1. Slab City, California
Slab City, or The Slabs, is a town without laws or even signs to help you navigate your way there. Settled on an abandoned Marine base east of Los Angeles, the “town” is populated by squatters living without running water, trash pickup services, electricity, sewers, or toilets. The government still owns the land, which holds the remains of Camp Dunlap from World War II, but the state leaves the squatters be. Slab City may not have any type of conveniences, but it does have art: the first thing you’ll see upon arrival is Salvation Mountain, an installation by Leonard Knight that loudly proclaims “GOD IS LOVE.” The Slabs even has its own night club called the Range, where local musicians perform on Saturday nights. The town is a mix of people trying to live off the grid and others who are just trying to stretch their social security and pensions with cheap living. The population tends to drop in the summer when temperatures get up to 120 degrees, but several thousand campers come back with their RVs, their own water supply, and generators to power through the winter months.
2. Monowi, Nebraska
The population of Monowi has been on the decline since the 1930s when it had a mere 150 residents. By 2000 the town was populated by one couple, and today only the wife remains. Elsie Eiler is not only the sole resident of Monowi, but the mayor and the person who created the one-room public library, consisting of her late-husband’s 5,000-book collection. Elsie is in her mid-70s and spends part of her time serving beer (with a liquor license she granted herself) to customers who drive up to 80 miles for a drink at the Monowi Tavern. Every year Elsie pays taxes to herself, and is required to make a municipal road plan so she can get state funding for her town’s four street lamps. Monowi, which means “flower,” has the official nickname “The Biggest Loner.”
3. The Villages, Florida
The Villages is the largest gated community in the world, home to over 100,000 people over the age of 55. The tranquil community has more golf carts than cars, and bills itself as “America’s Friendliest Hometown.” However, the friendliness of its residents may be the problem. The Villages is known for one other thing: the community has seen a significant growth in sexually transmitted diseases. And it’s not just the STDs, but the behavior of the residents that sets this retirement community apart. Outdoor sex is one rampant pastime in the community, which came to light this year when a 68-year-old resident was arrested for public indecency and intoxication after having sex with her 49-year-old lover in one of the public squares. Incidents like that almost make the bar fights, illegal drug use, and drunken driving in golf carts seem more tame. It would appear as though the nine country clubs, two downtown squares, and 34 golf courses are not enough to fill the resident’s time. In lieu of its black market Viagra and ratio of 10 women for every one man, the Villages has been given a new nickname: “Disney World for Old People.”
4. Lily Dale, New York
Lily Dale is known as The City of Light, and was the star attraction in the recent HBO documentary, No One Dies in Lily Dale. The gated community doesn’t make you immortal, but it seems to have a strange energy because it’s home to the largest spiritualist community in the world. Psychic mediums are drawn to the town which has a year-round population of 275, but which draws in over 22,000 visitors throughout the year. These visitors come to experience a town where mediums walk around communicating with the beyond and stay for the classes, workshops, lectures, and for their own private appointments with psychics. You can attend a service at the Healing Temple and connect with spiritual forces, meditate at the Forest Temple, or go about your day like normal – the town does have regular staples like a library, gift shops, and a coffee shop.
5. Centralia, Pennsylvania
On May 27, 1962, a fire started in a mine in Centralia. Today, it is still burning beneath the town. Over 50 years later, tourists come to visit the ghost town where most residents moved away in the 1980s after the heat of the underground fire caused a sinkhole to suddenly open up in the yard of a 12-year-old boy, who fell in. The boy was saved, but the hole was found to be emitting lethal levels of carbon monoxide and posed a threat to other citizens. Officials determined that Centralia could sustain the fire for another 250 years or more from all of the coal located in the mine. There are still ten residents who decided to stay in the town that they call home. Even though the town does not even have a zip code as of 2002, St. Mary’s Church continues to hold Sunday mass. Centralia served as inspiration for the horror film Silent Hill, and a roller coaster called the Black Diamond. The state made a deal to allow the remaining residents to live out their lives in their homes, but after they pass their property rights will be taken through eminent domain.
