6 Real Cities Destroyed By Incredibly Bizarre Apocalypses
When moving to a new city, there are a lot things to consider. Is there a good school system? What's the crime situation? How far is it to the nearest grocery store? Which type of natural phenomenon is most likely to kill me? Sure, they may not always put it in the brochures, but plenty of towns and cities have their own regional vintage of apocalypse. For example ...
An Australian Town Becomes Spiderville Thanks To Flooding
Australia is a place where humans have accepted that they're back on the menu. With so many natural predators, it almost feels like every Aussie animal evolved to savor the taste of British exile blood. But while sharks and crocodiles are content to eat whatever Dundee trips into their turf, other species are more ambitious when it comes to claiming territory.
Millions and millions of goddamn spiders.
"But there's nothing wrong with this nice winter scene. It's just a bunch of ... oh dear god."
When the Murrumbidgee river in New South Wales started flooding, towns like Wagga Wagga evacuated most residents. However, they weren't the only ones with a contingency plan. In a process called "ballooning," the crab spider uses long strands of its silky webs to travel through the air like a screaming, eight-legged Phileas Fogg. They set out on this airborne journey when they mature and start to feel stifled by the tens of thousands of siblings they have to compete with. So when a flood threatened the habitat of several of these spidey clans, they all strapped on their self-made parachutes and migrated to wherever the current took them. Which turned out to be Wagga Wagga.
And on May 4, 2015, the remaining residents of New South Wales woke up to find millions of crab spiders paratrooping into their village. Before long, entire villages were covered in spider webs so massive that they looked like they were designed to catch dinosaurs. But if spiders can mummify entire villages, how come we're not all speaking arachnid?
Luckily, these crab spiders are one of few Australian arachnids that can't kill someone just by looking at them. The younglings can't even break the skin with their bites. Like any adolescents, their nuisance was mainly TPing a bunch of houses and loitering around outside in large groups. Still, we have to salute Australians for their casual reaction of slight annoyance to this phenomenon. Most other people who see a cloud of spiders rain down on them would probably burn the country to the ground and try again elsewhere.
At which point the spiders would evolve and assume their final form.
Speaking of ...
Dublin Was Nearly Burnt Down By A Flaming River Of Whiskey
Of all places, Ireland would probably be the least surprised if whiskey started streaming through the streets like it was part of the natural environment. The only thing they would have to worry about would be the biggest collective hangover since the day before. But in 1875, Dubliners found out that the national spirit could damage more than their livers when an actual river of the good stuff came rushing through their city, setting everything on fire.
"It's not Irish until you add some whiskey to the mix."
Right after 8 p.m. on June 18, 1875, people noticed flames in one area of town. The cause was quickly ascertained, as 1,800 barrels' worth of flaming whiskey came pouring through the city. Onlookers compared it to a stream of lava -- if, instead of killing you, drinking lava would make you sing sailor songs and cheat on your wife. The single-malt stream set fire to everything it touched and left people fleeing for their lives. Kind of. A healthy amount of Dubliners didn't want to waste the free booze, so even while fleeing, some people couldn't help trying to "capture the precious liquid before it went to waste" in anything they could, including hats and boots.
"Is that the whiskey boot or the pee boot?"
"There's no time to answer that!"
At first, firefighters tried to put it out with water, but mixing whiskey and water only made it worse (looking at you, lightweights), and the fire spread even faster. Fortunately, like every other city in the 1800s, Dublin had literal shitloads of manure lying around, which they used to build dams to stop the fire from moving through the streets, halting the streams enough for the fire brigade to douse them. It wasn't until the day after that things had calmed enough for people to return to their homes and assess the damage. The "Great Whiskey Fire" was one of Dublin's most destructive blazes ever. Still, the police and fire departments were praised for their amazing response time -- it was almost as if they had arrived at the river of booze before anyone had reported that it was on fire. Amazingly, not a single Dubliner died from the fire or smoke. Thirteen of them did die from chugging burning gutter whiskey, though, which remained poisonous even in the hardened stomachs of 19th-Century Irish alcoholics.
