Damien du Toit via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Damien du Toit via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

15 Places Overtaken by Nature

Damien du Toit via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Damien du Toit via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

It doesn’t take long after a place is abandoned for nature to reclaim its land. From a mining town swallowed by the sands of a desert, to an island community willingly returned to its wild state, these 15 places demonstrate the ecological power of the earth to retake our human progress.

1. KOLMANSKOP, NAMIBIA 

In the early 1900s, diamond mining made Kolmanskop in Namibia, then known as German South-West Africa, a boom town. Yet diamond mines are not forever, and eventually the industry moved to new opportunities further south, leaving Kolmanskop to be abandoned in the 1950s. The desert took back what was left (see photo above), with swells of sand now rising over and through the derelict buildings, which have otherwise experienced little deterioration due to the arid climate.

2. TA PROHM, CAMBODIA

Gayle Karen via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

Long tree roots twine over the 12th-century temple Ta Prohm, crawling through its doorways, slowing pulling apart its ornately carved stones. Unlike many of the other temples of Angkor in Cambodia, Ta Prohm has mostly been left to the jungle for centuries since its abandonment with the fall of the Khmer Empire. Conservation efforts [PDF] in recent years have helped prevent a total loss of the historic site, but the root systems of the silk-cotton trees and appropriately named strangler figs continue their consumption of the sacred structures.

3. WANGARATTA, AUSTRALIA

The small Australian town of Wangaratta made international headlines earlier this year when it seemed to be infested with tribbles. This fuzzy conquest, though, was no sci-fi fantasy—it was the "hairy panic.” The quick-growing grass Panicum effusum creates giant tumbleweeds during dry conditions, and Wangaratta citizens witnessed the grass surge up to the roofs of their houses, where it was more a nuisance than a threat. As resident Pam Twitchett wearily told 7 News: "It's physically draining and mentally more draining."

4. CHERNOBYL, UKRAINE

Jason Rogers via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As with the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan, after which thousands of wild boars and other animals like lynx and elks doubled their populations in the abandoned communities, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in Pripyat, Ukraine, saw ecology quickly respond to the disaster zone. Chernobyl initially had its landscapes ravaged, earning one woodland the nickname the Red Forest for the crimson needles of dying trees. But three decades on, wolves, foxes, raccoon dogs, and other animals are populous in the exclusion zone, and although deformations due to radiation were not unusual early on, there's also been recent evidence of adaptation, like birds who produce increased levels of antioxidants needed to survive.

5. HOUTOUWAN, CHINA

From the looks of the homes completely covered with greenery, you'd think China’s Houtouwan had been abandoned for centuries. But the former fishing community on Shengshan Island has been largely uninhabited only since the 1990s. Moss and ivy drape the ghost town and its winding streets in a verdant shroud. According to the Guardian, it's now an atmospheric tourist destination, although the only thing visitors can purchase in the village are bottles of water offered by entrepreneurial returning residents.

6. VILLA EPECUÉN, ARGENTINA

Marinka1946 via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

Many drowned towns were intentionally destroyed for reservoirs; Villa Epecuén in Argentina was submerged through a freak incident in 1985 when heavy rainfall broke a dam, flooding the popular spa town. While there were no fatalities, many lost their homes, seemingly forever. Then in 2009, the weather shifted again, revealing dead trees and saltwater-faded ruins. One octogenarian returned to his town, and is now the only resident. His solitary life was featured in the 2013 short documentary Pablo's Villa.

7. OKUNOSHIMA, JAPAN 

Addy Cameron-Huff via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

After a chemical weapons manufacturing site shut down following World War II, Japan’s Okunoshima island was overrun by bunnies. It’s unclear how the long-eared hordes got to the place, now nicknamed “Rabbit Island,” with some theorizing that they descended from former test subjects, and others that they were pets let loose. Whatever the case, they now number in the hundreds if not thousands, thriving in the abandoned buildings and cheerfully hopping outside the Poison Gas Museum. A popular 2014 video captured a stampede of them bouncing toward one of the many tourists drawn to the island.

