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Ghost town:A town permanently abandoned by its inhabitants, as because of a business decline or because a nearby mine has been worked out.” –

A stand of aspens flanked the old house and tall grass obscured the foundation, rendering a stark picture of abandonment.

Curled green shingles exposed roof rafters in places where wind and time had peeled back the asphalt, leaving the upper floor’s interior vulnerable to rain and snow.

Empty window casings looked out on the overgrown path leading to one of the few remaining buildings in Spokane, S.D., a ghost town that sprang up in 1890, its inhabitants bent on getting rich mining silver, gold and zinc.

As I approached, an unmistakable odor of decay engulfed me; when I entered the doorway, the smell of rot from crumbling plaster ceilings and deteriorating lathe was much stronger, making me wonder if the stairway ahead was strong enough to climb.

One creaking step at a time took me to the second story, and there I thought I heard a scratching sound – animal or human?

This past summer, we hooked up the camper and set out to see the state’s “ghost towns,” or least a few of them. By far, most of them are in the western part, where mining took off and then petered out, leaving broken dreams and abandoned homes and outbuildings.

Two of the towns on the list – Elmore, just off of Spearfish Canyon, and Hooker, in Turner County north of Viborg – are actually still inhabited. Elmore is now mostly summer homes and cottages, and Hooker includes a dwelling or two and a distinctive identifying sign on the north side.

Spokane, in Custer County, also boasts a second house, better preserved primarily because its roof had been covered with corrugated tin. In another spot stands what appeared to be the shell of a concrete root cellar next to a grocery store foundation.

Also found in the town site is a grave stone that says:

“James Fernando Shepard

Feb. 3, 1850 to June 21, 1908

Murdered over a mining claim”

The marker appears to be much more modern than what may lie beneath it, placed by his grandchildren in more recent times.

As I climbed the decaying steps of the house we spotted initially, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Peering over the second floor as it came into view, I saw the life form making the noise. The entire room was filled with pine cones, collected by squirrels which had taken up residence there. One scampered away on hearing my approach.

As Halloween stories go, this one was tame, I admit, but true.

Oct. 31, 2018