'Vanishing' Towns That May (Or May Not) Have Really Existed

Few things tickle the imagination quite like a good mystery, and few things are more mysterious than a town that just up and vanishes. Therefore, it's no wonder that disappearing towns haunt our folklore and our history.

The American West is full of once-prosperous ghost towns that have dried up and disappeared, leaving behind only empty buildings to mark their former grandeur. While we generally know what happened to most of these, that's not always the case - like, for example, the famous lost colony of Roanoke.

Nor are such vanishing towns limited to real-life examples. Fiction gives us everything from the fabled Brigadoon, which comes and goes, to places like Silent Hill, itself based on the real-world town of Centralia, PA, where coal fires still burn underground. Our fascination with such places often leads to situations in which we may be confident that a town was once in a place, even if it wasn't.

Enter these uncanny stories of disappearing towns that may (or may not) be true. Some are creepypastas or works of clear fiction, while others have more nebulous origins. Some are even firsthand accounts from folks who claim to have visited places that no longer exist. Whatever the case may be, these stories of vanishing hamlets are certainly strange and are sure to keep you wondering.

  • Some Claim Doveland, WI, May Explain The Disappearance Of 1,000 Wisconsin Residents

    No one knows what happened to the small town of Doveland, WI - possibly because it never existed at all. Discussed predominantly on online forums like Reddit, Tumblr, and 4Chan, Doveland is a town that supposedly existed somewhere in the state of Wisconsin prior to 1990; however, Doveland is no longer there and, indeed, is nowhere to be found, even on historical maps, despite people who claim to have been there, or even have mementos from the place.

    So, what happened? Was Doveland destroyed by a dam? Did it fall into another dimension, possibly as a result of the uncompleted government project code-named Sanguine? Or was it always just an online hoax?

    While the latter explanation is probably the most likely, internet conspiracy theorists point toward a news story from the Post-Crescent in Appleton, WI, bearing the headline, “More than 1,000 Wisconsinites reported as missing,” suggesting that they may be the inhabitants of the vanished town. The problem is, the actual article simply describes the entirety of Wisconsin's missing persons database, consisting of individuals from all over the state who vanished over the course of many years.

  • Urkhammer, IA, Allegedly 'Faded Away' During The Early 1930s

    According to what is almost certainly a piece of anonymous fiction originally published in 2015 on the blog Strange State, the town of Urkhammer, IA, was once a bustling (if strangely silent) little burg. But it was always weird, even when it was at its most active, and the stylized account describes aerial photographs which “showed only empty fields where there should have been homes and streets and stores.”

    There's also one account from a motorist who filled up his tank at the town's Esso station, only to run out of gas shortly thereafter and find that, no matter how far he walked, the town never grew any nearer.

    The story goes on to suggest that the town simply faded away in the early 1930s. Those who tried to visit found themselves passing through buildings “as easily as a potato passes through the smoke of a campfire,” and by 1932, the town was completely gone.

    While even the story's initial publisher cites it as a work of fiction, which is somewhat obvious from its writing style, the legend of Urkhammer took hold online among afficionados of creepy stories and unexplained events.

  • Ashley, KS, Disappeared After A 7.9-Magnitude Earthquake

    Anyone who's ever spent time in Kansas knows its residents love mentioning that a major fault line runs beneath it, despite tornados (not earthquakes) being the Sunflower State's natural disaster du jour.

    According to one creepypasta dating back to 2012 (if not earlier), at least one Kansas town succumbed to a massive 7.9-magnitude earthquake back in 1952.

    According to the creepypasta, the town of Ashley, KS, and all 679 of its residents disappeared into a “smoldering, burning fissure in the earth measuring 1,000 yards in length and approximately 500 yards in width.” This supposedly occurred in the early morning of August 17, 1952, when the United States Geological Survey measured the aforementioned quake, with its epicenter directly below the town.

    Weirder still, 12 days later at around the same time in the morning, another earthquake in the exact same spot supposedly sealed up the rift that swallowed the town. This serves as a pretty convenient ending for a story about a disappearing town that never actually existed.

  • One Person Visited An Abandoned West Virginia Town That Wasn't Actually There

    According to Redditor Reconsct, they and their two best friends were traveling near Snowshoe, a mountain and ski resort in West Virginia, when they got “very lost.” Eventually, they came to a little town that was “absolutely deserted. I'm talking not a single sole [sic] to be seen anywhere.”

    They went into the post office, a bar in which music was still playing, and various other businesses, looking for someone - anyone - to give them directions. Eventually, an old man “just seemed to appear out of nowhere in the middle of town walking alone.” As they ran up to him and asked where everyone was, he replied that, “I guess folks round here don't get up much till round noon.”

    After getting their directions, the trio left the town in their rear view, but they shortly encountered a highway worker who told them “those people in that town are kinda strange.” Oddly enough, the highway worker was stopping traffic for no reason, as they saw no other cars coming either direction, and when they drove on, there was no indication she had ever been there, either.

  • Langville, MT, Once Allegedly Appeared On Google Maps, But No One Could Find It In Person

    “The entire town of Langville, MT, goes missing.” This is just one of several unexplained occurrences mentioned by a government agent in the 2016 reboot/sequel to Ghostbusters. Is it, like many of the original film's references, a nod to a real event? Well, if you ask some people, the answer is yes.

    Some people swear Langville was a real town in rural Montana that even once appeared on Google Maps, and it just up and vanished one day in the early 2000s. In fact, some stories even claim the townspeople were “turned inside out.”

    Unfortunately, no evidence remains to suggest that Langville was ever actually a real place. While believers point to auto-suggested Google searches as proof of the town's former existence, skeptics argue that these are more likely viral marketing attempts tied to the aforementioned Ghostbusters sequel.

  • 'Cloud City' Appeared Over China In 2016, Then Vanished Within A Day

    This strange occurrence actually happened twice. In October 2015, residents of Foshan and Jiangxi in China reported (and recorded) a “floating city;” then, a few months later, in March 2016, it happened again, this time near the port of Dalian in China's Liaoning Province.

    In both cases, the “cloud cities” were explained away as a particular kind of mirage called a fata morgana, in which the brain misinterprets the position of objects due to light refraction; however, some people had their doubts, including those who frequently debunk hoax videos on the internet.

    So, what did these folks actually see? Did they see anything at all? For now, this remains a mystery, but whatever they saw, the images captured of the event are certainly striking.