I’ve been thinking about towns submerged by reservoirs. I don’t know why that suddenly came to mind or why it fascinated me without prompting. It’s one of those things.
This is also a topic that interests many other people apparently. They’ve written all sorts of definitive lists of underwater ghost towns. I won’t replicate those definitive works. One can review them later if interested. It’s a surprisingly common phenomenon. People need water. Towns are flooded. I’ll simply provide a few examples spread across the globe that I’ve explored via satellite.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, an instance of scale so incredibly audacious that it cannot escape unmentioned.
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It’s difficult to even conceive of a situation where nearly 1.25 million people had to relocate. That happened in the years leading up to 2008 because of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtzee River in China. To put that in perspective, that’s like compelling everyone in Rhode Island or everyone within the city limits of Birmingham, England, or everyone in Adelaide, Australia to pack up and move to a new home.
SOURCE: Valley_Guy on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
I’ve been impressed by Old Adaminaby in New South Wales, Australia which was submerged below the waters of Lake Eucumbene in 1957. The town moved nearby to higher ground before the waters inundated lower-lying areas (map). The only remnants left behind were a few ruins that rise above the waters periodically during protracted droughts.
The Internet believes that the most significant example in the United States involved four towns in Massachusetts submerged by the Quabbin Reservoir (map). I base that solely on the fact that this seemed to be the most common result whenever I consulted the major search engines. Four towns that had been around since the late Eighteen or early Nineteenth Century (Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott) were all flooded behind the Winsor Dam and Goodnough Dike by 1939.
Bluffton, Texas rises again
merindab on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
I’m more partial to Bluffton, Texas, though. Like the example from Australia, the original Bluffton townsite rose from the dead during a recent drought. Ordinarily it rested beneath the placid waters of Lake Buchanan, a reservoir along the Colorado River of Texas, where its been submerged since the late 1930′s (map).
I guess I’m a sucker for those towns that are drowned, only to claw their way back into the visible world in zombie-like fashion when waters recede. I could probably write an entire article based entirely on submerged towns that have reappeared because of recent droughts. There are several others in the United States that I found with minimal searching: Monument City, Indiana (included news video); Corydon, Pennsylvania; and Los Arboles, New Mexico all rose from their watery graves, along with townsites in many other parts of the world.
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Let’s feature an example from Russia because loyal reader "January First-of-May" hails from there and has had to endure so may articles on 12MC focused on just about every location other than Russia. Here you go, January First-of-May. This one’s for you.
Mologa in the Yaroslavl Oblast was flooded in the 1940′s as a result of the creation of the Rybinsk Reservoir at the confluence of Mologa and Volga Rivers. Allegedly 130,000 people lived in Mologa and had to be relocated, while about three hundred residents refused to leave and drowned. Joseph Stalin didn’t mess around.
Oddly enough, Google Maps actually labeled the ghost town. Even thought its underwater. Even though it hasn’t existed since the 1940′s.
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I haven’t forgotten about the United Kingdom either. There are plenty of examples in the UK, too. How about Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire? The little English villages of Ashopton, Derwent Woodlands Church and Derwent Hall all found themselves on the wrong side of the dam and succumbed to the waves in 1944. In Wales, Capel Celyn disappeared too, thanks to the Llyn Celyn Reservoir (map).
The list goes on and on.
Captain Thunderbolt, despite a name seemingly custom-designed for a comic book, was not a superhero. He certainly couldn’t stop bullets from hitting at his chest.
I went in search of places named for "Captains Less Prestigious" recently. The effort intended to find memorable places associated with second-tier captains who never achieved the same level of fame or renown of Captain James Cook. This prompted reader "John of Sydney" to mention Thunderbolts Rock and Thunderbolts Way in the vicinity of Uralla, New South Wales, Australia. While neither designation specifically included a military title, John noted that both referred to a Nineteenth Century character known colloquially as Captain Thunderbolt.
This "captain" was a bushranger, an Australian highwayman, born with a much less memorable name in 1835: Frederick Wordsworth Ward. His criminal life began early as a horse thief and involved a prison sentence a failed parole and finally an escape from the Cockatoo Island penal establishment (map). Wanted by the authorities, Ward returned to criminal pursuits to support himself in an attempt to avoid another trip to prison. He also returned to lands already familiar to him, to the New England District of New South Wales. Here he could rob soft targets with impunity while hiding in the rugged, sparsely-populated terrain he knew so well.
