa's underground dead city.

The Child-Eater Fountain

Bern, Switzerland

Child-Eater of Bern, eating children as advertised. Image: Andrew Bossi/Hans Gieng

In the heart of the otherwise quaint Swiss city of Bern stands a fountain statue of a festively-dressed man chowing down on infants that have apparently been bagged up for easy consumption. Nobody really knows what inspired 16th century artists to erect this monument to child-gobbling; some say it is an anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews, while others cite mythological or folkloric origins, based on figures like the Greek god Cronus or the goatman cryptid Krampus. Whoever he was meant to be, the Child-Eater has become a staple tourist attraction in Bern, and a source of scary dreams for children around the world.

READ MORE: How MIT Is Teaching AI to Scare Us

Skeleton Lake

Roopkund, India

Pile of bones next to Skeleton Lake. Image: Schwiki

High in the Indian Himalayas, there lies an alpine lake ringed with about the skeletal remains of 300 people who lived around 850 CE. In 1942, a hiker happened across the grisly scene and brought it to wider attention, but for decades, nobody could figure out how these people died.

Especially perplexing was the widespread evidence of skull fractures, suggesting that the group was somehow simultaneously bludgeoned to death. This led to theories about suicide cults or murderous brigands, but in 2004, scientists realized there was an astounding natural explanation—a seriously brutal hailstorm. Hail was implicated because the victims' wounds were caused by round objects typical of these falling ice-balls, and the pattern of injuries suggested that members of the group were battered from above.

That's right: You can be out wandering gorgeous vistas with your friends and family, only to suddenly get fatally thrashed by a hailstorm. It apparently happened to hundreds of ill-fated people over 1,000 years ago. Sleep tight.

Telegraph Island

Oman, Persian Gulf

Repeater station ruins on Telegraph Island. Image: Eckhard Pecher

Telegraph Island, also known as Jazirat al Maqlab, is a football-field-sized island set between high cliffs and fjords in the Persian Gulf. Reportedly, this tiny patch of land broke the brains of many British telegraph operators stationed there during the 1860s.

Coveted as a stepping stone in the British empire's expanding telecommunications network, which stretched from London to Karachi, Telegraph Island quickly became associated with insanity after the Brits established a repeater station there. Men wrestled with the tedious work of relaying Morse Code from this hot, dry, and near-inhospitable outpost, where summertime temperatures were regularly over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The operators also struggled with long periods of isolation and hostility with locals. Two lost their lives, though the cause of their deaths remains unknown.

The communications base was promptly abandoned after only a few years, and inspired the idiom "going around the bend"—referring to the island's location around Musandam Peninsula—as a way to express the descent into insanity.

Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden

Chonburi, Thailand

Hell park attractions. Image: Qormyach

In the West, Buddhism is often regarded as a relatively chill religion, but that doesn't mean it has no place for hellish imagination. Case in point: Thailand's devilish Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden, a colorful park filled with gory, blood-spurting tableaus depicting the afterlife of sinners in one of the 16 Buddhist hells.

It's like Disney's "It's a Small World," only instead of showcasing traditional cultures, the hell garden revels in the gruesome fates awaiting those deemed unfit for greener posthumous pastures. One particularly vivid exhibit centers on two 30-foot tall statues that seem to be barfing out their own tongues, as smaller victims are skinned alive or torn apart by dogs around them.

"The garden is a popular destination for family day trips," the Atlas Obscura editors wryly note.

Midlothian Castle

Burk's Falls, Ontario, Canada

Selected screaming heads. Image: DaMongMan

Canadian artist Peter Camani has a dream—or a nightmare, depending on your perspective. Since 1989, Camani has been building a "forest" of 18-foot-tall cement screaming heads, which he intends to garnish with the ashes of cremated human remains, on his 300-acre farm outside the Ontarian town of Burk's Falls.

The property is also adorned with sculptures of enchanted trees and horsemen of the apocalypse. In their midst lies Midlothian Castle, a fantasy-inspired house with another screaming head, plus a smoke-breathing dragon for a chimney pipe. You keep doing you, Peter, because frankly "you" is freakin' awesome.

Witches' Market

La Paz, Bolivia

Dried llama fetuses at Witches Market. Image: Revolution_Ferg

Whether you're in need of dried frogs, amulets, fortune-telling, or some standard, run-of-the-mill llama fetuses, Bolivia's Witches' Market has you covered. This lively mountainous district of La Paz is known for its "witches," or yatiri, who set up shop on the streets to offload folk-based wares like the trademark fetuses, said to bring prosperity and good fortune, which are often buried under building lots as an offering to the goddess Pachamama.

Villisca Axe Murder House

Villisca, Iowa

Villisca Murder House. Image: Ryan Moomey

Sometime during the early morning hours of June 10, 1912, an unassuming Iowan residence become the site of one of the most troubling mass homicides in American history. Eight lives were claimed: Josiah and Sarah Moore, their four young children aged between five and 11, and two visiting guests. The victims were all bludgeoned to death with an axe while sleeping in their beds; only one showed signs of having woken up and resisted the attack. Though suspects were tried, nobody was convicted and the murderer, or murderers, remained on the loose. The case is still unsolved to this day.

In 1994, the Moore property was purchased by Darwin and Martha Linn, who run day tours and overnight stays in the house. If you're considering checking it out, be sure to keep in mind the all-caps PSA on the business's website: TO PUT A RUMOR TO REST, YOU DO NOT GET A REFUND FOR SPENDING THE WHOLE NIGHT IN THE HOUSE.

Be warned: Hauntings don't come free.

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