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Mystery Tourism Spots

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Halloween provides an opportunity to meditate on — and perhaps to visit — some of the American landscape’s more mysterious tourist destinations. I recently grew curious about these peculiar attractions when I came across a photograph by roadside documentarian John Margolies of a sign for Saint Ignace, Michigan’s Mystery Spot.

The Saint Ignace Mystery Spot promises visitors a disorienting sensory experience marked by visual anomalies and feelings of lightheadedness and queasiness. According to its website, this Mystery Spot was discovered by three surveyors, who found that “no matter how many times they tried to level their tripod… the plum-bob would always be drawn far to the east, even as the level was reading level.” Spooky.

Mystery Spot entrance, Saint Ignace, Michigan, 1980. Photo by John Margolies.

West Virginia’s Mystery Hole similarly beckons visitors to “See the laws of gravity defied!” at their site. Several scientific publications have characterized the mysterious symptoms experienced at these “gravity hills” as optical illusions. It’s unclear how interested mystery spot entrepreneurs might be in this practical explanation.

Bizarre facade of the Mystery Hole, near Ansted, West Virginia, 2015. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith.

California’s Trees of Mystery site invites visitors to dwell on the incredible scale of the area’s giant redwoods, fortunately without any adverse side effects. Located near Klamath in the Redwood National and State Parks, the Trees of Mystery feature not only a beautiful natural setting, but also two gargantuan statues, of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Paul Bunyan & Babe, Trees of Mystery, Route 101, Klamath, California, 1991. Photo by John Margolies.

The Winchester Mystery House is perhaps the spookiest of the mystery sites I encountered in my quick search of the collections. Winchester Repeating Arms Company heir Sarah Lockwood Winchester built the sprawling mansion in San Jose continuously from 1884 to her death in 1922. According to the 1947 edition of California: A Guide to the Golden State, published as part of the Federal Writers’ Project, the house “was never destined to be finished, for Mrs. Winchester… was informed by a medium’s message that as long as she kept on building, death would never overtake her.”

California: A Guide goes on to describe such anomalies as “trapdoors, crooked halls, steps leading nowhere” and “doors opening into space.” The photographs taken for the location’s Historic American Buildings Survey show a grand house, but betray none of these architectural oddities.

EAST FRONT – Winchester House, 525 South Winchester Boulevard, San Jose, Santa Clara County, CA , 1980. Photo by Jane Lidz.
SARAH WINCHESTER’S BEDROOM, SECOND FLOOR – Winchester House, 525 South Winchester Boulevard, San Jose, Santa Clara County, CA, 1980. Photo by Jane Lidz.

For those of you seeking to add to your vacation bucket list, perhaps some of these mysterious destinations will earn a spot!

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