Thunderbolt’s Hideout: Melanie J. Cook on Fickr via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
Ward dubbed himself Captain Thunderbolt by 1863 as his fame or infamy began to spread. Bushrangers as a class were viewed in some quarters as folk heroes for their ability to live by their wits in harsh terrain and remain one step ahead of the law. Unmistakeably, these bands of roving outlaws were criminals. Captain Thunderbolt focused on easy marks such as remote country stores, postal carriers, highway travelers, livestock stations and hotels. This was not a romantic lifestyle.
Nonetheless the bushrangers generated a level of sympathy in the face of a justice system perceived by the underclass as socially unfair. It’s really not all that different than some of the bandits roaming the Old West of the United States. Captain Thunderbolt may not have achieved a level of name recognition as did other famed bushrangers such as Ned Kelly, however he may have been the most proficient. His career lasted nearly seven years, perhaps the longest continuous streak of any bushranger. Longevity was not a hallmark of this particular occupation.
Australia’s Famous Bushrangers noted:
[Captain Thunderbolt]… undoubtedly had great nerve, endurance and unusual self-reliance and his success as a bushranger can be largely attributed to his horsemanship and splendid mounts, to popular sympathy inspired by his agreeable appearance and conversation, and to his gentlemanly behaviour and avoidance of violence; he also showed prudence in not robbing armed coaches, or towns where a policeman was stationed. The last of the professional bushrangers in New South Wales, Ward was the most successful.
Detailed accounts of Ward’s life include the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the aforementioned Australia’s Famous Bushrangers. The second source is particularly useful and includes a photograph taken of Ward after his death plus a long list of crimes attributed to him by date and location.
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Thunderbolt territory consisted primarily of the western side of the Great Dividing Range north of Sydney and south of Brisbane. It is still readily identifiable within the modern terrain. I consulted the Government of Australia’s Geoscience Australia Gazetteer of Australia Place Names to produce the map displayed above. Notice the tight clustering of various Thunderbolt-themed geography: mountain; lookout; cave; gap; gully; gorge; hideout; hill; hole; and rock. It’s a veritable treasure map of Captain Thunderbolt’s Nineteenth Century haunts.
Notice the road that I marked with a red line. This is Thunderbolts Way that John mentioned in his original comment. It is well regarded as a great scenic road covering a variety of terrain including mountains and plains, running 290-kilometres (180 mi) between Gloucester and Copes Creek. It cuts directly through territory once roamed by Captain Thunderbolt.
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Thunderbolts Way takes travelers through Uralla, NSW. Here, the town erected a Captain Thunderbolt statue at the intersection of the Thunderbolts Way and the New England Highway. Uralla figures significantly in the demise of the bushranger. Along Kentucky Creek (nearest Street View image) just outside of town, a constable finally caught-up with Frederick Ward and shot him dead. Captain Thunderbolt came to an untimely end in 1870 although legends of survival and mistaken identity continued for years thereafter.
Uralla leverages its Captain Thunderbolt connection as a tourism draw. In addition to the road and the statue, Uralla hosts an exhibit at the McCrossin’s Mill Museum and draws attention to various of his bushranger hideouts nearby. One can even visit his grave in the Old Uralla Cemetery.
Thunderbolt, most definitely, would be a "captain" less prestigious.
Totally Unrelated Weather Update
Hurricane Sandy gave the Washington, DC area a pretty severe pounding of rain and wind into the early hours of this morning as expected. I was pretty lucky. We kept electrical power throughout the storm in spite of numerous trees and wires down within my immediate neighborhood. The family is fine. So is the gecko.
Many years ago I had an acquaintance who was an accomplished magician. I got to see him practice various magic ticks as he perfected his craft and of course I learned the secrets behind many of the illusions as a result. The human brain likes to believe what it thinks it sees. The trick often reveals itself as one moves to an angle not normally available to the audience. I never tired of the illusions even when I understood the mechanics. If anything, I became more enthralled with the amount of practice, skill and timing necessary to make all of the moving parts come together in a convincing manner.
I think of "gravity hills" much the same way, with Mother Nature substituting as the magician. Gravity hills go by many names — magnetic hills, mystery spots, ghost roads, electric hills and so on — and they all describe the same basic phenomenon. It’s an optical illusion where a slight downhill appears to be an uphill. The topography, horizon, road cut, floral growth, and angle of pathway all conspire to fool the eye.
Many people ascribe gravity hills to supernatural explanations. Why they jump reflexively to an ethereal cause as their first resort is for someone else to determine. I’m simply an observer who notes that a quick Internet search will reveal countless gullible people willing to take the phenomenon too literally. There’s some weird magnetic or electrical force at work in their opinion, or a disgruntled ghost associated with some improbably legend, an alien or extraterrestrial vortex to to a different dimension, or any number of strange, devious or evil explanations. The truth is rather more mundane.
