A town or village that no longer has enough inhabitants to be considered a town (or in extreme cases may be abandoned entirely).
Back in the days of The Wild West, settlements would spring up practically overnight. Word of a gold or silver strike, or of a good water supply in arid land, and folks would flock in and put up a Boom Town. Many of these survived and grew, even after the initial rush was over (all major cities in the West Coast got their start like this). But many did not. After the gold was mined out, or the spring went dry, or the railroad went through a town forty miles away instead, there just wasn't much point to living there. So the town died slowly or quickly, and became a Ghost Town.
In a more general sense, in an agricultural society, most people lived on a farm or a ranch, and shipped their stuff to the nearest trading town. When people started living in more urbanized areas, since they were not farming, either they needed to go to a job or have customers because they ran some kind of business out of their house. If that dried up, whether or not they owned their house, unless they could grow enough food to feed themselves and supply other basic needs, their only option was to pack up and move on. If enough people did that, then you got a ghost town.
Given their nature, ghost towns tend to be far off the beaten path, and not appear on current maps. Thus people who wind up in ghost towns are usually very lost indeed, or if it was deliberate, have had a rough time getting there. (The big exception is tourist attraction ghost towns, which have relatively easy access, and enough people in nearby areas to keep the place up.)
Ghost towns don't necessarily have actual ghosts in them, but are generally spooky even without them. Banging shutters, creaking floors, a player piano that suddenly activates for no good reason. Sometimes the evacuation will have been so sudden that it appears that people left in the middle of dinner.
Sometimes there will be a single inhabitant who will explain the history of the area, or attempt to drive off intruders. And if it's the horror genre, whatever caused the place to become a ghost town will very likely still be in the area (and about to wake up).
Compare Ghost City, where this has happened to a major metropolitan area, and Ghost Planet when an entire world ends up this way. Contrast Boom Town, the beginning of the cycle. See also Dying Town, when a community is getting close to becoming a Ghost Town.
Anime and Manga
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Hinamizawa. It gets wiped out in the Great Hinamizawa Disaster in some of the arcs.
- In Dragon Crisis, several of the main girls get sucked into a painting of a ghost town. Unfortunately for them, there's also an Ax Crazy murderer here.
- Spirited Away has Chihiro and her parents stumble into what appears to be a ghost town in the beginning of the movie. Only to discover that it is a town that belonged to spirits and they appear only at night.
- Lawless, Arizona in Marvel Two-In-One #14. This one had a literal ghost, a hanged Outlaw that the Thing and Son of Satan battled.
- Lucky Luke features almost every single Wild West cliché, and therefore has an adventure in a Ghost Town ; this is even the title of the book. In that case it was a Gold Rush mining town which was abandoned after it became obvious there wasn't an ounce of gold around the place. In the end, after Luke has stirred the locals out of their greed and fear of ghosts, it revives as a prosperous farming town.
- In Aeon Entelechy Evangelion the dome where Rei lives is this, absolutely devoid of human presence except for the hidden security detail and no wildlife (especially cats, which are natural detectors of everything abnormal).
- Clearwater Commune in DC Nation was built on one of these. Currently a thriving hippie commune and farming community, it was once a notoriously nasty mining town in Jonah Hex's day, and popular with cultists, as it's sitting on a node of magical energy. The hippies are clueless about this.
- Son of Paleface (1952) takes place partially in a Ghost Town.
- By the time the Colonial Marines arrive in Aliens to investigate a communications blackout from the normally bustling Hadley's Hope colony on LV-426, the colony's corridors are unpopulated except for a hamster and Newt, as well as signs of since-passed combat. All of the other colonists have been abducted by the Xenomorphs and taken to their hive for use as food and parasitic hosts.
- The abandoned nuclear test town from The Hills Have Eyes remake.
- In Fried Green Tomatoes, all that's left of the town was a graffiti laden cafe that's been closed for years.
- Silent Hill was heavily inspired by Centralia, though the explanation is rather different.
- An interesting version happens in the sixth A Nightmare on Elm Street film, Freddy's Dead. Ten years after the previous film Freddy has managed to kill off all of the teenagers and children of Springwood, leaving only the adults. The town is a complete wreck, near abandonment, except the adults are still there. They've all been left in a state of psychosis, possibly due to Freddy's influence.
