The Government Invites You To Stay In This Spooky Ghost Town… At No Cost
There are thousands of abandoned hamlets in the United States where some people don’t mind living and vacationing in. Are you one of them? If the idea sounds scary to you, then it may surprise you to know that people, in their numbers, are hoping for the opportunity.
That’s especially when the volunteer ad for a Montana Ghost Town went viral. Let’s get into the juicy details already.
Who Wants to Live in a Ghost Town?
For many people, the mere mention of a ghost town reminds them of the horror movie where they first saw them. Even when it wasn’t a horror movie in the strict sense, it had something to do with a devastating event that they never hope to relive.
Undoubtedly, the sights of abandoned settlements that were once bustling with life may be so frightening that they sent shivers down most people’s spines. Who would hope to live in such a place?
Why Ghost Towns Exist
If you’re wondering whether ghost towns exist in real life, the simple answer is a big YES. However, you wouldn’t find them in your typical search for daily bread. That’s because even though they may have noticeable and substantial remains, they’re essentially abandoned settlements.
Many culprits are responsible for ghost towns. The common ones are pollution, natural disasters, economic decline, and war. While many of these towns have restricted or forbidden access to them, others have been transformed into parks or tourist attractions.
Let's Talk About Garnet Ghost Town
If you know Southwest Montana, you’re probably already aware of its rich historical mining origins and culture. This is the major reason the state is home to a startling amount of abandoned communities. One of the most popular ones is Garnet ghost town.
Reputed to be one of the coolest ghost towns in the USA, Garnet also prides itself in being Montana’s best-preserved ghost town. The deserted town has about 30 buildings and is managed by a non-profit citizens group, the Garnet Preservation Association, and the Bureau of Land Management.
Do you have hopes of visiting Garnet ghost town sometime? You’ll find it sitting pretty at 11 mi north of junction of Old US 10 and Bear Gulch Rd, Bureau of Land Management, Garnet Resource Area, Garnet, Montana.
“Garnet is open year-round, daily from 9:30 am-4:30 pm, however, access is limited in the winter. Wheeled vehicles are allowed on the road from May 1 through December 15, depending on snow conditions…in winter, Garnet is only accessible by snowmobile and cross-country ski trip,” the town’s website reads.
A Call for Volunteers
One time, in the summer of 2015, Garnet ghost house ran out of volunteers. So, as would any responsible administrator, the Bureau of Land Management released a statement requesting individuals who wanted to spend some time at the ghost house to indicate interest.
The news release read, “The Bureau of Land Management’s Missoula Field Office is looking for a few good men and women to volunteer their time at one of Montana’s most colorful ghost towns during the summer and fall.”
Expectations vs. Reality
The expectations when putting out the advert weren’t much. It was a ghost town and only a few people were likely to respond to the invitation. Even at that, they were probably going to be some college kids or retired couples. You know, people who didn’t have something substantial to do in the bubbling locations and had some idle time to spare.
This is to say that nothing prepared the Bureau of Land Management for the reality they were about to experience.
An Overwhelming Response
Describing the events that followed the news release, Maria Craig, BLM’s Missoula Office’s spokeswoman said, “It went viral. It was everywhere. It was in the Huffington Post, on Fox News, there was an article in South Africa. The director of the BLM saw it in the Washington Post. I don’t think he really knew anything about Garnet before that.”
That’s right, the ad broke the net! The responses were overwhelming and came from different parts of the world. Germany, China, France, Pakistan, the UK—you name it!
An Enticing Ad
Craig said, “Garnet Ghost Town Ranger Nacoma Gainan told me the next morning he already had 130 e-mails and he didn’t know how many phone calls. The phone was ringing all morning.” “For some reason, it just grabbed the attention of people. I just don’t know why,” she mentioned. But we believe we do, and it all boils down to how the ad was put out.
“The Federal Government Will Put You Up In This Haunted Ghost Town, If You Dare,” a Huffington Post read. “… free food, free housing, and a job. But there is a spooky catch to the arrangement.” What could make for a more enticing ad?
In Craig’s words, “I think a lot of people thought they could just live there for free year-round — in the woods and not have to talk to anybody.” However, this wasn’t the true position of things.
“The volunteers give tours, help in the visitor’s center and stuff like that — it’s very similar to a campground host, but with a few more duties because you have to know the history,” she added.
No Modern Comforts? No Way!
