Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Episode 203: Ghost Town


This week Shauna and Dan explore the spookiness behind Ghost Town. Shauna talks about old mining towns while Dan talks about the Gettysburg battlefields. Bonus: The great Coke vs Pepsi debate has a surprise winner. 

Copyright 2023 by The Readiness Corner, LLC - All Rights Reserved


 Click to read the show notes

Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast
Episode 203: Ghost Town
Record Date: August 13, 2023
Air Date: August 16, 2023


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase.

I’m Dan Pugh

And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook
Have you ever worked the closing shift or been the last one to leave a place that usually is filled with people? Have you ever visited a place that was permanently closed but used to be bustling? Perhaps a school or an old mall or hotel. Sometimes this can happen to entire neighborhoods and even towns. You might get an eerie feeling when visiting one of these places. You could call it a ghost town.


According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a ghost town is
a once-flourishing town wholly or nearly deserted usually as a result of the exhaustion of some natural resource
End Quote

The term is used mostly for physical places and there is no consensus on the actual existence of ghosts… So for now whether referring to an old building or entire city, the phrase ghost town is considered to be figurative.

Before we dive in, Dan, you've spent some time in what is arguably one of the most well-known ghost towns… Gettysburg. Can you share your impressions?


The origin of this phrase is surrounded by a lot of… well… ghost stories. There isn’t a lot of solid evidence of its use at the time when most believe it should have originated… in the Wild West days of the United States. There is a pretty good description of the phrase’s entry into the English language by the user newappeal who posted the following on the subreddit etymology in 2021.

Does anyone know where the term "ghost town" originated, specifically in which language? The term is for me (as an American) associated with the "Wild West" period of the late 19th Century and perhaps even more specifically with the California Gold Rush, but apparently the term is not recorded in English until 1908 (according to Etymonline, at least), and it doesn't take off in usage in Google NGram results until the 1920s.

Meanwhile, I know that the term is in use at least in German (Geisterstadt) and Russian (город-призрак/gorod-prjizrak), so I'd assume it has equivalent calques in other languages too*.* I had assumed that the term originated in English, but since the first recorded use of the word in English occurs a few decades after the period with which I most associate it, I'm not so sure. Furthermore, the German and Russian NGram results show usage before 1900. (While the results for Russian look anomylous in the early years, the German results look more normal. However, it's also worth noting that the German term returns no hits between 1895 and 1909, i.e. the year when it first appeared in English.)
End Quote

This is a great start and we're going to expand upon it. New works and materials are constantly being digitized or made available to the public so even phrases researched somewhat recently may have additional historical evidence to find. Here are a few attestations I was able to locate which were published right at the turn of the 19th century (1800s).

The book Mr. Milo Bush and Other Worthies: Their Recollections by Hayden Carruth was published in 1899


I'm sure the editor of the Prairie Blast would have been delighted to write the obituary of Budstart, but Budstart refused to die. The campaign was particularly hot. The candidates were largely lost sight of in the struggle over the county capital. This important adjunct of a free people was situated out on the prairie, at the site of a deserted village popularly called Ghost Town.
End Quote

The following is found the New-York tribune, September 29, 1901 edition out of New York, N.Y.

Then the miners who inhabited the village of Jayville moved away. and now naught remains of the once flourishing hamlet but a ghost town beside the silent shaft.
End Quote

Next up, from The sun out of New York [N.Y.], June 22, 1919, in the section: Books and the Book World

"The Ghost Town Lundy"
A BOOK which has given us more pleasure in a perfectly moral way than any we have read for a long, long time is The Ghost Town Lundy, a narrative poem by Col. Charles A. Lundy. The town of Lundy having been overlooked in a recent story of The Ghost Towns of the West, Col. Lundy has undertaken to right the wrong and do honor to the ghost which he says is more certain and vivid than any of its sisters. He begins his poem with boyish memories of his father:
"I seem to see before me now
My father's form and witness how
He gains his home with lagging feet, And tries to slumber in his seat.
O see his unkempt, bleeding hands, Impaired by work on others' lands.
His mighty frame was bowed with age Ere years had turned his centre page."
End Quote

That article stands out because it shows that the phrase is very well known at that point.

The Washington times, October 11, 1929, out of (Washington [D.C.]) includes this snippet,

Once Aurora, now a ghost town in the mountains of western Nevada, was filled with 10,000 gold miners. From 1861 to 1869 they took $30,000,000 of the precious metal from the mountains near by. Now all is silence In and around the remaining buildings of what was once the flourishing county seat town, says Capper's Weekly. Not a soul has lived in the town for many Years. Desert winds croon through the windowiess, decaying buildings. Creosote brush, wild juniper and other desert growth have overgrown the townsite. Coyotes slink away between the buildings as you approach.
End Quote

Roanoke Rapids herald, January 31, 1935, Roanoke Rapids, N.C.

