ATLAS OBSCURA

International Car Forest of the Last Church - Goldfield, Nevada

The dream project of two Nevada artists, the International Car Forest of the Last Church looks more akin to a druidic henge of junkers than any Christian chapel.

The product of artists Chad Sorg and Mark Rippie, the Car Forest began when Sorg saw just a seed of the project. As he was driving through Goldfield, Nevada, Sorg saw a car standing on its nose in the sand. Intrigued, the artist found that it was the work of Rippie and by 2011, Sorg had moved to the city to help Rippie expand their “forest.”

Today, over 40 automobiles including cars, trucks, and vans have been balanced delicately on their ends or stacked on top one of another, looking like a group of toys some giant simple left lying around. Each of the junked cars has also been uniquely painted with designs varying from skulls to caricatures of politicians.

Keep reading for the artists’ unfortunate falling out, on Atlas Obscura…

The Madonna Inn - San Luis Obispo, California

Built in 1958 by Alex and Phyllis Madonna, the Madonna Inn is a Swiss Alp-inspired hotel/restaurant in seeming celebration of all that is garish and tacky in human taste. Writer Umberto Eco described the decor as “Albert Speer, while leafing through a book on Gaudi, swallowed an overgenerous dose of LSD and began to build a nuptial catacomb for Liza Minelli.”

The Madonna Inn consists of 109 rooms, all with different names and themes: Floral Fantasy, Jungle Rock, Sir Walter Raleigh, Whispering Hills, etc. All colors of the rainbow are employed, but pink is most notably favored in the Gold Rush Steakhouse, Copper Cafe, and Silver Bar which make up the lower level of the hotel and are further decorated with floral carpet and swirling golden trees. Even the sugar on the diner tables is pink.

Male tourists should make a point of visiting the waterfall urinal in the lobby restroom.

Plan your visit to the Madonna Inn with Atlas Obscura…

Morbid Monday: Resurrection Through Decomposition 

For some cultures, death is the beginning of a purification process that starts with decomposition and ends with skeletonization. These people believe that when a loved one takes his or her final breath, it is the beginning of a journey to the land of the ancestors, and the corpse must completely decay before a soul is considered purified and can ascend to the afterlife.

There are typically two burial phases in some of these societies: initial and secondary burial. During the first, or initial, burial, the body may be buried or exposed while it decays, and the funeral ceremony during this phase marks the beginning of the soul’s journey. Once the remains are completely skeletonized, the bones are collected, cleaned, and placed in a secondary burial, like an ossuary. At this point the deceased is considered truly dead and the soul is resurrected to join the rest of their ancestors in the Land of the Dead.

Secondary burials have been practiced by many cultures throughout history into the modern era. Below is a discussion of burials customs of Jews of the early Roman Empire; burial customs of Southern Italy that were practiced until the early 20th century; and the Malagasy famadihana, or turning of the bones, which is practiced today.

The Jews of the early Roman Empire practiced a burial custom called ossilegium between 30 BCE and 70 CE. Ossilegium, a Latin word that means the collection of the bones, was a two-part process.

Keep reading for the full rundown of resurrection through decomposition, on Atlas Obscura!

Funerals in the Vatican: Discovering the Final Rites of the Popes

Two late 20th century Catholic leaders — Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII — will be canonized into sainthood on April 27. The event will be live streamed around the world, but it is not the only posthumous honor for the pontiffs. Over in the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, Texas, the funerary traditions of the Vatican are explored in an elaborate exhibition. 

Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of the Popes opened in 2008, and the museum is offering it as an opportunity to learn more about what happens when a Pope dies, beyond potential sainthood. Like anything within the Holy See, there is much pomp and ritual, and it’s something most of us rarely get to see. A life-size diorama of the deceased in repose and a multimedia installation take visitors right inside a funeral mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and its square. 

The museum, started in 1992, is dedicated to the history of mourning around the world, with exhibitions including Fantasy Coffins from Ghana19th century mourning customs, and the Tomb of the Unknown SoldierLives and Deaths of the Popes is the result of three years of collaboration with the Vatican, even working with the papal tailor to create replica vestments.

Keep reading for more of what happens when popes die, on Atlas Obscura…

Hello! I was wondering how one receives alerts of Atlas Obscura events? Not necessarily ones associated with the blog, but recently there was a lock picking party in New York, for example. I always seem to get these linked to me through other folk, rather than the blog itself. Thank you.

Asked by orphnespost

Hello! 

An excellent question… You can peruse a list of all the upcoming Obscura Society events at the link below, and even sign up to receive alerts/emails for them, too:

http://www.atlasobscura.com/events

Needless to say, we highly encourage you to do so!

Exploring Iceland with the Abandoned Houses Project 

Dwarfed by the powerful landscapes, the abandoned farm houses of Iceland are easy to overlook among the mountains and fjords. Eyðibýli — a project to document these abandoned homes — was started in 2011 to help save these ruins from obscurity. 

The nonprofit’s mission is to ”to research and register the magnitude and cultural importance of every abandoned farm and other deserted residences in the rural areas of Iceland.” They started in the south of the county and most recently covered the northwest in a journey to photograph these abandoned houses and interview locals about the areas’ heritage.

The results of this research are published in a series of publications called Eyðibýli á Íslandi. The fourth and fifth books in the series, which are rich with haunting photographs of the homes in the sweeping settings, were published in 2013. The main organizations behind Eyðibýli are R3-Consultancy, Gláma-Kím architects, and the Stapi Geology Consultancy, with collaborators including engineering, architecture, and archaeology students at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts, the University of Iceland, and Institute of Archaeology, as well as the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland and the National Archives of Iceland. 

