Beyond the harrowing statistics, World War II will likely persist in human memory for the ages as it represents humanity in its most saturated of forms: the horrific depths to which man may sink for personal gain and the heavenly heights to which he might also ascend in his altruistic concern for his peers. In Oradour-sur-Glane, though, it’s hard to see anything other than the former. In the summer of 1944, the quiet French village saw the deaths of 642 people–ranging from one week to ninety years old–as well as its partial-razing due to Adolph Hitler’s elite and evil Waffren-SS company. The town was eventually rebuilt nearby, however then-President Charles de Gaulle insisted that the town’s remains stand as a living memorial for those individuals whose lives were wrongly claimed on that fateful day in June.
In Percy Shelley’s acclaimed poem “Ozymandias,” he describes a once-mighty kingdom that now stands “on the sand, half sunk,” inevitably ruined by the hollow values upon which it was founded. That kingdom could very well be Kolmanskop, Namibia. The sand-ridden city’s roots date back to 1908, when a black worker discovered the site’s abundance of diamonds and alerted his superior. The proceeding events should be familiar to most: Westerns seeking more wealth soon exploited the area’s resources, propping up Western-style towns in the process but making sure to get out of town when the well ran dry. In any event, the diamond industry was such a boom initially that Kolmanskop became the site of the first x-ray station in the southern hemisphere as well as the host of the first tram system in all of Africa. Material pleasures, however, proved finite when the diamond field was exhausted and people began to abandon it. Thanks to geological forces, it is sand–not splendor–that fills Kolmanskop’s buildings today.
Evocative of the ephemeral joys that come with wealth and a spectral testament to the consequences of man’s endless pursuit of profit, Bodie, California is one of the United States’ most-photographed ghost towns. Founded in the mid 19th century following the discovery of gold, Bodie eventually acquired an impressive amount of fortune seekers, infrastructure and cultural centers. However, once word spread that there was more easily attained prosperity in Montana, Arizona and Utah, the only bustling present within the city center was that of tumbleweeds.