8. SS AYRFIELD, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA 

mezuni (Jason Baker) via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0 

Called the “floating forest” (although its floating days are long behind it), the SS Ayrfield in Homebush Bay west of Sydney, Australia, supports a flourishing mangrove forest on its steel hull. Built in 1911, and with a storied past that includes transporting supplies during World War II, the vessel was decommissioned in the 1970s. It remains in the Bay due to the once-local, now-defunct, ship-breaking industry. Sometime in recent decades, nature claimed its rusted body, and trees set down roots that stretch into the water. 

9. MOUNT MORIAH CEMETERY, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

Allison Meier

Similar to many Victorian cemeteries, Mount Moriah in Philadelphia, incorporated in 1855, was designed with manicured lawns and peaceful paths around weeping angels and marble monuments. But as soon as it was abandoned, nature began to interfere with all those plans. The last member of the cemetery’s association passed away in 2004, and it officially closed in 2011 with no one to manage it. Nevertheless, a group of dedicated volunteers called the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery are working on its maintenance, honoring those thousands buried beneath the unintentional urban forest, where deer bound across paths and the overgrowth often totally hides the mausoleums and tombs. 

10. PETITE CEINTURE, PARIS 

Allison Meier

The Petite Ceinture, or "little belt," is an 1852 railroad that once circled Paris, until it was made obsolete by the metro and abandoned in the 1930s. Wild flowers and other plants have since grown through the train tracks and over the stone walls. Now 70 different types of animals call the nearly 20 miles home, despite the railway relics being right in the busy city of Paris. That lack of development may not be for long, though, as bars, galleries, and events are planned for this metropolitan nature haven. 

11. ROSS ISLAND, INDIA

Stefan Krasowski via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Much like Ta Prohm in Cambodia, India’s Ross Island is being slowly eaten by trees. However, this arboreal ingestion only started in the 1940s. Following both an earthquake and a Japanese invasion, the 19th-century English penal settlement administration buildings were abandoned, the shells of buildings later laced with roots. Deer patrol the old bunkers and bound through the ficus trees that continue to tighten their grasp on the ruins.

12. NORTH BROTHER ISLAND, NEW YORK CITY

New York City’s former quarantine island for contagious disease, where Typhoid Mary was once exiled, is today primarily the residence of herons and other shorebirds. North Brother Island, along with its neighbor South Brother Island, are both part of the Harbor Herons Region, with the crumbling hospital buildings offering protection through the same dangerous decay that keeps humans off the island. Although the bird population has experienced a recent decline, kudzu and other foliage creeps over the structures left to decay for half a century, and birds still frequent the East River island.

13. MALLOWS BAY, MARYLAND

The wooden hulls of the Mallows Bay “Ghost Fleet” in Maryland serve as bat caves, osprey nest sites, and heron rookeries. Of the around 200 shipwrecks in the small Maryland bay on the Potomac River, some of which date back to the Revolutionary War, about 100 were the result of a ramped-up boat building effort during World War I. The ship graveyard is now both an archeological district and on its way to being named an official National Marine Sanctuary following a 2015 Notice of Intent from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

14. AÑO NUEVO ISLAND, CALIFORNIA 

Jef Poskanzer via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0 

From 1872 to 1948, Año Nuevo Island in California served as a light station to prevent shipwrecks in the hazardous waters. After the last keeper departed and the fog horn was silenced, northern elephant seals arrived in the 1950s, and were soon joined by sea lions and seabirds. The populations are so dense, they’ve totally taken over the surviving 19th-century structures. The island is now an official wildlife preserve, with researchers being the only humans allowed.

15. TIENGEMETEN, NETHERLANDS

Johan Wieland via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

In 2007, Tiengemeten was deliberately returned to nature. The last farmers on the Dutch island relocated, and dikes were broken to help return the cultivated landscape to its wild state. Although visitors from the surrounding urban area can walk paths in the reserve during the day, no cars are allowed, and birds, butterflies, and other creatures are becoming abundant among the abandoned, crumbling homes.

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Shout! Factory
10 Surprising Facts About Mr. Mom
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

John Hughes penned the script for 1983's Mr. Mom, a comedy about a family man named Jack Butler (Micheal Keaton) who loses his job. To ensure their three kids are taken care of, his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), goes back to work—leaving Jack to fight off a vacuum cleaner and learn why it's never a good idea to feed chili to a baby.