For more on Iceland’s Abandoned Houses Project, keep reading on Atlas Obscura…

Fordlândia - Aviero, Brazil

During the 1920s Henry Ford was benefiting from a major boom in the automobile industry. His company was selling thousands upon thousands of cars and needed massive amounts of rubber to make tires. Unfortunately, rubber manufacturers in East Asia were running a virtual monopoly that drove up the price of raw materials. Ford’s idea: Create the world’s largest rubber plantation in the middle of the Amazon forest, which after all is the native habitat of rubber trees. He bought over six million acres and named his Americanized colony Fordlândia. Ford went so far as to build a modern hospital, a power plant, a library, a golf course, a hotel, and thousands of little white clapboard houses for the employees to live in. Eventually, as the community grew, other businesses such as bakeries, butcher shops, restaurants, and shoemakers were established.

Ford employees from America were relocated to this little piece of America along the Amazon River where they - along with the native Brazilian workers who moved into the settlement to work at the factory - were forced to live the mandatory “healthy lifestyle.” This included attending poetry readings, square dances, and English-language-only sing-alongs, and abstaining from alcohol, which was prohibited in Fordlândia.

Unfortunately Fordlândia proved to be wildly unsuccessful. The rubber saplings that Ford had planted (without the help of a botanist) were barely growing, and those that did grow were soon hit by a leaf blight, which ruined the remaining trees. By the end of the 1920s malaria became a serious problem. In December 1930 agitated workers rioted, breaking windows and overturning vehicles in the road. After the riots, which lasted less than three days, work continued, but there was almost no product to show for the millions of dollars Ford had poured into the jungle.

For the full history of Fordlândia, keep reading on Atlas Obscura…

The Most Haunted Place In The World Is For Sale

Like ghosts? Then you’ll love Poveglia, a small, deserted island in the Venetian lagoon that’s going on the auction block next month. It’s been called “the island of madness,” “Hell,” and “the most haunted place on Earth.” You’d just love it to pieces.

No, but seriously, this place sounds scary.

It is.

Visit Venice’s Plague Island on Atlas Obscura…

Leftover Star Wars Sets - Tozeur, Tunisia

While much of George Lucas’ mythic Star Wars films were filmed in studio lots or in preexisting structures, a number of their exterior sets, especially for the desert planet Tatooine, were purpose built for the films and simply abandoned to the sands and the fans when filming was over. 

While the most famous left over Star Wars set may be the Hotel Sidi Driss, a Tunisian hotel which was used as the interior of the Lars moisture farm, Luke Skywalker’s teenage home, many more structures were built just for the production such as the Lars farm exterior and most of the city of Mos Espa.

In Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace the spaceport of Mos Espa is shown as a bustling frontier town where young Anakin Skywalker lives and works as a slave. Many of the bulbous structures were filled in using CGI, but much of the first stories of the buildings were built practically and still stand as a squat beige town square that looks as though it was shaved cleanly off at the top. The facades are not actually buildings, but fronts built for filming, yet visitors can still mill about the exteriors as though they were on that far flung desert planet. There are also some iconic “moisture vaperators” also left on the site.

But Tatooine is in trouble! Find out how on Atlas Obscura…

A Guide to the Ice Caves of Iceland

From the middle of November through March, Iceland’s glaciers creak open, exposing surreal caverns.

These ice caves can be luminous or dark, depending on the pressure of the water in the glacier and their depth. The most otherworldly are the “Crystal Caves” of the Vatnajökull Glacier in Skaftafell National Park, the largest of Europe’s glaciers, where the light filters blue into the wide chasms in the ice.

Visiting ice caves is extremely hazardous and only recommended with a guide, such as Local Guide of VatnajökullIcelandic Mountain GuidesGoecco Eco Adventures Iceland, and Glacier Guides. Each year these guides discover the season’s caves, as each winter’s offerings are different from the last. Once summer comes, the ice becomes unsafe for humans to enter due to the threat of collapse in the warmer temperatures.

For the complete guide to Iceland’s ice caves, keep reading on Atlas Obscura! 

Atlas Obscura’s Iceland Week is in partnership with Icelandair, who will fly you to this unreal wonderland for surprisingly cheap

Watching the World Go By: A Timelapse Tour of Iceland

Atlas Obscura’s Iceland Week is in partnership with Icelandair, who will fly you to this unreal wonderland for surprisingly cheap

Iceland is a country of otherworldly beauty, and to see this alien landscape in person can stir the imagination like almost no other place. However, if you haven’t yet had the chance to visit, there is one medium up to the challenge of breathing life into Iceland from your computer screen.

To create a time-lapse video, a still camera is set up on a tripod, and is programmed to take photos in evenly spaced intervals, say one photo every 10 seconds. The final product is a vision of many hours compressed into just a moment, resulting in a familiar world seen in an impossible way — clouds fly by, tides ebb and flow in a matter of seconds, the sun sets in a flash before your eyes. 

Iceland makes a perfect subject for this medium — its incredible scale, varied landscapes, and fantastical geological features have inspired many a time-lapse. From the mysterious light show of the Northern Lights threading across the sky, to ethereal gliding blue icebergs, to the eruption of a volcano, to the pink glow of the Midnight Sun, we’ve gathered some of the very best here, so hit play and journey to magical Iceland through a lens that, without the help of a camera, no mere mortal could see.