The universe is full of peculiar and haunting mysteries. But perhaps nothing is as quietly frightening as having someone simply vanish into thin air. The spookiness it evokes is very real, if only because it absolutely underscores the randomness of life in a way that death alone could not.
However, things become even more bizarre when whole communities seem to disappear, for no discernible reason. History is surprisingly rife with instances of people suddenly evaporating, leaving little trace behind.
Here are some of the creepiest, uncanny instances of towns vanishing en masse, with little to no explanation.
1. Lake Anjikuni, Northern Canada
The villagers residing in the harsh climate of Lake Anjikuni in Northern Canada have taken on a quasi-mythical status, due to their sudden disappearance in 1930. Despite its rough terrain, it is said that the area was home to a small, but prosperous Inuit community, who sustained themselves economically through fishing. While they were living in perhaps one of the toughest, most remote and frigid areas in the world, the village was said to be home to roughly 2,000 individuals.
In addition to their fishing enterprise, the people were known to welcome fur trappers from time to time. Or anyone traveling throughout Canada for that matter, since the village acted as a kind of pit stop for local merchants of all stripes. However, one day in 1930, a local fur trapper by the name of Joe Labelle – who was apparently friendly with the community in Lake Anjikuni – made his usual stop there when he found himself greeted by an eerie silence.
Labelle walked throughout the town, calling out the names of those he knew, wondering where they went – and he was greeted with a bone-chilling quiet. He walked into abandoned cabins, only to find sewing projects with the needles dangling from them, as though tossed aside suddenly. He found charred meat hanging over the dying embers of fires, and sled dogs who died from starvation. It seemed as though all the villagers vanished without a trace. Labelle rushed to inform local police of the incident, who then embarked on years of investigation, full of dead-end clues.
No one could really understand what had happened. Was some kind of animalistic rampage somehow responsible? But human remains were never found. Were the villagers abducted by UFOs, as some have later claimed? Or, perhaps even more disturbing, were they all a figment of Labelle’s imagination? No one truly knows.
2. The Lost Colony of Roanoke, North Carolina
Another settlement that seems to have all but disappeared is the tragic colony of Roanoke, part of what is now commonly known today as Dare County, North Carolina. In 1587, a group of 115 English settlers arrived on the coast, hoping to make a new home for themselves in the new and unexplored terrain in North America. John White, the governor of the colony, decided to go back to England to replenish the town’s supplies, as the surrounding area was still underdeveloped, and resources were scarce.
Unfortunately, war broke out in Europe, and White’s return to the colony was delayed for three long and terrible years. When he finally returned, White found that, much to his horror, the entire community had vanished without a trace. All that was left was a single human skeleton, and a strange word carved into a nearby wooden post: “Croatoan”. Adding to the trauma was the disappearance of the governor’s entire family, including a newly born granddaughter – he was left to wander the frightening terrain entirely alone.
What did “Croatoan” mean? White and others who have investigated the disappearance since feel that the word is the key to unlocking the mystery. But no one has been able to find conclusive evidence regarding the whereabouts of the lost colony.
Scientists and historians have tried to explain what happened to the colony for nearly 400 years, but most theories seem to fall apart. It is perhaps very likely that the villagers attempted the treacherous journey back to England when living conditions became too harsh in the island. But this, too, remains inconclusive, as their remains were not found anywhere, nor does it seem as though they were able to make contact with anyone living in England during the war.
Another likely theory is that “Croatoan” refers to a local Native American tribe that might have kidnapped the new settlers, and the carved word might have been their way of letting others know what happened. Although the evidence of that actually occurring remains rather sparse.
Perhaps the settlers moved to another, less deserted area altogether in North America. But why no one contacted the erstwhile governor to let him know – let alone his own family – remains a haunting mystery.
3. The Disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion
One mass vanishing that continues to capture the imagination is that of the Roman Empire’s fearsome Ninth Legion; a militaristic unit of murderous soldiers who suddenly disappeared without a trace.
Technically called the Legio IX Hispana, the unit was part of the Imperial Roman Army from the 1st Century BC until most probably AD 120. It was stationed in Britain following the Roman Invasion when all the soldiers suddenly disappeared, falling off the radar entirely.
While the most seemingly probable explanation would be that they were extinguished in battle, no written record verifies that claim. It might have been a surprise attack by a group of Scottish rebels that led to their sudden demise, but this has mainly been the province of popular legend. The most well-known story is that the once mighty military force was completely overrun by local barbarians, subsequently forcing them to run into the dark mists of Caledonia, vanishing forever.
Historians continue to research the reasons behind the Ninth Legion’s disappearance, but have been unable to come to a clear-cut conclusion.
4.The USS Cyclops
A massive collier built just before the start of WWI, and named after the indestructible Cyclops of Greek mythology, it was thought that this particular ship would be untouchable. But some time in 1918, the USS Cyclops passed near the area now known as the Bermuda Triangle, where it disappeared without a trace – along with its 300 or so crew members and passengers.
Historians are unclear as to what exactly happened to the massive ship. Some believe it may have simply sank during a particularly violent storm, although no human remains or wreckage have ever washed ashore. In all cases, there should have been a signal of some kind, a distress call on the radio, anything. But according to naval records, nothing came through. This is rather astounding given the fact that the ship was bigger than a football field.
With an inability to trace any calls or signals given by the Boston-bound ship’s massive crew, its vanishing has given way to all kinds of horrifying conspiracy theories. Giant squids may have destroyed the ship, eating its passengers, or a group of intrepid German spies may have somehow tracked down and captured the ship as part of a sly political bargaining tool since WWI was getting underway. Or, as most are wont to believe, the ship’s sudden disappearance could be served as further evidence of the terrifying and unfathomable pull of the mysterious Bermuda Triangle.
Nothing is really clear, and more than 100 years later, people are still speculating as to what exactly happened to the USS Cyclops and its passengers.
5. Hoer Verde, Brazil
This small town in Brazil once housed 600 citizens, who suddenly vanished without a trace. Supposedly a rather bustling – if tiny – community, it is thought to have disappeared some time in 1923.
As legend would have it, a group of visitors used stopped by the hamlet when they were greeted with an eerie silence. Virtually no one remained. The houses looked as though they were abandoned in a hurry, and food and personal artifacts were left behind untouched. The visitors contacted local law enforcement who subsequently launched an investigation, but could not find any sign of the inhabitant’s whereabouts. One odd clue left behind was a gun that looked as though it had been recently fired, and a cryptic message that read “There is no salvation.”
As disturbing as this may be, no one has been able to confirm what exactly happened in Hoer Verde. Or, if the whole thing was just some elaborate and sick hoax, since the village barely registers on most maps. But then again, who would be twisted enough to come up with such a spooky story, and pass it off as the truth?
Scarier than Death
Whether or not these disappearances will eventually be explained away by cold, hard facts, they remain cause for fascination. The idea that your entire life and community could some day simply cease to be is terrifying, if only because it calls to mind the very purpose of existence. And, for those poor souls that remain behind, how do they mourn those who are technically dead, or explain the failure of science to themselves? Some things will always remain a mysterious conundrum, never to be solved.