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10 Fascinating Small Town Mysteries and Secrets

by Jana Louise Smit
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

A popular movie trope involves characters trying to solve a big secret or mystery haunting their town. Fans of this genre might appreciate real-world cases–and there are many! From pink pigeons appearing out of nowhere to an entire community that has kept a secret for decades, here are the most fascinating small-town intrigues.

Related: 10 Small Towns That Have the Darkest Pasts

10 The Omagh Hum

Omagh’s mystery hum keeps Tyrone residents awake

In 2023, sleep in the town of Omagh did not come easy. A strange noise kept residents awake on a nightly basis, and within weeks, it had spread to a wide area of the County Tyrone town in Northern Ireland. The sound was described as a buzz or hum that the usual suspects did not cause. For example, traffic causes a lot of similar noise pollution, but residents insisted this was something different.

Fed up, they demanded that the Omagh District Council find and eliminate the source of the buzz. However, search as they may, the authorities failed. The biggest problem was how large the affected area was; it simply wasn’t feasible to investigate every street, house, business, or manhole to find the hum-causing culprit.

The Council speculated that the issue might be weather-related or a seasonal phenomenon, but even such things would require a level of research and elimination of sources that are only manageable by calling in the help of outside experts. The source of the hum is still being investigated. [1]

9 The Herculaneum Diet Mystery

Understanding ancient diets with stable isotope analysis

In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted and devastated the nearby towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Volcanic ash buried Herculaneum under 75 feet (23 meters) of ash, killing many of the residents but also meticulously preserving their remains. It offered researchers a unique opportunity to study isotopes inside teeth and bones to learn more about what the citizens ate.

The isotopes, which are like signatures of different organic and inorganic materials, revealed something unexpected. In this Roman town, men and women had different diets. The study analyzed the remains of six females and 11 males and reconstructed a detailed breakdown of their main sources of sustenance. The men consumed more cereals and 50% more seafood than women. The ladies ate more dairy, eggs, local fruit and vegetables, and meat from land animals.

It’s not clear why Herculaneum had gender-based diets. Experts suspect it could’ve been because men held privileged positions in this society and thus ate more expensive commodities such as fresh fish. It could’ve been something else entirely, like the fact that males were more directly engaged in fishing, thus giving them better access to seafood.[2]

8 A Disease-Prone Town

Forensic Files – Season 1, Episode 7 – Legionnaires’ Disease – Full Episode

In 1999, residents of Alcoi, a coastal Spanish town, began to fall prey to Legionnaire’s disease. In the years that followed, more outbreaks occurred, taking lives and leaving no answer about the source of the illness.

Legionnaire’s disease was first identified in 1976 in Philadelphia. Caused by a water-loving microbe called Legionella pneumophila, it’s only dangerous to humans when infected water is inhaled as a mist. The usual sources, like hot tubs and showers, were ruled out in Alcoi, deepening the mystery further.

In 2009, the disease returned to Alcoi. This time, researchers backtracked each patient’s movements for roughly ten days before they fell ill and realized that many had been to a specific quarter where the roads were being paved. This was a critical breakthrough.

One of the paving machines sprayed water, and upon further investigation, it was revealed that the tank contained spring water contaminated with the bacterium. Although tests linked the 2009 Legionella strain back to the vehicle, it did not necessarily explain the sources of the previous outbreaks.[3]

7 A Town That Produces Centenarians

Does an Italian village hold secrets to a long life?

People live longer these days, but only 0.2% of them become centenarians—those who see their 100th birthday. One town in Italy defies this statistic. Acciaroli is home to roughly 2,000 people, and during a 2016 study, about 300 living residents were centenarians.

This percentage was freakishly higher than the norm, and experts were stumped because the townsfolk weren’t all poster children for best health practices. Indeed, during the 2016 project, they noticed that many of the elderly in town were overweight, smoked, and didn’t lead an active lifestyle. Even so, they were less likely than other populations around the world to die young and develop Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

Then, the researchers discovered a clue. The residents ate rosemary with nearly all their meals.

Rosemary offers many benefits, including tumor-fighting properties, and it’s packed with anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. Their diet was also laced with healthy fish and olive oil. Apart from a good diet, the town might also have longevity genes, but only time will tell why people in Acciaroli keep living past 100.[4]

6 The Millionaire Caretaker

NH man leaves secret fortune to his town

Sometimes, the town secret is a person. In this case, a whole town learned a surprising truth when one resident, an 82-year-old man called Geoffrey Holt, passed away in 2023. Upon his death, it became clear that he was not who they thought he was.

Holt was a mobile home park caretaker, wearing threadbare clothes and doing odd jobs to get by. He had no car, and his mobile home had no TV or computer. Nothing in the elderly man’s life screamed wealth, but then, unexpectedly, Holt bequeathed his entire fortune of $3.8 million to his town of Hinsdale in New Hampshire. Holt’s will requested that the donation go toward the upliftment of the community, especially in the areas of recreation, education, health, and culture.

