Obscura Day, March 20: visits to wondrous, curious, and esoteric places

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Hi everyone! Pleased to be back on Boing Boing again. Last time I was here with Dylan Thuras we announced the launch of the Atlas Obscura, a user-generated compendium of the world's "wondrous, curious, and esoteric" places.

Dylan and I are excited to let everyone know about the upcoming real-world manifestation of the Atlas: International Obscura Day, taking place on Saturday, March 20th, 2010. More than just cataloging the world's curious, uncelebrated spots, we want to encourage folks to actually go out and explore them. That's what we're going to be doing en masse, all over the world, on March 20th.

So far we've seeded Obscura Day with events in almost 40 cities and towns around the world. We're getting access to private collections and museum back rooms, exploring hidden treasures, and leading expeditions to places that aren't normally open to the public.

We hope to have Obscura Day happenings taking place in dozens more cities on every continent. But we can't do it alone. Please consider volunteering to help organize an Obscura Day event in your own hometown. If you want to get involved, email us at info@atlasobscura.com and we'll help you make it happen.

Why are we doing this, you ask? Well, because we think it will be a lot of fun. We love these sorts of places, and we think they deserve to be celebrated. We believe you don't have to go to the Grand Canyon to experience wonder, or to the Smithsonian to indulge your sense of curiosity. These experiences are all around us, if you only know where to look. Consider us UNESCO's weird little brother, on a mission to celebrate and hopefully help preserve the world's lesser-known "wondrous, curious, and esoteric" spots.

Here are a few of the Obscura Day events we're especially excited about:

- A back-room tour of the Mutter Museum with Joanna Ebenstein of Morbid Anatomy.

- An expedition led by BldgBlog's Geoff Manaugh to explore California City, a haunting unbuilt town in the Mojave desert that was planned to be the third biggest city in California.

- Michael John Grist is leading a tour of the Tokyo G-Cans, the world's largest underwater drainage system (image top).

- Steve Erenberg (aka Radio Guy) is opening up his private collection of gorgeous scientific instruments in Westchester County (image above).

- Thomas Bolton is leading a walking tour in London of the lost River Fleet.

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- Loren Coleman is giving a personal tour of his International Cryptozoology Museum in Maine (image above).

- Leander Robinson is leading a tour of one of the world's largest pneumatic tube systems at the Stanford Medical Center (recently featured on Boing Boing).

- Near Sydney, Australia, we're going to explore the incredible Newnes Glow Worm Tunnel.

- In Portland, we're going to be at the only undergraduate-run nuclear reactor in the world.

- At the Niagara Falls Science Museum, Nick Dalacu is going to be reproducing classic, historic science experiments with his collection of antique scientific instruments.

The good/bad news is that many of these events are filling up almost as fast as we announce them. The good/good news is that there is almost no limit to the number of these we can organize, with your help. If you're interested in organizing an Obscura Day tour or event, or even just have a suggestion about a place that would make an awesome Obscura Day venue, e-mail us at info@atlasobscura.com, and our team will help you make it happen.

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  1. The mention of Niagara Falls, reminded me of the statue of Nikola Tesla there at the hydroelectric section. It’s a shame, if his laboratory, at then Wardenclyffe, on Long Island, NY has been torn down, once to become a science museum, if there removed over the former photo processors (Peerless) there in the HAZMAT cleanup. Just the other day it was announced that “rechargers” could be powered by Wifi hotspots and this was an early idea of his. I salute Obscura and liked to enjoy the tour of the nearby Brookhaven National Laboratory, though a little too obscura back then and you’d be picked up and returned to the guided tour. It’s now run by a consortium of higher learning rather than the US DOE. Should it too be a UNESCO site little brother?

    1. I have lived in the Niagara Falls, New York, area for the past ten years. I have often had discussions about antique science instruments. Many times I was asked about Tesla and his legacy. Most of these times a statement like “what a shame” was inserted into the discussion with reference to how Tesla was treated by his contemporaries.
      Do you care about Tesla as I do? I am attempting to raise $1 m in order to transform the beautiful transformer house of Buffalo Ave. Niagara Falls, into an important Tesla Museum. This beautiful stone building is probably the last one still standing that is associated with Tesla’s work. Any suggestions as to potential contributions for establishing the Tesla Museum at Transformer house will be greatly appreciated.

      Nick Dalacu/ Niagara Science Museum founder

      1. Mr. Dalacu, your contact information would be appreciated, with some information about how to donate money and/or time to your excellent endeavor.

        If you reply with an email address you should probably obfuscate it so that spam-robots don’t pick it up. For example “Ndalacu at gteslamail dot cteslaom subtract a couple of teslas for my contact info” or similar.


  2. In my travels I have learned that just about every town, and every city has something wonderfully odd to show off. It takes getting to know people, and then the stories come out. Often, the odd thing is absolutely unexpected.

  3. Every time I see a photograph of that huge underground Japanese drainage system, I think “Moria” and expect to see goblin Orcs swarming down the columns.

  4. These are wonderful mushroom columns! For whatever reason I always love seeing them.

    Maillart’s design of the columns included flaring the tops of the columns to reduce the bending moment in the beams between the columns. The reason that the moment was so greatly reduced was because the tops of the columns were flared out, forming slight arches, making it easier to directly transfer the loads from the beams to the columns.

    Maillart also flared the bottom of the columns to reduce the pressure (force per area) on a certain point of the soil foundation. By flaring the bottoms of the columns, the area of the load was more widely distributed, therefore reducing the pressure over the soil foundation.

    My favorite example of the form is the Monadnock building.

    Anyone else share a secret love of flared columns?

  5. I am pleased to say I am one of 12 lucky people who get to see the experimental, nuclear reactor in Portland, Oregon. For decades I’ve wanted to see Cherenkov radiation (the blue glow) with my own eyes and finally I’ll get to do it.

  6. There’s one fundamental flaw with this idea: Why would I want to share my wondrous places with every jagoff online? I’ve worked my whole life to find those places.

    1. Hey johnny, they’re not YOUR places. Stop calling names and acting as if you own pieces of the world just because you stumbled across them.

  7. I love the atlus, it’s fantastic, only problem with it is some of the links that don’t seem to go anywhere and that don’t pull up the content you clicked. I suppose since it is user submitted that can happen?

  8. I imagine you would want to share these wondrous places so that it would stay open / not be destroyed (see Brooklyn’s Broken Angel for an example of what happens to these kinds of marginal places, even ones with support) and because you want others to share in the magic, wonder and enjoyment.

    While McDonald’s and Walmarts take over the world, places like these quietly disappear. Hording special and wondrous places is not only selfish, it actually runs counter to the idea of actually caring about said places.

  9. TINKERTOWN in New Mexico. It is off the Tourquoise Trail in between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. It is amazing and obscure…

    1. Yes, the Tinkertown Museum is an absolute marvel. Totally quirky and wonderful carvings and circus art, impossible to describe in words. You could spend hours wandering through it and still not see everything.

  10. Ooh, the Wunderkammer and Medical Museum in Melbourne look great. Might have to head there and check them out, Obscura Day or no.

  11. i am replying to comment #17. Sorry, I did not see your comment until now. Please ”google” my name. I am sure contact information will pop-up.

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