Related: Inside The Black Market For Whiskey
Wangaratta Is Buried Under Tumbleweed
Oh, look at that. Australia again. What a surprise. In the Darwinian nightmare that is Down Under, even the weeds can challenge us for dominance. The evocatively-named "hairy panic" (panicum effusum) is not what happens when someone finds out that their Brazilian waxer is going out of business. It's the mass buildup of dried brush, like giant fuzzy tumbleweeds. Which sounds all quaint and rustic, but looks like the first act in every movie set 200 years after the apocalypse.
Mad Max: Fury Road should have been less metal, more country.
Because of increasingly dry weather, this dead grass spreads like (though it fortunately doesn't cause) wildfire. It only took a single farmer forgetting to secure his derelict paddock for waves of hairy panic to fuzz over the Australian city of Wangaratta. The plant which makes the tumbleweed is so fast-growing that the tumbleweeds can easily stack up to roof height, with some residents having to remove them multiple times a day.
After numerous complaints, the local council had to admit that they couldn't do anything to stop the invasion, other than hope for a strong wind to carry the tumbleweed over to the next town. A spokesperson told a newspaper that there wasn't much that could be done "from an enforcement side of things," that the council had a "very limited capacity to intervene," and that it was not something they "can stop from happening." We like to think he made this speech with increasing panic in his voice as the brush slowly built up around him.
The weeds hide all the tombstones in this photo.
But while the weeds are relatively harmless to people and pets, they are very poisonous to sheep, causing swelling of the head, jaundice, and liver damage. Or as the Australians call it, "yellow big-head." Because you need to create as much whimsy as possible when living in a place where Mother Nature tries to bounce you on a daily basis.
London Was Buried Under Poisonous Smog
The only way fog could be tied more to the city of London is if it were obscuring Sherlock Holmes's vision while he tried to find a Dickensian orphan stuck in a chimney. But it turns out that London never really suffered from fog so much as it had a really bad smog problem. Like, "modern-day industrial China" bad. Yet for centuries, Londoners would grit their teeth (which is what smog does to teeth) and welcome the change of pace from inhaling pipe tobacco and horse shit particles all day long. But in December 1952, everything got taken to a new level as the smog started choking people. To death.
They kept their upper lips a little too stiff.
The Great Smog was a perfect storm, almost literally. During one of the country's harshest winters, more fires had been lit than ever before, producing an unmanageable amount of smoke and coal dust. At the same time, above the city, a weather phenomenon called an anticyclone (which is also how Jean Grey describes Wolverine's lovemaking) had formed, keeping fresh air out of the area.
Before long, visibility dropped to a few yards. Two days later, it was one foot. Since no one could see, cars had to be abandoned in the middle of the road and people fell into the Thames and drowned. Then the pollution starting mixing with water in the air, turning into sulfuric and hydrochloric acid and making the air toxic to breathe. Since ambulances couldn't get out, people had to walk to hospitals, with their lips turning blue from asphyxiation along the way. Within a week's time, 12,000 people had died. But the government, embarrassed that they had ignored those crazy pre-hippie environmentalists who had protested in the 1920s, insisted that most of the dead had merely caught a really bad flu.
"What killer fog? I don't see anything."
The worrying part is that this negligence was by no means an isolated incident. As far back as the Civil War, Pittsburgh looked like God had trapped it under a shot glass and was blowing cigarette smoke in. Author Anthony Trollope described it as being "the blackest place which I ever saw" -- and not in the cool "great jazz city" kind of way. The reason people simply accepted living in a cloud of lung cancer was the progress it signified. Since people considered lots of smoke to mean lots of lucrative industry was happening, no one really worried about it until after World War II was over, when new environmental laws finally turned Pittsburgh into that garden paradise it is famous as today.
New York City's Streets Were Littered With Horse Manure, Carcasses
These days, getting around New York City is a nightmare. The streets might as well be parking lots, and even the public transportation is one of those annoyances New Yorkers never stop complaining about (which puts it on a list with literally everything else). About the only pleasant means of transportation left are those lovely carriage rides around Central Park. So imagine how much more beautiful it must have been when everyone was using horses to get around, right? Well, are you picturing flies, dust, huge piles of crap, and dead rotting ponies? Congratulations, you have accurately transported yourself back to 1800s NYC.