A Minnesota Internet commentator, one of the initial applicants wrote, “I’ve no fear of ghosts, but no indoor plumbing or Wi-Fi would be truly terrifying!” Another commenter, from Delaware, stated, ” No electricity in this day and age? There are poorer countries that have running water to all of their residents, so it is odd to say the least that it wouldn’t be already set up on lands owned by the Federal Government.”
For similar reasons, many of them were put off and had doubts about going through with their application.
The Perks Explained
Craig said, “We got a lot of requests from people in bigger cities. don’t know if they’d be comfortable.” However, it seems to us that the discouraged applicants didn’t have a full understanding of what was obtainable in rural Montana. First, even though they weren’t accessible from the individual cabins, the fact remains that Garnet has running water. The ghost town also had electricity, gas stoves, and refrigerators.
And although there was no WiFi or flush toilets, the pit toilets available did their jobs perfectly. There was also a grocery store some miles away from the town.
And Then Came the Ghost Rumors
Rumors that the ghost town had ghosts started soon enough. The London Daily Mail read “Free food, housing, AND a job … but you have to live in a ghost town… Federal government searches for volunteers to work at abandoned gold mining outpost with a creepy past. Locals believe it is haunted with the spirits of former residents, especially children.”
An author, Ellen Baumler, had claimed, in a 2010 article, that “sometimes, in the deep winter quiet, a piano tinkles in Kelley’s Saloon and the spirits dance to ghostly music. Men’s voices echo in the empty rooms. But the moment a living, human hand touches the building, the noises stop.” The Huffington Post contributed to the gossip by quoting the article.
A Place for Adventure Seekers
One would think that the ghost rumors will discourage applicants from going through with the Garnet Volunteer quest. Surprisingly, it yielded the opposite effect. Some people have had a lifelong fantasy of having a nice chat with ghostly specters. For them, this was a dream come true.
However, Craig says the management doesn’t want volunteers to focus on ghosts. According to her, “We want to share the history of the town and how it fits into western Montana. That’s our focus — not ghosts.”
What's a Ghost Town Without Ghosts?
The misconceptions, Craig said, came from the name, “Ghost town.” According to her, “People wanted to do reality TV shows — a TV series on the paranormal activities at Garnet” because of the expectations the name carried.
However, she kept explaining the true essence of the ghost town to whoever cared to listen. Regardless, Garnet continued to draw interest from entertainment execs and adventure lovers who needed to have first-hand experiences with ghosts.
Weird Experiences and Magical Forces at Work
The ghost rumors weren’t true, or were they? While we may never know for sure, Ellen Baumler of the Montana Historical Society said, “I have heard several people tell about experiences in the hotel.”
According to her, Allan Mathews (a historian at the Bureau of Land Management) and others “have seen a woman [in] one of the upstairs rooms in the hotel, gazing out the window. Folks have to judge for themselves.”
The NuCompanion Device
In an amusing twist, the chief engineer of a technology firm, NuCompanion, began marketing his invention, Garnet. According to him, his device stayed “resident in a haunted location so that the spirits around it can learn how to use it to communicate with our side of the fence,” and could “give spirits phrase speaking ability.”
“With this device, you don’t need to be a ghost whisperer, everyone can use and experience it,” his Facebook post read.
Another Business Suggestion
The NuCompanion executive wasn’t the only one trying to sell business to Garnet. Craig mentioned that she had also received an email from a UK location, proposing a “paranormal” Garnet ghost town event to her.
“They would bring in people to conduct it and were talking about how much money it would make for us. That would have taken a permit. I don’t think we would have approved that,” she said.
A Balanced Perspective At Last
When describing how she had to explain the essence of the town and volunteering opportunities to people, Craig said, “We get 16,000 visitors a year, we give tours and it’s educational. There were a lot of misconceptions.” Fortunately, some applicants understood this clearly and didn’t need a reminder.
In the end, the administration chose couples with educational backgrounds from North Dakota and Idaho to fill the vacancies.
The Clamor for More Financial Support
If there’s anything the Bureau hopes the increased attention will bring to Garnet ghost town, it’s more money instead of activities that are beyond normal. That’s especially because the town has had yearly struggles with financial support to restore it to its past glory.
The Garnet ghost town is hopeful that the town’s allure will attract more monetary aid than an interest in ghosts.