"Helldorado" is the title of the Thursday-Friday attraction next week at the Imperial. "Helldorado is a ghost town, one of those places that sprung up during a gold rush years ago, whose sole inhabitant now is Henry B. Walthall, a slightly cracked individual who has been living there since the boom days. One day the peace and quiet of the ghost town is interrupt-d by the arrivals of a group of citizens whose automobiles have been washed away by a flood. [...] They all hunt for shelter and food.
End Quote

In the Evening star, February 16, 1947, out of Washington, D.C. is an article titled, “Here’s Your Speech, Senator” by Jack H. Pollack. The subtitle of the piece is
The ghosts who haunt Washington lead a busy life, composing short-order oratory for longwinded legislators.
End quote

There is a graphic included along with this article which depicts a large man at a microphone giving a speech and holding up the papers for the speech in one hand. His other hand is reaching behind his back to grab additional pages from a typewriter as another man is typing them up. Here is a bit from the article.

The jammed auditorium was tense as the distinguished Senator strode to the coast-to-coast microphone. Clearing his throat and clutching his neatly typed manuscript, he began to pour forth the silver, statesmanlike words. When the eminent lawmaker was finished, he joyously basked in a thunderous ovation.

Standing in the wings, sighing with relief, was the nervous man who wrote the speech. He was the Senator's ghost writer.

Many of the speeches you heard in the last election - and which perhaps even swayed your vote - were created by apparitions lurking behind white sheets of anonymity.

These spook scribblers not only supplied some legislators with words but often with thoughts. No one knows how many great and near-great in government owe their reputations to writing wraiths behind the scenes.
Washington, D. C., is America's leading ghost town. The nation's capital is haunted by invisible but articulate ghost writers who compose the speeches, articles and prepared pronouncements of countless helpless lawmakers and bureaucrats. If not already working for Federal big shots, these pallid penmen materialize at the first Senatorial sneeze.
End Quote

Many people think that ghost town comes from the mining days or the old west, wild west. And that belief partially comes from how common it was at the time for towns to build up quickly and then seemingly disappear overnight.

The Records and Briefs of the United States Supreme Court included coverage of a case from 1955 and we hear the phrase even in the courtroom.

Q. Do you recall discussions or arguments advanced by gold mine companies or by congressmen to the effect that the closing of the gold mines would make these communities ghost towns?

A. Yes, I believe I referred to that earlier.

Q. Were you in any position to evaluate the possibilities of employment in a ghost town?

A. I think it would have to be conceded that the phrase is not susceptible to precise evaluation. It is a term. I don't know what the definition of a ghost town is. I think it is just common, general usage and I think quite well understood by people in those terms
End Quote

This has become an age-old question in the US… who is responsible for these ghost towns?

We won't be able to answer that in one episode, so let’s move to our modern uses, right after we say thank you to our sponsors.

A Quick Thank You
This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

Here’s a snapshot of what a typical week looks like on the feed.

On Mondays we have a conversation about what everyone is reading
On Tuesdays the new episode comes out, a full 24 hours before it airs for everyone else
Wednesdays see all the links and cool things we talked about on the show
Thursday is our Patron’s only poll
And on Friday the lightly edited, rarely censored Behind the Scenes video airs, which always includes a little about our week before the show and a cool feature after the show

Plus all the things that made the cutting room floor from that week’s podcast. Available to all Patrons for just $3 per month.

We’ve got some pretty cool stuff at higher levels, too, like Original Digital Artwork once a month, made by Shauna, and awesome name recognition like Pat Rowe gets every episode. And our top spot is currently occupied by the amazing Mary Halsig Lopez.

If you want to help create Bunny Trails week after week, whatever your budget, we are bunnytrailspod on Patreon.


Modern Uses

Ghost Town is a movie starring Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, and Téa Leoni that was released in 2008. Imdb gives this summary:
Bertram Pincus is a man whose people skills leave much to be desired. When Pincus dies unexpectedly, but is miraculously revived after seven minutes, he wakes up to discover that he now has the annoying ability to see ghosts.
End Quote

Ghost Town is an American electronic band from Los Angeles, California. The band formed in September 2012. Their song and album releases include:
In the Flesh
The After Party
Party In The Graveyard
Bare Bones
Twin Flame
The titles fit what might be expected by the name of the group. We’ll include a link to the band on youtube so you can check out their music if you’d like.

