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The 25 Most Popular Atlas Obscura Stories of 2016

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Don’t worry; none of Atlas Obscura’s most popular stories of 2016 had to do with the U.S. presidential election. Of course, we did write about the never-ending race, but more often than not our readers elected to visit our website for escapism and counter-programming.

You gravitated towards secret histories and linguistic mysteries, stories delving into hidden aspects of cities, the scientific world, the historical record, and the odder corners of the internet. These articles spanned the globe, from Chernobyl to Canada, the Marshall Islands to Mexico. Yet the majority of our top stories illuminated discoveries and events in the United States, where a large share of our readers live. Our most-read article of the year was set in the New York Public Library, just across the East River from the Atlas Obscura office in Brooklyn. 

Here are the 25 most popular stories that we published this year.

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1. Inside the New York Public Library's Last, Secret Apartments

by Sarah Laskow

There are just 13 left.

 

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2. The Famous Photo of Chernobyl's Most Dangerous Radioactive Material Was a Selfie

by David Goldenberg

This eerie photo shows the largest agglomeration of one of the most toxic substances ever created: corium.

 

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3. Fascinating Photos from the Secret Trash Collection in a New York Sanitation Garage

by Dylan Thuras

Garbage can be beautiful, if sorted correctly.

 

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4. The 44 Most Wondrous Places to Visit in 2016

by Atlas Obscura 

Atlas Obscura staff combed our 10,000-strong places database and came up with 44 suggestions for your expedition-planning pleasure.

 

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5. The Married Woman Who Kept Her Lover in the Attic

by Addison Nugent

Dolly Oesterreich, her "Bat Man," and one of the strangest sex scandals ever.

 

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6. Do Not Eat, Touch, Or Even Inhale the Air Around the Manchineel Tree

by Dan Nosowitz

Meet America's deadliest tree. Found in Florida, of course.

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7. The Unsettling Mystery of the Creepiest Channel on YouTube

by Erik Shilling

An anonymous user uploaded 72,000 very brief and often silent videos to this channel. 

 

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8. The Subtle Design Features That Make Cities Feel More Hostile

by Ella Morton 

Think your city doesn't like you? You're right.

 

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9. Here Are the Real Boundaries of American Metropolises, Decided by an Algorithm

by Sarah Laskow

How is the U.S. actually split geographically?

 

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10. Watch an Impromptu Medieval Icelandic Hymn Sung in a Modern Train Station

by Molly McBride Jacobson

The acoustics of the German transit hub perfectly suit the centuries-old song. 

 

11. The Westboro Baptist Church Is Getting Owned in Pokémon Go

by Cara Giaimo

“We recruited Jigglypuff to deal with the sodomite Clefairy" is probably not a sentence you thought you'd read today.

 

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12. The Enduring Mystery Of 'Jawn', Philadelphia's All-Purpose Noun

by Dan Nosowitz

According to experts, it’s unlike any word, in any language.

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13. How a Champagne-Laden Steamship Ended Up in a Kansas Cornfield

by Luke Spencer

The steamboat Arabia carried 200 tons of treasure when it sank in 1856.

 

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14. 70 Years Ago, the U.S. Military Set Off a Nuke Underwater, And It Went Very Badly

by Sarah Laskow

Then they tried it four more times.

 

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15. Ranking the Pain of Stinging Insects, From 'Caustic' to 'Blinding'

by Lauren Young and Michelle Enemark

One passionate entomologist poetically describes and ranks over 70 species' painful stings.

 

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16. The Macaroni in 'Yankee Doodle' is Not What You Think

by Michael Waters

Meet the stylish gender-role rebels of 1770s England. 

 

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17. The Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers Who Have Been Written Out of Christianity's Early History

by Alex Mar

Christianity took shape with the support of female leaders and mystics and activists. But what we have left of them now are only the remembrances of a handful of men.

 

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18. What's Going On with the Way Canadians Say 'About'?

by Dan Nosowitz

It's not pronounced how you think it is.

 

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19. Cincinnati Built a Subway System 100 Years Ago—But Never Used It

by Kevin Williams

Cincinnati is home to the largest unused subway system in the world.

 

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20. In 1975, a Cat Co-Authored a Physics Paper

by Eric Grundhauser

Meet F.D.C. Willard, the feline who published.

 

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21. The Illegal Birth Control Handbook That Spread Across College Campuses in 1968

by Tao Tao Holmes

A group of Canadian teenagers wrote the first popular text on contraception. 

 

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22. Why Smart Clowns Immortalize Their Make-up Designs on Ceramic Eggs

by Ella Morton

A unique, egg-based system protects clowns' intellectual property rights. 

 

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23. The Definitive Map of America's Creepy Clown Epidemic

by Erik Shilling

Our interactive map tracks clown sightings, threats, and scares.

 

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24. London Is Still Paying Rent to the Queen on a Property Leased in 1211

by Sarah Laskow

In a small annual ceremony the city hands over an axe, a knife, 6 horseshoes, and 61 nails.

 

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25. The World's Longest-Running Experiment is Buried in a Secret Spot in Michigan

by Cara Giaimo

The unusual agricultural study has lasted 137 years and counting.


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