In 1982, Keaton turned in a star-making role in Ron Howard’s Night Shift, but Mr. Mom marked the first time he headlined a movie, and it launched his career. Hughes had written National Lampoon's Vacation, which—oddly enough—was released in theaters the weekend after Mr. Mom. But Hughes himself was still a relative unknown, as it would be another year before he entered the teen flick phase of his career, which would make him iconic.

In the meantime, Mr. Mom hit home for a lot of viewers, as the economy was on the downturn and more and more women were entering (or reentering) the workforce. But some people think that the movie's ending—which sees the couple revert to traditional gender roles—sidelined the movie's message. Still, on the 35th anniversary of its release, Mr. Mom remains an ahead-of-its-time comedy classic.

1. IT'S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Mr. Mom producer Lauren Shuler Donner came across a funny article John Hughes had written for National Lampoon. Based on that, she contacted him and the two became friends. “One day, he was telling me that his wife had gone down to Arizona and he was in charge of the two boys and he didn’t know what he was doing,” Donner told IGN. “It was hilarious! I was on the floor laughing. He said, ‘Do you think this would make a good movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, this is really funny.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have about 80 pages in a drawer. Would you look at it?’ So I looked at it and I said, ‘This is great! Let’s do it!’ We kind of developed it ourselves.” In the book Movie Moguls Speak, Donner mentioned how Hughes “had never been to a grocery store, he had never operated a vacuum cleaner. John was so ignorant, that in his ignorance, he was hilarious.”

The players involved with the movie told Donner and Hughes they thought it should be a TV movie. Hughes had a TV deal with Aaron Spelling, who came aboard to executive produce. “Then the players involved were upset because John was writing out of Chicago instead of L.A.,” Donner said in Movie Moguls Speak. “They fired John and brought in a group of TV writers. In the end, John and I were muscled out. It was a good movie, but if you ever read John’s original script for Mr. Mom, it’s far better.”

2. JOHN HUGHES REJECTED THE IDEA OF DIRECTING MR. MOM.

Stan Dragoti ended up directing the film, but only after Hughes turned it down, because he preferred to make his movies in Chicago, not Hollywood. “I don’t like being around the people in the movie business,” Hughes told Roger Ebert. “In Hollywood, you spend all of your time having lunch and making deals. Everybody is trying to shoot you down. I like to get my actors out here where we can make our movies in privacy.” Hughes remained in Chicago and filmed his directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, there.

3. MICHAEL KEATON GOT THE ROLE BECAUSE OF NIGHT SHIFT.

In 1982’s Night Shift, Keaton’s character works at a morgue and starts a prostitution ring with co-worker Henry Winkler. Donner had an agent friend, Laurie Perlman, who represented the not-yet-famous actor. She contacted Donner and pitched Keaton to her. “’Look, I represent this guy who is really funny. Would you meet with him?’" Donner recalled of the conversation. "So I met with him. Usually I don’t like to do this unless we’re casting, but I met with him because she was my friend. And then she said, ‘You have to see this movie Night Shift that he’s in.’ So I went to see Night Shift, and midway through I couldn’t wait to get out of that theater to give Mr. Mom to Michael Keaton. Fortunately, he liked it."

Keaton told Grantland that he turned down one of the main roles in Splash to play Jack Butler. “I just remember at the time thinking I wanted to get away from what I’d just done on Night Shift,” he said. “I thought if I do it again, I might get myself stuck. So then Mr. Mom came along. So I said no [to Splash] so I could set up this framework right away where I could do different things.”

4. THE FILM BROKE NEW GROUND.

Teri Garr, Michael Keaton, Taliesin Jaffe, Frederick Koehler, and Martin Mull in Mr. Mom (1983)
Shout! Factory

In 1983, more women stayed at home than worked, so it was a novelty for a man to be a stay-at-home dad. Today, an estimated 1.4 million men are stay-at-home dads, and 7 million men are their children's primary caregiver. “Mr. Mom became part of the vernacular,” Donner told Newsweek. “Mr. Mom represented a segment of men who were at home dealing with the kids who, up until then, really hadn’t been heard from. That’s what really told me about the power of film, because it spoke for a lot of men. It also helped women, because I think that women sometimes, if you’re a housewife, you’re not really appreciated for what you do. This sort of made women feel better about what they did because they knew that men were understanding it.”

