A city usually pushes all of its notable places out in front of the public eye. You need something to fill those visitor center pamphlets, right? They do this even if the landmarks are a little bit creepy -- Edgar Allan Poe's grave in Baltimore, the Catacombs of Paris, basically all of Las Vegas. You gotta get those tourist dollars flowing; otherwise you'll end up like North Dakota. But sometimes, even the tourism board seems ashamed of their city's weird affectations. You probably won't find these places mentioned on any license plates ...
In 1918, one of the worst train accidents in American history took place near the town of Hammond, Indiana, when an engineer fell asleep and rear-ended another locomotive at full speed. 86 people were killed, and all of them were circus workers -- trapeze artists, strongmen, clowns (supposing they can be killed), and general roustabouts, all traveling to their next gig.
The deceased, most of them burnt beyond recognition, were interred in a Chicago cemetery. Many of their real, non-circus identities were unknown, so their headstones have names like "Baldy" and "Smiley." Taking advantage of having a massive surplus of recently departed carnies all in one place, the Showman's League of America expanded on the mass grave and set aside 750 plots, all reserved for traveling entertainers who had gone on to join the big tent in the sky. It was "a sort of Valhalla for distinguished members of the outdoor showman's profession."
Chicago isn't the only place where you can contemplate the mysteries of life while six feet above hundreds of dead clowns. There are similar memorials in Oklahoma, Florida, and presumably anywhere the number of missing children is noticeably higher than the national average.
Before it was Mexico City, it was an ancient Aztec metropolis called Tenochtitlan. Ol' Titland was a center for arts, culture, and trade ... which also turned into a horror movie whenever human sacrifice season rolled around.
At the founding of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs ritually sacrificed 4,000 prisoners of war by cutting out their hearts. But once the fun is over, what do you do with all the human skulls left lying around? Well, according to a companion of Cortes named Andres de Tapia, the Temple held huge racks containing the skulls of human sacrifices, along with more skulls used like human bricks, cast in lime and stone by the tens of thousands. All of these racks surrounded a massive tower of skulls screaming into the sky like a Dethklok album.
Everyone thought it was a myth made up by a conquistador to give some dramatic flair to run-of-the-mill colonialism. But archaeologists uncovered the all-too-real Skull Tower beneath Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral, proving once again that history has a sicker sense of humor than we'd prefer. The tower has at least 650 skulls, some from women and children (whom historians previously assumed the Aztecs didn't sacrifice).
As of 2017, they have yet to unearth the bottom, possibly because there isn't one. It's just an endless tower that both leads to and is Hell itself.
Santiago's Estadio Nacional has hosted some pretty prominent soccer games, and is considered a prime stop for major rock stars like David Bowie, Iron Maiden, Michael Jackson, and Pope John Paul II. When you look at it, it's hard to believe that the same venue where Adam Lambert sang was used to imprison and torture tens of thousands of people.
Let's go back to 1970, when Marxist Salvador Allende was elected president in a free and fair election. Because this happened during the Cold War, the United States took one look at that peaceful demonstration of democracy, said "Nuh-uh," and decided to sabotage the Chilean economy. By 1973, the country was in complete turmoil, which led to a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet (featuring very special guest star the CIA).
Allende gave a stirring speech and then shot himself, because that's how you earn a statue. Meanwhile, the army purged prominent Allende supporters, activists, artists they thought were too "out there," and basically anyone they didn't especially like. They forced about 20,000 people into the Estadio Nacional, where many were tortured before being assigned to a more official prison, or sent to face firing squads.
Among the imprisoned in a second stadium, Estadio Chile, was prominent social activist and folk singer Victor Jara, a fierce supporter of Allende. They smashed Jara's hands, then mockingly asked him to play the guitar. He responded by singing Allende's campaign song, "Venceremos" ("We Will Overcome"). Then he was shot. A lot. It's not a happy story, but it did earn him the title of the most badass folk singer in history.
The stadiums functioned as concentration camps for about two months, after which Estadio Nacional was cleared out so Chile could play a World Cup qualification match against the Soviet Union. In the rest of the world, soccer truly does take precedence over everything.
Most of this was kept hidden from the public until 1990, when, about 3,200 dead and 38,000 tortured political prisoners later, Chile started transitioning back to democracy. In 2004, the stadium that Jara was executed in was renamed in his honor (and in 2018, eight people were sent to jail for his murder). So we guess that makes up for it a little bit, although it must be uncomfortable to chant "We Will Rock You" while watching a basketball game in the same room where a bunch of crimes against humanity were committed.
New York City is famous for its many smells, from rat urine to human urine to urine of unknown provenance. In Howard Beach, the five-block triangle between Queens and Brooklyn, the odors are a little more diverse. The area's overgrown marshes give off distinct undertones of "anybody who disagreed with Icepick Willie or Three-Finger Lou."
Better known as the Hole, this small patch of squalor is arguably the most dour destination in New York. As one resident put it, "Most people are here because they were born here or they can't afford to live anywhere else. I'd love to move, but I can't afford to, so for now I'm stuck in the Hole."
Its remote, isolated feel offered advantages to certain members of the local business community. In particular, the cronies of former mob boss John Gotti (allegedly) used the area as a dumping ground for whackees. That's what you call people who got whacked, right?
Most New Yorkers had little idea the Hole existed until federal authorities exhumed the ripe corpses of Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera and Philip "Philly Lucky" Giaccone, both capos of the Bonanno Crime Family who fell afoul of Gotti. There are several Scorsese movie plots right by the route to JFK Airport, although we wouldn't advise stopping to gawk until the number of Whole Foods and Starbucks signify acceptable gentrification safety levels.
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images
Kensington Palace Gardens is arguably the most desirable neighborhood in the world. If you moved there today, you'd be neighbors with the Sultan of Brunei and Lakshmi Mittal, the third-richest man on Earth. A house will set you back around $47 million, which gets you a central London location near some great schools, nightmares haunted by the eternal screams of thousands of tortured souls, and four and a half baths.
Rewind the clock 70 years, and one of those chic mansions was home to a covert interrogation and torture operation nicknamed the London Cage. Run by MI9, the section of the British War Office responsible for interrogating prisoners of war, the Cage could hold up to 60 prisoners at a time, and processed 3,573 POWs in total. The only thing separating the Cage from the bustling London streets was a single barbed wire fence.
Prisoners were subjected to forced labor, sleep deprivation, starvation, beatings, dangerously rapid temperature changes, and threats of execution. It's said that one prisoner screamed so loud and so often that he drew the attention of the local police. Another prisoner, a German journalist, said that he'd spent two years as a prisoner of the Gestapo, and not once did they treat him as badly as British intelligence. It's like if Guantanamo Bay was being run out of that quaint old Craftsman at the end of your street.
The Cage mostly remained a secret well into the 1950s. And if you're thinking that it was a necessary evil to defeat the Nazis by stooping to their level, keep in mind that German civilians were held alongside the soldiers and war criminals until 1948. German citizens were being tortured in the heart of London during a period of peace for Britain. But surely that's an awful relic of another age. Could you imagine the outrage today if a major Western power secretly tortured foreign citizens during peacetime?
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