One often sees individual gravity hills described as rare or even unique. Actually, there are many such places identified worldwide. Some of them are easier to perceive than others, and of course those are the ones that become word-of-mouth or even literal tourist attractions. There are any number of lists and collections one can consult to experience a gravity hill nearby. Minor ones exist everywhere, though. I often experience the feeling of driving slightly uphill even when I know the road is completely flat as I move through long, open stretches of lightly-traveled highway. I’m not sure if I have a propensity for spotting such things or whether this is common to everyone.
Let’s take a look at a few examples, bearing in mind that Google may or may not capture the phenomenon adequately. I’ll limit myself to one instance per country so please don’t take offense if I don’t happen to mention your personal favorite. Feel free to post a link or Street View image in the comments if you like.
Electric Brae, Ayrshire, Scotland
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"Brae" is a Scottish term for a hillside. "Electric" comes from a time when people didn’t quite understand electrical forces and considered that to be a possible explanation. This gravity hill became somewhat of a local attraction. Authorities posted a stone marker to help people locate the brae and better understand the phenomenon: "Whilest there is this slope of 1 in 86 upwards from the bend at the Glen, the configuration of the land on either side of the road provides an optical illusion making it look as if the slope is going the other way. Therefore, a stationary car on the road with the brakes off will appear to move slowly uphill."
The marker can be observed on the left side of this Street View image.
Gravity Hill, Moonbi, New South Wales, Australia
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Does a gravity hills operate in the opposite direction Down Under? No, that’s my poor attempt at humor. The phenomenon appears exactly the same way as it would in the Northern Hemisphere.
The International Directory of Magnetic Hills, Gravity Hills, Mystery Hills and Magnetic Mountains says, that for the gravity hill outside of Moonbi: "With caution, position your car at a point nearest the southbound lane and put your car in neutral, take your foot off the brake and you will experience the thrill of your car not only climbing the hill by itself, but gaining speed as it goes. Look out for other traffic and make sure you stop before your car rolls on to the northbound lane."
Australia’s New England Highway splits into northbound and southbound lanes in a mountainous area about five kilometres north of Moonbi. The phenomenon occurs on an access road that connects the two sides of the split highway and allows traffic from both directions to divert to an observation deck at Moonbi Lookout.
The Street View image does appear to go slightly uphill. I guess.
Magnetic Hill, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
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One needs to travel to North America to realize the true potential of a local geographic oddity: roadside attraction as money-making opportunity. I say that lovingly. I’ll alter my path in a heartbeat when I know something unusual can be found nearby, and Magnetic Hill in Moncton is but a stone’s throw from the Trans-Canada Highway. Oh yes, I’ll be stopping here if I’m ever in the area.
Those crafty citizens of Moncton purchased Magnetic Hill and diverted the highway around it. The city owns it. They’ve used it as an anchor for an ever-expanding universe of tourist attractions: zoo, water park, golf course, replica fishing village, shops and restaurants that practically overshadow the phenomenon itself.
Spook Hill, Lake Wales, Florida, USA
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However it’s hard to beat the Canadian’s neighbors to the south when it comes to cheezy over-the-top tourist traps. New Brunswick’s Magnetic Hill seems positively high-class compared to some of its counterparts in the United States, to wit:
Again, don’t get me wrong, I define cheezy as "good."
Nonetheless, I’ll focus on a free, easily-accessible gravity hill. I could have chosen literally hundreds of examples in the U.S. but I’ve chosen Spook Hill because it has a level of local government recognition and support. They’re proud enough of their gravity hill that they’ve named the local school accordingly. Check out Spook Hill Elementary School with its Casper the Friendly Ghost logo.
Spook Hill received a flurry of coverage after the Wall Street Journal featured it in a 1990 article (often referenced, unfortunately I couldn’t find an online link to it). It also has nice coverage in Roadside Americana. One simply needs to park a car at the sign on the right side of the Street View image, put it into neutral, and let gravity take its natural course. It’s dispelled the same way any gravity hill can be debunked. As SunCam explained, "We took a carpenter’s level to Spook Hill and discovered that what was ‘up’ was really ‘down.’ The lay of the terrain around Spook Hill is responsible for the illusion. If you approach the hill from the opposite direction and survey the surroundings you can clearly see how the illusion works. In conclusion, cars do not roll up hill; they are actually rolling down hill."
Like any good magic trick however, knowing the secret doesn’t have to spoil the fun.