5. TODAY, “MR. MOM” IS CONSIDERED A PEJORATIVE TERM.

More than 30 years after the film’s release, stay-at-home dads feel the term “Mr. Mom” should die. The National At-Home Dad Network launched a campaign to terminate the phrase and instead have people refer to men as “Dad.” In 2014 Lake Superior State University voted to banish “Mr. Mom” from the lexicon.

“At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade,” wrote The Wall Street Journal, after declaring “Mr. Mom is dead.”

6. TERI GARR DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS A MESSAGE MOVIE.

The movie redefined gender roles, but when the producers pitched the premise to Garr, they hid the plot reversal. “They just told me it was about a guy who does the work that a woman does, because it’s so easy,” she told The A.V. Club. “And I went, ‘Oh, yeah. Ha ha.’ It’s so easy. All the women I know who stay home and take care of their kids, they go, ‘Oh yeah, this is easy.’ Hmm.”

7. MARTIN MULL IMPROVISED THE “220, 221” LINE.

The quote everyone remembers from the movie comes from Jack, holding a chainsaw, standing next to Ron Richardson (Martin Mull) and discussing what kind of wiring Jack will use in renovating the house: “220, 221, whatever it takes,” Jack says.

“We’re doing the scene and it was okay,” Keaton told Esquire. “And I remember saying to the prop guy, ‘Go find me a chainsaw.’ When he comes back with it, he says, ‘You wanna wear these?’ And he holds up some goggles. I go, ‘Yeah.’ You know, they make me look crazy. And when Martin shows up, I know I should look under control, I’m not sweating it. I’m a dude. So we’re standing there, Martin pulls me aside and says, ‘You know what you ought to say? When I ask about the wiring, you oughta just deadpan: ‘220, 221.’ I died. It was perfect. I may have added ‘whatever it takes.’ But it was his.”

“That was a little ad-lib that we just threw in, but every carpenter or construction person I’ve ever worked with, they’re always quoting that line from Mr. Mom,” Mull told The A.V. Club.

8. MR. MOM OUTGROSSED HUGHES’S OTHER 1983 SUMMER MOVIE—VACATION.

Mr. Mom only opened on 126 screens on July 22, 1983, but managed to gross $947,197 during its opening weekend. Once the film went wide a month later to 1235 screens, it hit number one at the box office and spent five weeks at the top. By the end of its run, the film had grossed just shy of $65 million, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1983 (just between Staying Alive and Risky Business). National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes’s other film that summer, came out July 29 and ended its theatrical run with $61,399,552 (at its height, it showed on 1248 screens). Vacation finished the year in 11th place.

9. THE MOVIE LED TO HUGHES BEING CALLED “A PURVEYOR OF HORNY SEX COMEDIES.”

During a 1986 interview with Seventeen magazine, Molly Ringwald asked the writer-director why he never showed teen sex in Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. “In Sixteen Candles, I figured it would only be gratuitous to show Samantha and Jake in anything more than a kiss,” he said. “The kiss is the most beautiful moment. I was really amused when someone once called me a ‘purveyor of horny sex comedies.’ He listed The Breakfast Club and Mr. Mom in parentheses. I thought, ‘What kind of sex?’ Yes, in Mr. Mom there’s a baby in a bathtub and you see its bare butt.”

10. MR. MOM WAS MADE INTO A TV MOVIE AFTER ALL.

In the beginning, producers wanted Mr. Mom to be a TV movie, not a feature film. But a year after the film came out in theaters, ABC produced a TV movie called Mr. Mom, with the same characters and premise. Barry Van Dyke played Jack and Rebecca York played Caroline. A People magazine review of the movie stated: “They and their three kids are immediately likable … But it goes downhill from there as the script lobotomizes all its characters. Here’s a textbook case in how TV takes a cute idea—and a script that does have some good lines—and leeches the wit out of it.”

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Central Press/Getty Images
Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 119th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."


Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."


Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."


By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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