"GHOST TOWN" is a pop song by Benson Boone released in 2022.
You fill me up till you're empty
I took too much and you let me
We've been down all these roads before
And what we found don't live there anymore

It's dark
It's cold
If my hand is not the one you're meant to hold

Maybe you'd be happier with someone else
Maybe loving me's the reason you can't love yourself
Before I turn your heart into a ghost town
Show me everything we built so I can tear it all down
Down, down, down, down
End Quote

The novel Ghost Town by Kevin Chen was published in 2022. Here is the synopsis.



Keith Chen, the second son of a traditional Taiwanese family of seven, runs away from the oppression of his village to Berlin in the hope of finding acceptance as a young gay man.

The novel begins a decade later, when Chen has just been released from prison for killing his boyfriend. He is about to return to his family’s village, a poor and desolate place. With his parents gone, his sisters married, mad, or dead, there is nothing left for him there. As the story unfurls, we learn what tore this family apart and, more importantly, the truth behind the murder of Chen’s boyfriend.

Told in a myriad of voices, both living and dead, and moving through time with deceptive ease, Ghost Town weaves a mesmerizing web of family secrets and countryside superstitions, the search for identity and clash of cultures.
End Quote

In the article, What is a Ghost Town? WMH Town Classifications Explained on, they discuss what qualifies a town to be listed by Western Mining History. 

Western Mining History is a bit different than other ghost town websites in that many of the towns profiled are not ghost towns at all. The only criteria for being profiled at WMH was that the town had a history that was related somehow to mining.
End Quote

Are there any actual ghost towns?
In fact, research by Daniel Fitzgerald of the Kansas Historical Society includes over 6,000 “dead towns” in Kansas. That’s just in one of our 50 states…

What is the largest ghost town in Kansas?

Elk Falls
According to
Elk Falls, Kansas is a town of less than 200 people that bills itself as the World's Largest Living Ghost Town.
End quote › elkfalls

Saatchi Art
By Robert Wojtowicz
Selected fine art photography images by Robert Wojtowicz … now available for purchase via Saatchi Art. Signature Series Limited Collector’s Edition Fine Art Print on a museum exhibition grade archival fine art paper, numbered and signed by photographer Robert Wojtowicz and accompanied by Saatchi Art Certificate of Authenticity.

End quote

Wrap up:
I love the idea of eerie places where humans used to live ages ago. It's less happy to think of areas that have fallen into disrepair and the people are left without needed resources. No matter which we are referring to, these spaces generally carry a sense of weighted nostalgia, wonder, and sometimes creep-factor. Almost everyone understands what is meant when a person says that it is like a ghost town here.

That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, send us an email:, or comment on our website


It’s patron poll time!

Recently we posed this question to our Patrons:

Soda brands: Pepsi, Coke, or Dr. Pepper?

Pepsi includes Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Mug, Sierra Mist/Starry, and their flavored or diet/zero sugar versions.

Coke includes Coca Cola, Sprite, Fanta, Barq's, Mr. Pibb, and their flavored or diet/zero sugar versions.

Dr. Pepper includes Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, Sunkist, A&W, Canada Dry, Schweppes, and their flavored or diet/zero sugar versions.

Interesting thing about Dr. Pepper's brands is they contract with Pepsi and Coke to distribute it in most of the USA, so even though it is owned by the Keurig Dr. Pepper company it might be sold by Pepsi or Coke.

There was a clear winner here, Dr Pepper. This was followed by Coke, then Pepsi.

Way to go, gang! Dr. Pepper is delicious.

Mary said:
I mostly drink sparkling water and I like a lot of flavors but mostly coconut by La Croix. I don't drink a lot of soda but used to drink copious amounts of diet Dr. Pepper and still drink one from time to time.
End Quote

I'm mostly soda agnostic. I'll drink any of them that don't have sugar. I love the Dr. Pepper Zero Sugar and it would my top pick if all were available and were the same price. I also like cherry flavors, so I often get one of those if available. Coke's Barqs is my favorite root beer, along with IBC which isn't owned by any. Sometimes I opt for an orange sunkist, but that is Dr. Pepper brand, too, as well as Big Red which is yummy.
End quote

Jan replied to that comment with
What do you think Big Red tastes like? I remember having it as a kid, but had it again in San Antonio recently and it reminds me of bubble gum and cream soda a bit.
End quote

I also had it in San Antonio recently and agree with Jan’s assessment. Bubble gum and cream soda.


Jan also noted:
Restaurant favorite is a cherry limeade, but bottled normally I go for a 7-Up or Sprite type. Picked Coke because that's what I go for if there's a Coke or Pepsi choice. Every time we go through Oklahoma we stop at Pops in Arcadia to grab unique stuff.
End quote

As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part. Head over to to take this week’s poll!


Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember,

Words belong to their users.

No comments:

Post a Comment