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Abandoned places: ghosts of vacations past

What happens when all the guests disappear, when the swimming pools dry up, when planes get grounded for good?
Image: Grossinger's Country Club
Grossinger's Resort in Liberty, N.Y., once entertained 150,000 guests per year and had its own airstrip and post office. Now, as you push open the creaking doors to its indoor pool, the stench of rotting wood and mildew is overwhelming.Walter Arnold
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What happens when all the guests disappear, when the swimming pools dry up, when planes get grounded for good? What ghosts remain when rust creeps in and vines choke out the mirth of vacations past? Around the globe sit the ruins of abandoned hotels, amusement parks, train tunnels, museums, and resorts. In the spirit of Halloween, we're taking you to these tourism graveyards, reclaimed by nature and perhaps even haunted. Be forewarned that some of these spots may expose travelers to the dangers of trespassing, rot, and the potential for unexpected companions of the human and paranormal variety. Enter at your own risk.

Atlantic Avenue Railway Tunnel, Brooklyn, New York
"The tunnel, dark as the grave, cold, damp and silent. How beautiful look heaven and earth again when you emerge from such gloom!" That's how Walt Whitman once described America's oldest subway tunnel. The 1844 construction and subsequent operation of this half-mile tunnel under Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue were plagued by bloodshed: A workman shot his foreman at point-blank range, another laborer was buried alive under a collapsed wall, and a train beheaded a passenger who fell onto the tracks. After being sealed up in 1861, legend has it the dank passageways sheltered river pirates, smugglers, and, later, bootleggers distilling whiskey pumped to a speakeasy above. Nineteen-year-old Bob Diamond rediscovered the tunnel in 1981 by crawling 70 feet underground through a dirt-choked section less than two feet high. Diamond joined forces with the city to excavate the entrance and open the tunnel to the public. Now, each month he leads brave groups down a ladder under a manhole cover in the middle of a busy Brooklyn street. Below ground, they creep through the shadowy tunnel, shining flashlights on the debris of its cursed past.

Atlantic Avenue Railway Tunnel
Atlantic Avenue at Court Street
Brooklyn, New York

St. Augustine Airplane Graveyard, St. Augustine, Fla.
When planes reach the end of their airborne life, they often end up in junk heaps like this plane graveyard in St. Augustine, Florida. More than 15 years ago, owner Charlie White purchased and dissected nine planes from the 1960s and '70s, selling off their valuable parts to aeronautics companies. The decaying carcasses are all that's left, their skeletal remains invaded by ferns and fungus. Warning: The graveyard is private property. Anyone who enters does so at their own risk. Those concerned with staying on the right side of the law should consider Tucson, Arizona's Pima Air & Space Museum, which offers bus tours of the nearby 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Also known as the Boneyard, these 2,600 desert acres hold more than 4,000 retired military planes and helicopters. The atmosphere is decidedly more sanitized, but there's still an eerie energy as you explore the cast-off cockpits.

St. Augustine Airplane Graveyard
4568 Avenue A
St. Augustine, Florida

Pima Air & Space Museum
6000 E. Valencia Road
Tucson, Arizona

Asama Volcano Museum, Asama, Japan
Exploring abandoned buildings has become a cult hobby in Japan, where crumbling bowling alleys, love hotels, theme parks, and museums bear witness to the country's rural flight and cyclical boom-and-bust periods. The pastime, known as haikyo, carries with it the same code of conduct as hiking: "Take only pictures, leave only footprints." That may explain why sites like this abandoned volcano museum remain preserved in such a suspended state. Here, stuffed deer, jars of snakes and squid, and butterfly displays sit unmolested. Out of a topographical map of the area grows a cotton-ball cloud of volcanic ash. Music tinkles eerily from the observation deck (reportedly played by seismologists working in the area), and rusting lookout binoculars gaze at the still-active Mount Asama. Recent eruptions blew in the windows of the top floor of the UFO-like building, and threat of volcanic annihilation lurks menacingly in the distance.