Either that or you're a premium member over at NecroPonyScat.com.
As the population of New York City skyrocketed in the 19th Century, 100,000 to 200,000 horses were brought to the Big Apple to transport this steaming heap of humanity. What people didn't keep in mind was that each of these equine convertibles produced 15 to 30 pounds of poop a day (plus a quart of urine). That waste was spread all over the city for pedestrians to try, and usually fail, to avoid. But what they could never avoid was the gigantic cloud of"pulverized dung" that coated the city like a disgusting Ferrero Rocher.
But the living horses were not the biggest waste management problem the city faced; that would be the dead ones. It was commonplace for horses to get sick or collapse from overwork. In 1880 alone, New York City had to deal with 15,000 horse corpses littering its streets. And if a particularly heavy specimen keeled over on Broadway? Then it was easier to let it stay there until it had rotted enough that it could be taken away piece by piece. The smell of the decay wasn't just unbearable; it was also lethal. About 20,000 people a year died from livestock-related illnesses -- which, if you're keeping score, means that more people than horses died from horse sickness.
And that's how the mafia, with their love of severed horses, got involved in waste management.
Eventually, the city decided that something had to be done. They came up with an ingenious plan, which was to clean up the mountains of crap from time to time. It's amazing how it only took them about a century to figure out that gem. The city created a new, curious governmental branch called the Department of Sanitation, and sent men completely dressed in white (at least for the first two minutes of their shifts) to sweep the streets. Shockingly, these "White Wings" really helped turn around the city's health problem. Here's a comparison of two streets before and after people decided to start picking up their shit:
"From now on, the only shit on New York streets will be from hobos and drunks!"
So if 1800s New York was the goddamn River Styx, then 1950s New York was, well ....
1950s New York Was A Forest Of Weed
Talk to any conservative parent and they'll proclaim that it has never been harder to keep their teenagers off of drugs. What they forget is that reefer madness has been around for about as long as there have been cars to hotbox. And while the acceptance of marijuana has moved forward in leaps and bounds these last years, we will probably never live in the Kush utopia that was New York in the early '50s, when fields of weed swayed in the hot summer air, giving everyone some much-needed postwar mellowing out.
The city smelled like year-round festival instead of gasoline-soaked underwear.
Weed was everywhere, particularly in Queens and Brooklyn. Some plants were "as tall as Christmas trees," which would be one way to get your racist aunt to chill the fuck out over the holidays. From underpasses to vacant lots, large cannabis plants were commonplace, soaking in the sun and a steady diet of antiquated Brooklyn profanity.
But while a lot of the sticky icky had been planted by enterprising beatniks, the real reason the plants were able to spread all over the city was sweet, sweet innocence. New York's pot plague was mostly due to the Greatest Generation not being to tell Mary Jane from any other weed growing in their backyard. Imagine if your stoner friend -- the one who convinced his mom that the plant in his bedroom was just ivy -- was put in charge of a city. That was New York in 1950. By the time the city wised up to what was going on, hundreds of thousands of plants had sprouted throughout the boroughs, creating a veritable jungle.
West Side Story now makes 100 percent more sense.
But that changed in 1951, when the sanitation department decided to ruin everybody's buzz. During that summer, the city dug a whopping 41,000 pounds of weed out of the ground. John E. Gleason, the Sanitation Department's chief inspector, targeted most of the biggest "marijuana farms," including one that was growing right in the middle of the land set aside for a future civic center, but many smaller growers got away with their hauls. Still, the amount of weed that was destroyed was estimated to be worth almost $6 million (or to put it in terms fans of this entry can understand: two million bags of Cheetos).
The maniacs! They blew it up! Oh, damn them! God damn them all to hell!
After getting his fancy photo ops showing him overseeing his workforce in a crisp white suit like some kind of plantation owner, Gleason took all the weed to Queens, where it was incinerated. 41,000 pounds. Incinerated. No one in Queens can remember the summer of '51 at all.