Disaster Tourism


From the “Who’d A Thunk That” department comes something that is a bit strange, yes, but not all that surprising:  I’m talking about Disaster Tourism.   

In the simplest of terms, it’s the act of traveling to a disaster area as a matter of  curiosity. 

To be honest, we’ve been doing it for decades; it just never really had a name until Hurricane Katrina ravaged the nation’s middle Gulf Coast in 2005. 

In New Orleans, there are actual guided tours to neighborhoods that were severely damaged by storm-related flooding.    People still flock to the place in Manhattan where the Word Trade Center once stood.   I’ve been to Dealey Plaza at the base of the Texas School Book Depository Building in Dallas and a few years ago, I visited the presidential balcony at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC.    I did so with a lot of other people.   Often disaster and tragedy mark history. 

If you attend the University of Texas and you’re lucky enough (as I was) to get a gruesome-minded advisor during Freshman orientation,  he or she just might show you the bullet holes that remain in the walls in the buildings on campus.  They’re the bullets that sniper Charles Whitman used to kill 14 people and injure 32 others from his perch on the observation deck high atop the UT Tower back in August of ’66.

So while nothing new, Disaster Tourism is now becoming destination specific.  By that I mean, people go to places for the sheer desire to see where some disaster transpired.  Most people go to New York for a myriad of things…seeing a Broadway play; the museums, The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Little Italy…Central Park and Times Square.   But some go there JUST to see where the Twin Towers once stood or they head straight for the Dakota Building where John Lennon was shot and killed by crazed fan, Mark David Chapman–the rest of NYC and its world famous landmarks and culture be damned.

Galveston experienced a little bit of Disaster Tourism after Hurricane Ike ravaged the city and surrounding area in September of 2008.  And one must wonder if Port-au-Prince, Haiti will soon become a disaster destination for the morbidly curious.   Good luck finding a hotel room that’s  anything much beyond a tattered cloth lean-to and a jug of tainted water.   You’d be on your own in term of a bed.   I would suggest twigs and leaves. 

But thinking about Disaster Tourism, got me thinking about the ultimate Disaster Tourist who made the email rounds a few years ago, right after 9/11 in fact.

Some genius with enough time on his very skilled hands, found a picture that was taken of a Hungarian tourist vacationing in NYC in 1997. This particular pic was snapped as he stood atop Tower One of the World Trade Center on a bright, sunny morning…not unlike the one Gotham awoke to on September 11th, 2001.

The only difference was a temperature of about 55 degrees.

Tuesday, September 11th, 2001  was warm; balmy even. The picture of the tourist was taken on a cold very day;  his heavy winter clothing was the dead giveaway. And never mind the fact that tours to the very top of the 110th floor, hadn’t even begun when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower around nine (EST) that morning.

Well, long story short, someone took the snapshot and inserted in an image of an American Airlines Boeing 757 that looked as though it was taking dead aim at Tower One.

Here it is:


With the exception of the actual angle and attitude with which Flight 11 was in upon impact, this (probably) would’ve been a fairly accurate vantage point had someone actually been standing atop the Observation Deck that morning. As fake photos go, it’s very well done.

In fact, it’s so good it’s frightening.

This photo was distributed all over the web with many claims attached to it: “Disaster Tourist”or “Tourist of Death” , the monikers pop culture bestowed upon him, had miraculously survived the impact and collapse. There was another story that he’d been killed and the camera and undeveloped film were found in the rubble. All kinds of rumors abounded.

Then someone with a wickedly, devilish sense of humor took the picture one step further. “Disaster Tourist” started showing up in photos of major disasters, in the still frames of some beloved American films and also in photos and artist’s renderings of other history making events—some that had occurred more than two thousand years ago.

They make absolutely hilarious anachronisms.

Some of the photos even have authentic looking timestamps.

When released in the weeks after September 11th, these obvious “fakes” provided some much-needed comic relief for a grieving nation.

Considering the current global climate, I think we can all use a little of that same inspired comedy today.

So, here they are again.

Many of these photos I’m sure you’ve seen before. Some you might be seeing for the first time. Either way, they’re just so damn funny, they’re worth posting.







Devil with the Blue Dress…Blue Dress-stained it.   Devil with the Blue Dress on!!



He’s seen here in the cockpit with Amelia Earhardt:




Here is in, in the water, near the bombed out hull of the USS Cole.


And wouldn’t you know it?  He was in Paris just as the Concorde crashed.


And he was present at Ford’s Theater the night John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln.  Notice Mary Todd’s disapproving expression as she checks  out Tourist Guy’s clothing.  Damned fashion ignorant foreigner is wearing black after Easter.




With convicted murderer, Scott Peterson’s former misterss, Amber Frey and her Attorney and Media Whore,  Gloria Allred.


Here he with is the Beatles on Abbey Road.    Look for him–he’s there:


Who knew he was a member of TV’s “The A-Team”???   He is and looming large, might I add. 



His appearances weren’t limited to JUST TV, my friends:



And finally, one from the “Don’t We Wish!!!” file…….




One comment

  1. Yep. All the Euro-tour stuff is essentially disaster-gawking. I mean, we still have tours of Aushwitz. Ugh. (And yes, I know it’s important to remember, but still, when you think about it… *shudder*.)

    Hell, I’ve been to the Roman Collusium, and that’s pock-marked worse than Edward James Olmos thanks to WWII.

    I guess our nation is just becoming old enough to have a few disasters to show — well, other than fields where lots of people died in the Civil War.

    And Branson, Missouri.


    Ha! Good one and as the kids say, “true dat, bro.”

    I understand disasters and tragedies and their mark on history, but there are some I locales I won’t do. Haiti is off the list, so is tsunami ravaged Thailand, Oklahoma City and if I go to New Orleans, it won’t be to see the what Katrina hath wrought.

    Hell, I don’t even buy Lionel Ritchie albums SOLELY for the fact that he helped give the world his daughter, Nicole, who still is one mammoth disaster.


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