Asama Volcano Museum
Asama, Japan

Lincoln Park, North Dartmouth, Massachusetts
Opened in 1894, Lincoln Park's skating rink, carousel, and game arcades entertained summer merrymakers for most of a century. But the park also had a dark side. The Comet roller-coaster, its most beloved attraction, was plagued by tragedy. In the mid-1960s, a man died after trying to stand up while his coaster car descended a hill. Just a few years later, passengers were tossed from the Comet when the last car detached, rolled backward, and derailed. Another man died in 1986 trying to climb between cars. And finally in 1987, faulty brakes made the last car derail again, hanging precariously off the track with the passengers inside. This was the Comet's last ride, and the damaged car remained in that position until vandals bore it away, the final chapter in a decade of financial decline for the park. A series of fires destroyed nearly all that remained on the property, but the Comet still lingers; battered and half collapsed under the weight of heavy snowfalls, it's now a fractured mess of splintered wood, rusted chains, and twisted track.

Lincoln Park
Route 6
North Dartmouth, Massachusetts

Aquatic Paradis, Sitges, Spain
The only water that remains in Aquatic Paradis rests still and fetid, at the bottom of long-abandoned primary-colored children's slides. Today's guests are more likely to be skateboarders hanging out or graffitists tagging every decaying inch of collapsed concrete, cracked fiberglass, and splintered wood. Opened in the early 1990s just south of Barcelona, the park lasted two short seasons before financial troubles led to its closure. Now, day-trippers trespass to bathe in the eerie calm of this wasteland, where palms and ferns advance, choking the tubes and slides (enter at your own risk). And though the pools are all but empty, the air feels full with the spirit of a swimmer who is said to have met an untimely end in the waters of Paradis.

Aquatic Paradis
Sitges, Spain

Grossinger's Resort, Liberty, New York
As you drive past the close-clipped greens of Grossinger's Country Club, you'd never guess that on the same grounds are the decaying remains of what was once one of the country's most famous resorts. In its heyday, the 1,200-acre Grossinger's Resort entertained 150,000 guests per year and had its own airstrip and post office. As a ski resort, it was the first in the world to use artificial snow, and its summer boom times inspired the film "Dirty Dancing." Now, as you push open the creaking doors to its indoor pool, the stench of rotting wood and mildew is overwhelming. Orange and white deck chairs sit vacant on a spreading carpet of moss and ferns. In the gutted bar, a row of green stools that once held the likes of Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Taylor sits vacant. In many of the guest rooms, telephones still rest on hooks, Champagne glasses collect dust, and wisps of lace curtains droop on rotting rods. The endless procession of human ephemera — '80s beer cans, desiccated newspapers, abandoned ice skates — is an unsettling portrait of life frozen in time.

[Note: While there are no fences or locks to prevent trespassing, this is private property, and the structures may be unsound. Enter at your own risk.]

Grossinger's Resort
Liberty, New York

Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino, Kampot, Cambodia
Dense fog and creeping vines seem fitting companions for the ghosts that are said to roam this abandoned Cambodian resort. French colonialists built the town in the 1920s as a hilltop retreat from the oppressive heat of the lowlands. But from the beginning, darkness clung to the project: Labor conditions were brutal, and the area behind the grand casino came to be known as the Gamblers' Killing Fields, where those who lost it all purportedly ended it all on the conveniently located cliff. In the 1970s, and again in the 1980s and '90s, the Khmer Rouge fortified itself in the casino, waging brutal battles with Vietnamese troops holed up in the community's church; the bullet scars still remain. Today, the town sits isolated in the middle of national parkland. Wild monkeys and elephants roam the surrounding jungle, and a ruddy moss clinging to the casino facade seems to symbolize the building's bloody past. Day trips can be arranged from the nearby town of Kampot, but be prepared to leave before dark. Even the park rangers refuse to brave the spirits that wander at night.

Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino
Kampot, Cambodia