Frazer Blog

Dark tourism: When death is the destination

by | Jul 25, 2016 | For Families

Train tracks leading to a concentration camp

When tragedies like the Holocaust or terrible natural disasters happen, it’s hard for us to cope with the amount of lives lost or the cruel way they were taken.

But though we are saddened or even horrified by these tragedies, many people feel the need to visit these locations to pay respects to the dead or to learn some of the history involved. Dark tourism, or death tourism, is the act of visiting places associated with death or disaster, and thousands of visitors are drawn every year to destinations around the world.

Below are a few of the most famous locations for dark or death tourism.

1. Pompeii

This ancient city was lost to a volcanic eruption in 79 A.D. The volcanic ash covered the city, leaving behind buildings, artifacts, and even bodies. The city was rediscovered in the 1700s and has been a popular destination for tourists ever since. It’s estimated that more than 2 million people visit Pompeii each year.

2. Cambodian Killing Fields

These fields are filled with human remains from the genocide of Pol Pot’s regime. It’s estimated that 1.5 million people died during the regime, and the graves are so shallow that it’s not uncommon to find pieces of bone, especially after a heavy rain. The killing fields draw thousands of visitors each year.

3. Auschwitz

Auschwitz was the largest of the Nazi concentration camps. It’s estimated that more than 1 million people were killed there. Today the camp is a memorial site that educates millions of visitors about the horrors of the Holocaust.

4. Lizzie Borden House

Located in Fall River, Massachusetts, the Lizzie Borden house is the site of the infamous axe murders. Lizzie Borden was suspected of killing her parents but was tried and acquitted. To this day, the murders remain unsolved. The house is now a bed and breakfast museum and guests can stay in the exact rooms the murders took place.

5. Missouri State Penitentiary

The prison earned the nickname as the bloodiest 47 acres in America. It was opened in 1836 and was the site of riots, executions, escapes, murders, and suicides until it finally closed down in 2004. It also jailed notorious gangsters and assassins. The prison is now open to the public to tour its storied cells.

Death Tourism: Good or bad?

As dark tourism continues to rise, people are wondering about the ethics involved. Some see it as a positive — it’s a way to learn about the past and the horrors or atrocities that were committed. Visiting mass graves or sites of war crimes can be a very moving experience.

Others argue that dark tourism is disrespectful, and it’s not hard to see why. In an age of selfie sticks, Facebook likes, and Pokemon Go, critics argue that the experiences are being devalued.

Take, for example, New Orleans and hurricane Katrina — tour buses would carry visitors through the neighborhoods devastated by the storm in the lower 9th ward. Residents felt they were being put on display and, rightfully so, reacted negatively toward the tour buses.

What are your thoughts on dark tourism? Do you think it can be a helpful way to learn, or is it disrespectful? Should a certain amount of time pass before it is acceptable? Let us know in the comments below.


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