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Why Nobody Lives in These Empty Cities in Illinois

In addition to having a rich cultural past, Illinois is home to some of the nation’s most dangerous and abandoned communities. Why are these once-thriving locations desolate and falling apart, and what happened to them? These are a few of the causes of these Illinois cities’ demise.

Cairo: A Town with a Fascinating History, but a Grim Future

The town of Cairo is situated where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers converge in the southernmost point of Illinois. In the 1940s, it had a population of over 15,000 and was a thriving river port. A cultural icon, it was also mentioned in the writings of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. However, a number of reasons contributed to Cairo’s sharp decline in fortunes in the second half of the 20th century:

  • The construction of a railway bridge and an interstate highway bridge that bypassed Cairo and reduced its importance as a trade center.
  • The racial tensions and violence that erupted in the 1960s, leading to white flight, boycotts, and riots.
  • The closure of major employers, such as the hospital, the foam factory, and the paper mill, that left many residents without jobs and income.

With a population of less than 2,000 and the majority of its buildings locked up or destroyed, Cairo is essentially a ghost town these days. The town lacks a bank, grocery shop, petrol station, and police force. It is a depressing illustration of how a town with an interesting past may have a bleak future.

Markham: An Area with High Crime and Low Quality of Life

There are roughly 11,700 people living in the Cook County, Illinois, area known as Markham. With a violent crime rate of 1,492 per 100,000 residents and a property crime rate of 4,507 per 100,000 residents, it is among the most hazardous cities in the state. The national averages for these rates are 2,110 and 367, respectively, which are significantly higher. With a poverty rate of 22%, an unemployment rate of 12%, and a typical household income of $40,000, Markham also has a low standard of living. The fact that Markham is surrounded by high-crime communities like Harvey, Dixmoor, and Phoenix contributes to some of its troubles. Markham has long been beset by incompetence and corruption, which contributes to some of its governance issues. For instance, the mayor of Markham was ousted from office in 2017 following a conviction for fraud and bribery. Since there is no opportunity or hope for its citizens in Markham, many of them decide to avoid or leave the city.

Other Cities in the Path of Totality for the 2024 Eclipse

The impending complete solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, is one of the few events that can draw tourists to some of the deserted cities in Illinois. The state’s limited road, which passes through some of the nation’s most abandoned and forlorn cities, will provide views of this unusual astronomical occurrence. Among the cities that will witness totality are, for instance:

  • Centralia, a former coal mining town that lost most of its population after a mine fire in 1962.
  • Metropolis, a town that claims to be the home of Superman, but has little else to offer.
  • Carbondale, a college town that has been struggling with declining enrollment, budget cuts, and crime.

It’s possible that these communities will have a brief increase in visitors and income during the eclipse, but any long-term advantages or rebirth are improbable. These serve as illustrations of how, even at night, some of Illinois’ abandoned cities provide little to look forward to.

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