Garnet at Its Height
Are you curious about life in Garnet before it became a ghost town? According to the town’s website, Garnet was once a thriving town a hundred years ago.
It was largely occupied by gold miners and their families, and “in 1898, somewhere around 1,000 people called Garnet their home. However, “Montana’s most intact ghost town wasn’t built to last.”
Garnet Was Once a Great Place to Live
The story has it that Garnet got its name from the semi-precious ruby-colored stone that filled the area. According to Garnet Ghost Town, “The surrounding mountains were rich in gold-bearing quartz. There was a school, the crime rate was low, and liquor flowed freely in the town’s many saloons.”
The Garnet town was bursting with shops, hotels, a Chinese laundry, barbershops, and a school. Unfortunately, the town had already become abandoned by 1950.
The Beginning of the End
Garnet’s woes started when miners discovered a rich vein in Mitchell, a mountain settlement. According to Garnet Ghost Town, the “enterprising miners were more interested in extracting the riches below ground than building above. As a result, buildings grew quickly, most lacking foundations. They were small and easy to heat.”
History has it that the “eager miners and entrepreneurs built quickly and without planning. A haphazard community resulted.”
Gold Diggers Through and Through
The miners were gold diggers both literally and figuratively. Once they noticed the gold in the mine was running dry, they closed up shop with the same zeal as they started, faster than anyone could say “Garnet.” This is similar to the story of many other ghost towns.
They left behind an abandoned town that later transformed into one of Montana’s best ghost towns.
The Nancy Hank
Garnet owed a significant part of its bloom to the Nancy Hanks Mine where gold was discovered in abundance in 1898. Nancy Hanks mine was the richest and produced $690,000 in 1896, which was its peak year.
Nancy Hank mine continued off and on operations up until 1954. It was around this time that plans to pump it out began. The Montana School of Mines later declared that Nancy Hank was dead and unprofitable in 1960.
There Came the Fire
The town became a true ghost town in the 1940s after a fire in the business district burnt half of the town, including many commercial buildings. As a result, many of the inhabitants had to flee for greener pastures.
“Cabins were abandoned, furnishings included, as though residents were merely vacationing. F.A. Davey still ran the store, however, and the hotel stood intact,” Garnet Ghost Town’s history read.
Restorative Efforts Commence
The fire incident happened in 1912 and wasn’t rebuilt until the 1970s when Garnet Preservation Project started its restoration work. This inspired the public to contribute artifacts valued at $90,000 to support the project.
Dahl’s Saloon, J.R. Wells Hotel, F.A. Davey’s Store, and Kelly’s Bar were among the structures undergoing restoration. Today, tourists can go through the village and explore a number of the structures.
Garnet's Charm is in its Remoteness
If there’s anything to look forward to in Garnet ghost town, it’s the sense of community in its visitors. According to Janet Goodall, a one-time volunteer at Garnet, “I’ve seen visitors become friendly and helpful when unexpected things happen, like flat tires, empty gas tanks, keys locked in cars, minor injuries, and, in one case, a diabetic faint.”
She added that “Maybe it’s because cellphones don’t work and help is hours away,” she continued. “They do become much nicer.”
A Tour Around the Ghost Town
If you plan to visit Garnet Ghost town, know that there are lots of things to do and places to see. First, you can visit the Warren Park Trail, named after Edward Brook Warren, a civil war veteran. There’s also the Sierra Mine Loop and Placer Trail to visit.
Activities to do at Garnet Ghost town include camping, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, etc.
Other Ghost Towns in Montana
As we mentioned already, Garnet ghost town is only one of many in Montana. Others include the Virginia City ghost town, Bannack, Nevada City ghost town, and Granite ghost town. Elkhorn State Park, Marysville, Comet, Castle town, and Kendall.
The list goes on and on. Due to the state’s Old West history, it’s no surprise that Montana is believed to have at least 60 ghost towns.
Ghost Towns Around the World
If you love to travel around the world, there are numerous ghost towns scattered everywhere. There’s Craco in Italy, Oradour-Sur-Glane in France, Pripyat in Ukraine, Varosha, Famagusta in Cyprus, and Hashima Island, in Japan.
Others include Lifta in Israel, India’s Dhanushkodi, Kłomino in Poland, Kolmanskop in Namibia, Val-Jalbert in Canada, Döllersheim in Austria, Great Blasket Island in Ireland, etc.