Tag Archives: Atlas Obscura

The Celebrity Tortoise Breakup That Rocked the World

In 2011, after nearly a century together, Galápagos tortoises Bibi and Poldi called it quits. We still don’t know why.


Why do relationships end? The question plagues experts and laypeople alike. Circumstances change. The spark goes away. An attribute that once intrigued you is suddenly repellant.

Literary scholars comb through Gone With the Wind. Music fans analyze Roy Orbison. But animal lovers have their own rich and mysterious text: the story of Bibi and Poldi, the Galápagos tortoises that were together for 90-odd years and then, suddenly, weren’t.

Bibi and Poldi, who live at the Reptilienzoo Happ in Klagenfurt, on the southern border of Austria, were a perfect match. Poldi is handsome and sociable, with bright eyes and a fondness for neck scratches. Bibi … Read the rest

A Visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships

A unique collection focused on what happens after love dies.

One of the most unusual museums in Croatia is the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. The collection traces its origins to a real-life breakup, between that of its co-founders, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, in 2006. Unsure what to do with a special wind-up toy they’d acquired as a couple, the two searched for somewhere to store what they considered to be a symbol of their time together. When they realized that no such place existed, the Museum of Broken Relationships was born.

Today the museum accepts items from around the world. Since every artifact is crowdsourced, Dražen says they are often surprised by what shows up at their door. Among the collection are typical … Read the rest

During the Taiping Rebellion, a Stunning 15th-Century Pagoda Met Its Demise

Centuries after the Porcelain Tower was torn down, it was built up again—and this time, made of steel.


When buildings are knocked down, people often don’t let them go without a fight. This week, we’re remembering some particularly contentious demolitions. Previously: a Hollywood funeral for a restaurant named for a hat and a German church knocked down in the name of coal.

Long before it was toppled in a military skirmish, the octagonal pagoda was said to have caught travelers’ eyes from miles away. It rose nine stories tall, and was crowned by a giant decoration shaped something like a pineapple. In engravings and other artistic interpretations, it seemed to rival nearby mountains, its top nearly level with a smattering of birds and almost piercing the … Read the rest

Lincoln’s Log Cabin Has New Neighbors

30 acres of presidential memorabilia just went up for auction.


On this day 210 years ago, Abraham Lincoln was born to a modest family near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Though he eventually became the 16th President of the United States (and a fairly beloved one at that), he had a meandering path to his role as the leader of a divided nation. After a brief stint in school (one whole year!) and jobs as a postman and shopkeeper, he went into law and politics. At one point he ended up purchasing roughly 40 acres of farmland in Charleston, Illinois. Thirty of those historic acres just went up for sale.

Lincoln bought the land in 1841 for his cash-strapped father, Thomas, and had the elder Lincoln lease it from … Read the rest

20 Peaceful Places That Make Solitude Magical

Atlas Obscura readers share their favorite spots to revel in isolation.


It’s Breakup Week here at Atlas Obscura, our attempt at a multifaceted exploration of what happens when places, objects, and of course relationships, fall apart. One topic we wanted to make sure not to overlook is what comes after—the solitude that often follows a breakup can be one of its most devastating aspects. But there can also be beauty, peace, and wonder in being alone, if you know where to find it.

Over in our Community forums, we asked our readers about the concept of waldeinsamkeit, a German word that translates to something like “solitude of the forest.” This word describes the quiet one feels when ensconced in nature, or as I described it … Read the rest

Japan’s Most Interesting Newspaper Is for Recluses, by Recluses

Fed up with sensationalized portrayals, the country’s hikikomori are reclaiming their narrative.


A distraught mother gestures to the camera crew to tread softly as they approach her teenage son’s bedroom. A mound of moldy garbage lies at its entrance, which is barricaded with a screen. The interviewer asks whether her son washes himself, and the mother fights back tears. Once every six months, she answers.

In 2002, the BBC documentary “Mystery of the Missing Million” brought the plight of Japan’s social recluses, the hikikomori, to mainstream English-language media. Angry teens playing video games in isolation, ashamed parents speaking off-camera about physical abuse from their withdrawn offspring, and news reports of mentally ill hikikomori as kidnappers and murderers created a wildly imbalanced portrait of the million … Read the rest

The German Church Smashed to Smithereens to Make Room for Coal

The town sat atop a trove of rock that was irresistible to fuel companies.


When buildings are knocked down, people often don’t let them go without a fight. This week, we’re remembering some particularly contentious demolitions. Previously: a Hollywood funeral for a restaurant named for a hat.

The church fell to pieces on a Monday in January 2018. Little light cracked across the gray morning, and environmental activists were already stationed along the metal fence ringing the two-spired structure in the German town of Immerath, a small village southwest of Düsseldorf.

St. Lambertus went up in the 19th century, and was known among locals as Immerather Dom. That morning, people had laid roses and wreaths on the ground in front of the fence, and strung … Read the rest

A Breakup Tip From Abraham Lincoln: Just Tell Her Your Town Is Terrible

In letters to his accidental fiancée, the future president painted Springfield, Illinois, as a bummer.


It’s not that you should never hop from one state to another for a relationship. But if you happen to fall hard for someone in Illinois while visiting from Kentucky, you probably want to be very sure that the object of your affection reciprocates your feelings before you uproot your life. That’s how things got messy for Abraham Lincoln’s ex-girlfriend, Mary Owens.

Born in 1808, the daughter of a successful planter from Kentucky, Owens was 24 when she first met Lincoln in 1833. (Abe, still nearly 30 years away from the presidency, was 24, too.) Owens had traveled from Green County, Kentucky, to visit her married sister Elizabeth Abell in New … Read the rest

The Legendary, Lavish Dinner Parties of South Dakota’s Divorce Colony

For a time, wealthy divorce seekers headed to the frontier.


In October 1901, Manhattan playboy Freddie Gebhardt celebrated his divorce decree with a lavish dinner at the Cataract House Hotel in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He treated guests to a four-course wine supper (each course paired with a complementing wine), and his menu included “delicate viands from the Atlantic Coast,” French wines, oysters, and a large array of imported coffee and fruit, all served by waiters in black tie. “No guest was allowed to retire until he committed the unpardonable offense of rolling from his chair jag shot,” the gossip column, Rum-inations reported.

There was a reason Gebhardt picked The Cataract to hold his celebration. From 1891 to 1908, the frontier town of Sioux Falls, South … Read the rest

Found: Shipwrecks, Helmets, and Clues From an Ancient Roman Naval Battle

Researchers are using conflicting pieces to puzzle out what happened in 241 BC.


Just because a battle took place over 2,000 years ago doesn’t mean we can’t uncover what happened. A team of archaeologists exploring a Mediterranean site near Sicily is using their findings to piece together a narrative of the Battle of the Aegates Islands, a naval conflict between ancient Rome and Carthage.

According to Live Science, the team has been surveying the site for years, recovering six bronze ship rams, along with some helmets and pottery, in 2018 alone. As the findings have accumulated, they have both raised new questions and suggested new answers as to how the events of March 10, 241 BC played out.

It was already known, for example, that … Read the rest