A close friend revealed that Holt became wealthy after wisely investing his money while working as a manager at a grain mill in Vermont. Holt’s sister also mentioned that they were raised to be frugal and that he was also determined not to stand out because it could invite trouble. Such accounts from Holt’s inner circle explain how he achieved his status as a millionaire and why he decided to fly under the radar.[5]

5 The Big Remote Fail

Officials figure out why key fobs, garage door openers in North Olmsted mysteriously stopped working

In 2019, some people in North Olmsted, Ohio, awoke to a bizarre situation. Whenever they clicked a door opener, the device failed to work properly. After several weeks of struggling to get into their cars and garages, residents discovered it wasn’t just them. Other neighbors were experiencing the same problem.

Since only a few streets were affected, the authorities knocked on every door to see if someone in the area was responsible. They didn’t believe a civilian could build a homemade jamming device so successful that it could knock out dozens of families’ remotes, but that was exactly what they found.

The culprit was a local electronics enthusiast who built his own gadgets. He was surprised to learn about the chaos he had caused because the device in question was never designed as a jammer. Instead, it was a homespun house alarm. Unfortunately, by pure coincidence, it emitted a 315 megahertz signal, which interfered with the doors’ 315MHz to 433MHz radio band.

The man allowed the device to be dismantled and agreed never to make anything like it again.[6]

4 A Secret Wild West Town

Edinburgh meets the Wild West | Edinburgh Tours

In the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, there is a unique town inside of a suburb. This sounds unlikely as towns normally consist of smaller suburbs. However, this town is tiny—and offers echoes of the American past.

Nestled in the upmarket neighborhood of Morningside is an alley so hidden that most locals are unaware of its existence. The lane is home to a few tenants and business owners, but here’s what makes it so special. It was designed to resemble a Wild West town over 30 years ago by Michael Faulkner, an Irishman who spent some time as a cowboy in America and fell in love with the lifestyle.

Faulkner set up a furniture shop in the alley and thought decorating the street with a jail, railway station, and frontier-style shops would be a great marketing tool. For a while, things went well and other shopkeepers also moved in. However, when an Ikea opened nearby, his customers stopped coming.

Today, Faulkner is fondly remembered by business owners who ply their normal trades—such as selling vehicle parts and lawnmower services—from shops resembling horse liveries and other Wild West buildings.[7]

3 The Pink Pigeons

Mystery pink pigeon baffles locals in Bury town centre (UK) – 17/Sep/2023

In 2023, the inhabitants of Bury, in Greater Manchester, noticed a surreal sight—a pink pigeon waddling around the town’s center. The bird’s bright plumage was definitely not natural, and this prompted the question, “Who dyed the pigeon and why?”

The “who” might never be solved. Since animal lovers and organizations might not take too kindly to dipping a bird in a vat of pink liquid, the chances of the culprit coming forward are nil. However, the “why” is easier to theorize about. A few years ago, an animal cruelty case was opened in New York when a pigeon died after it was dyed pink, almost certainly for a gender reveal party.

Bury residents speculate that their pigeon experienced a similar fate or was released at a wedding. On the plus side, at least the Bury pigeon seemed in robust health and was spotted several times feeding and living among the town’s normal-colored pigeons.[8]

2 The San Bernardo Mummies

Natural Mummies Found in Cemetery

San Bernardo is a town in Columbia. For most of its history, the settlement had no claim to fame. However, during the 1960s, the residents became part of a petrifying mystery—their dead refused to decompose.

In 1963, an old burial was removed from the town’s burial vaults to make space for a new coffin. To the shock of every onlooker, the body appeared well-preserved. And it wasn’t the only one. Other bodies were soon discovered that resembled sleeping people instead of decades-old corpses.

The spontaneous preservation remains a mystery, but San Bernardo residents speculate that the deceased were blessed (or cursed) by a higher power or suggest the region’s healthy diet and active lifestyle as a cause. Others believe the answer lies with the vaults’ position and location.

The town’s first two burial grounds produced no mummies. The third, which came into use after the 1960s, did. So, what was the difference between the old and new cemeteries that could explain this riddle? The third cemetery was the first to have above-ground vaults and was located on a steep mountain slope. Here, the presence of constant hot winds could turn the tombs into “ovens” and dehydrate the bodies, thus preserving them. [9]

1 An Epic Nuclear Bunker

Inside a Top-Secret Nuclear War Bunker | Underground Marvels | Science Channel

Some of the best town secrets are born when every resident is in on it. One such town was White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia. The town hosts the luxury Greenbrier resort, which, in the past, often expanded to offer guests more privileges. For this reason, nobody batted an eyelid when contractors arrived in 1958 to build a new wing.

Before long, the townsfolk realized that something wasn’t right. The new wing was taking years to build, mountains of concrete arrived, and guards were stationed at the site. Then, the secret was out—kind of. The residents discovered that a nuclear bunker was being built under the Greenbrier, but nobody disclosed this to outsiders. They were proud to protect what they assumed was a bunker for President John F. Kennedy.

Three decades later, in 1992, an anonymous tip spilled the beans. The story broke in several newspapers and earned the ire of the townsfolk, who felt betrayed that their multi-generational secret was published for all to see. But in a twist, this revealed another secret not even the locals were aware of.

The bunker wasn’t meant for Kennedy. It was designed to hold the entire United States Congress with over 1,000 beds, a massive cafeteria, auditoriums, large water tanks, and a machine that served as both a trash incinerator and crematorium.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen
Jana Louise Smit

Jana earns her beans as a freelance writer and author. She wrote one book on a dare and hundreds of articles. Jana loves hunting down bizarre facts of science, nature and the human mind.

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