- In Book 19 of the Lone Wolf series, Lone Wolf can visit two Ghost Towns on his cross country trip back home. One village was hit hard by a plague and is completely abandoned. Another one, the town of Amory, is a literal Ghost Town. The spirit of an old enemy and Complete Monster Roark still haunts his former home and his evil presence frightens away any living thing that tries to stay there. After Lone Wolf defeats Roark for the last time and banishes his spirit forever, he is delighted to hear birdsong in the morning after the battle—life is already returning to Amory. Lone Wolf also finds some hidden money in the floorboards of the house he was sleeping in—almost as if the town itself was thanking him.
- Momson, Vermont, is described as one of these at the beginning of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot, and the title village winds up as one due to an outbreak of vampirism.
- The town where the Twentieth Century Motor Company used to exist in Atlas Shrugged.
- Snowfield, California, in Dean Koontz's Phantoms.
- Comala, the main setting of Pedro Paramo. It seems a normal Dying Town at the beginning, but as the plot unravels and the reader realizes how many of the characters were Dead All Along it gets revealed as one of these.
Live Action Television
- Carnivale has a particularly good ghost town in season one.
- The Twilight Zone episode "Where is Everybody".
- Land of the Giants episode "Ghost Town".
- An evocative episode of Dragnet had a few scenes in a ghost town movie set, as a formerly-respectable film director turned pornographer vividly recalls his Glory Days to Friday.
- The Brady Bunch episode where the Bradys drive to the Grand Canyon on vacation and stop at a ghost town along the way.
- Charmed had an episode involving a cursed ghost town that seemed to have disappeared off of the face of the earth.
- World of Darkness: Ghost Stories has Fort Assumption, a silver-mining town that went from Dying Town to dead in one brutal night, when the sheriff slaughtered everyone still there to "spare them the pain" of a smallpox epidemic before killing himself. The shock of the massacre caused the town to develop a literal ghost, and it's obsessed with rebuilding itself. The sheriff's own ghost, meanwhile, is not about to let it.
- A location in Mother 3, at the end of chapter 7. It's Tazmily Village.
- The Hidden Village in The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, and its Western music.
- Earlier than that, in Zelda II, the town of Kastuo. Especially because there are literal ghosts flying around, which can't be seen without the aid of a magic Cross.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has quite a bit of these in the desert areas (Las Brujas and Aldea Malvada are two examples).
- In Oregon Trail II, Fort Boise and Sutter's Fort are abandoned in the 1850's, as in real life. The Whitman Mission will also be abandoned after 1847 or so.
- Hauksness/Domdora in Dragon Quest I.
- In Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, the town of Ghoulash is abandoned but for one resident.
- Red Dead Redemption has the aptly-named Tumbleweed.
- The Village in Elf Blood was once a ghost town, abandoned by the humans and taken over by the homeless magical races. It is extremely dilapidated, and contains many areas devoid of life.
- In Survival of the Fittest, both the islands in V2 and V4 had Abandoned Towns as integral locations.
- Jackie Chan Adventures had a "historical flashback" episode starting by the Chan clan stopping in a ghost town.
- One of Scott Adams' Adventure games, Ghost Town (1981).
- Scooby Doo Where Are You? episode "Mine Your Own Business" takes place in an Old West Ghost Town.
- In The Simpsons episode "Marge vs. The Monorail", Marge goes to North Haverbrook, the town Lyle Lanley sold a monorail to before Springfield. She finds the town nearly deserted after their monorail crashed on its maiden voyage.
- North Haverbrook recovered and became a flourishing community again in the episode, "Little Big Girl".
- Stopmo City in We Are the Strange.
- Parodied in the Fairly Oddparents with the Dad's hometown, now a ghost town even by wild west standards. He went for the feeling of nostalgia before remembering that it was just plain awful.
- Elizabeth Bay, Namibia
- Kolmanskop, Namibia, once a diamond mining town, now half-buried in sand.
- Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia
- Japan has a large number of what are called "Haikyo", or urban ruins. They come in all forms, ranging from entire abandoned towns to single buildings. Most of them are remains from Japan's mining era, or else became abandoned when their economy slipped in the 1990s.