6. Gibsonton, Florida
Gibsonton is also known as Showtown, because it used to be an oasis where carnival and circus workers could spend the winter months. Many of the performers went on to retire in Gibsonton, which still markets itself to the circus community. Al Tomaini, a circus giant who wore size 27 shoes, is commemorated with a statue of a giant boot in town. This was a place that many acts like Percilla the Monkey Girl, the Lobster Boy, and the Anatomical Wonder called home. At one time, the fruit stand was run by Siamese twin sisters and the post office was the only one in existence that had a counter for dwarves. Gibsonton is now home to residents who live in circus trailers with elephants on the lawn (thanks to unique circus zoning laws), and is the location of the International Independent Showmen’s Association. The Association runs the Museum of the American Carnival, which keeps the history of the retired performers alive.
7. Colma, California
Colma is the smallest city in San Mateo County – and with 17 cemeteries that means that the dead outnumber the living. A 2010 census counted 1,800 living residents, and 1.5 million underground, leading to Colma being nicknamed “City of the Silent” and “City of Souls.” Such nicknames were probably inevitable, since the town was founded as a necropolis in 1924. After San Francisco outlawed any new cemetery construction within its limits and then evicted all existing cemeteries, the cemeteries were relocated to Colma. Colma’s residents have become more diverse in the past few decades; in earlier years more of its citizens had jobs primarily related to maintaining the many cemeteries. In 2007, Colma: The Musical was shot on location as an independent film that went on to win recognition from local and international film festivals. In a city where the dead to living ratio is 1,000 to 1, Colma is a great place to be alive.
8. CITE, New Mexico
CITE stands for Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation, and is also known as The Center. The Center is actually a town without a permanent population, located near Hobbs, New Mexico. CITE began as a “ghost town” concept, where an empty town could be used as a giant facility where new technologies for renewable natural energy could be safely tested. The space is also used to test water systems, security and emergency response systems, driverless vehicles, and new city planning ideas. The idea was that testing out these systems on a fake city would provide better results than trying to test them out in a laboratory. To make the outcomes more realistic, the town is outfitted with functional utilities, telecommunications, and underground maintenance systems. The lack of residents means tests can be conducted without safety concerns, though with $1 billion spent on keeping the roads, houses, and even schools realistic, The Center would be a fine place to settle down.
9. Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa
Maharishi Vedic City sounds like a town from South Asia, and not a farm town in Iowa. “Vedic” comes from the Sanskrit word for “knowledge,” while “Maharishi” honors Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who created the Transcendental Meditation technique. Maharishi Vedic City is a town of 259 that is devoted to Hindi meditation and soul-searching. The city was founded to be a “lighthouse of peace for America and the world” by building a home for peace-creating experts in everything from its agriculture laws to its consciousness-based schools. The residents avoid negativity with daily practice of Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation and Yoga Flying techniques. The city is only one square mile, and seeks to "protect, nourish, and satisfy everyone, upholding the different social, cultural, and religious traditions while maintaining the integrity and progress of the city as a whole." The city banned the sale of non-organic food within its borders, which are made up of 50 farms arranged into 10 circles by developers who made sure to set land aside for conservation. Each building faces east, and while you can use American dollars or your credit card Maharishi uses the Raam as its currency.
10. Hell, Michigan
Hell is a small town about 40 minutes north of Ann Arbor and although there is nothing particularly hellish about it, the residents do have fun trying to live up to the name. The town brings in tourists by embracing the Hell theme throughout the town. You can get ice cream from Screams Ice Cream and try “scare-o-mel,” or “bat-droppings” before perusing the Halloween store, which is open year-round. Hell Country Store and Spirits is a great place to stock up on food before mailing a postcard from the Post Office, where it will be postmarked “from Hell.” The second Saturday in September is HellFest, which includes Creepy Camping and in 2011 set a Guinness World Record for the Largest Hearse Parade. Also known as Hiland Lake, there are disputes as to how the town became known as Hell, but the name has been official since 1841.
11. Roswell, New Mexico
In the summer of 1947 a UFO allegedly crashed in the town of Roswell, and it has been all about aliens ever since. Roswell openly embraces its reputation as the headquarters for UFO research and enthusiasts, welcoming tourists every year for a UFO Alien Festival that includes costume contests and an alien-themed 5K. Even the local McDonald’s is in the shape of a flying saucer. There are UFO-themed stores like Alien Zone, and a local museum where you can read up on “research” about other alien activity. The town even inspired the cult TV show Roswell. Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, this town is undoubtedly full of aliens – they just happen to be costumes with humans underneath.