- Hashima Island, Japan. A former coal mining town that, at its height, was the most densely populated area in the world, and the site of the first concrete building in Japan. When oil became a favored energy source, the coal mine closed down and the town died with it. Japanese photographer Saiga Yuji has two online galleries of black & white photos taken on Hashima: one containing images from just before its abandonment, and one of more recent photos, "Views of an Abandoned Island."
- Quneitra, Syria
- Kantubek, Uzbekistan. During the Cold War, it was a testing ground for biological weapons.
- Western Australia has several, the old asbestos mining town of Wittenoom possibly being the most famous and notorious.
- Iditarod, Alaska, the namesake of the Iditarod Trail and the annual dog sled race.
- British Columbia
- Cassiar, British Columbia, once a thriving mining town of 1500, it is now devoid of life. The highway in that area retains the name of Cassiar.
- Bodie, California
- Fort Ord, California, while still technically containing a military presence due to the Naval Postgraduate School, it is abandoned in the visual sense with a large number of boarded up buildings and overgrown plantlife. ** Now the Mythbusters second abandoned location to casually drive cars through.
- The chorus of Sufjan Stevens' song "They Are Night Zombies..." name-drops a lot of Illinois ghost towns.
- Dana Common and Prescott Peninsula in Massachusetts, the last significant above-ground areas of four towns (Dana, Prescott, Enfield, and Greenwich) that were flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s. Despite the removal of all significant buildings in the area, Dana Common is still regularly kept up by the Massachusetts parks people as a waystation for hikers, parts of the old golf course in Prescott are still visible (but off limits to the public), and building foundations still dot the area, including under the water.
- Times Beach, Missouri became a ghost town because of dioxin poisoning. The town's buildings were razed and the soil burnt to rid it of the dioxin. It's now Route 66 State Park; its lone surviving building (a hotel) is now the park's visitor centre. One of many Route 66 ghost towns; others include Glenrio (Texas/New Mexico), Oatman (Arizona) and Amboy (California).
- New Jersey
- New York
- Love Canal, a infamous neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York that was evacuated in 1979 after it was learned that it was built on a toxic waste dump.
- Wonderland, Ohio, the ruins of which are just off the end of one of the runways at Port Columbus Airport.
- The state of Oklahoma, which has gone through numerous booms and busts over the years (oil, coal, lead, etc) is littered with literally hundreds of these, to the point that there's actually an official state list and classification system for them. There are even several which are partially underwater due to the construction of artificial lakes, and many more which are entirely underwater but still visible from the shoreline. The most notable is Picher, a dangerously toxic and structurally unstable former mining town featured in an episode of Life After People. ** Picher is also notable because the few remaining residents (approximately a dozen people) flat-out refuse to leave despite the fact that the groundwater is undrinkable, the air is dangerous to breathe and the entire town could literally sink into the earth at any given moment. Mostly elderly, these few residents were all born in Picher and have expressed their wishes to die there.
- Centralia, Pennsylvania, built over a mass of coal that was hard to ignite but practically impossible to extinguish. The coal seam caught fire decades ago and the town was abandoned as unsafe, due to unstable ground and toxic gases. The seam remains on fire, and is predicted to continue to burn for 250 more years. However, there are still a few holdouts living there. Bill Bryson wrote a book about it, and the film version of Silent Hill was based on it. ** Anthracite coal, actually. There are still chunks of the stuff scattered all over the burning highway and the access roads for construction vehicles. And some of those holdouts still living there occupy a house next to a mound of anthracite coal which they use as a flagpole. They also have a "No Interviews" sign on their door.
- Val-Jalbert is a well-known tourist ghost town on the south shore of Lac St. Jean; its sole industry was a mill, powered by a waterfall, which mechanically turned wood into pulp for paper. Technology Marches On and mechanical pulp generation was supplanted by chemical processes.
- Thistle, Utah was abandoned after a landslide and flood in the early 1980's.
- Going into the future, large swaths of the American Midwest and West are expected to become ghost towns as water resources become more strained. Las Vegas and LA are two of the biggest concerns, as either they and other cities will dry up, or they'll force areas of the Southwest to dry up. There's simply not enough water to support them both given current projections. Already the Colorado river is virtually a trickle by the time it leaves American soil.
- Neither city is remotely sustainable at this point in time, the LA area could support at best a couple hundred thousand people on its natural water resources