By George Kotlik
Whether or not hobos actually lived there is a point of contention. We may never know. One thing, however, is certain: a village once existed out there in the forests of the New York State Finger Lakes and the mystery of this village, its existence and how it came to be or what happened to it, still lingers in my mind to this day.
The year was 2012, I was sixteen years old and still in high school. It was an ordinary spring weekend. My friend, Joseph had come over after I convinced him to come with me down into the depths of a ravine, deep into the forest, near my house. Earlier that week, while exploring said ravine, the same one that empties out at the lake and stretches deep into hill country, I discovered a yellow rope leading out of one of the steep cliffs on the side of the ravine. Following it, and all alone, I stumbled upon a mass of abandoned RV’s and worn-down tents that looked like they had been there for a long time.
I did not linger there the first time around. It was getting dark and I did not want to stick around after the sun went down, so I climbed back down the ravine and headed home. While I walked, my mind kept lingering back to the RV’s and the tents. There was something eerie about the place. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but an uneasiness swept over me from the time I laid eyes on the abandoned RV’s. I had to go back in the daylight, with more time to spare. Only then would I satisfy my curiosity.
The following week at school I could not take my mind off my mysterious discovery. I decided, based on my feelings from being there, that I will go back, but not alone and without a means to protect myself. I told my friend Joseph, who shared English class with me, about my find and he readily agreed to come with me on my expedition.
That Saturday, Joseph and I stood on the county road at the mouth of the ravine. Our backpacks filled with water bottles, granola bars, rope, and a flashlight, they were slung over our shoulders. Strapped to my hip was a holstered C02 powered 1911 bb gun that was loaded and ready for business. On the other side of my belt hung my knife. On my head, my jungle hat protected me from the sun. It was morning when we entered the ravine. My knowledge of the land and the memory of my travels from the week before was our map and it guided us through our adventure.
A little before noon we climbed over the waterfall. Checkpoint one. We hiked deeper into the ravine passing a second waterfall that cascaded down the right side of the ravine wall. Checkpoint two. We stopped for a water and a snack break. The mosquitos were kept at bay thanks to our bug spray. Around us, the sides of the ravine loomed high above our heads. The forest canopy covered us from the sky. Pools of light sometimes peeked through, casting a ray of sunlight that looked beautiful in this seldom visited world.
We trudged on. After about an hour of ravine walking, we reached a bend that swung right. High above us, a break in the forest canopy illuminated one side of the gully wall. This scene looked familiar. We were close. We continued walking for another minute or so until I spotted the yellow rope leading out of the ravine.
“We’re here,” I said.
Taking the lead, I grasped the rope firmly and started to climb, Joseph right behind me. The ravine’s walls were six stories high. When I reached the top, I immediately noticed the place looked much different during the day than it did in the evening.
Before me, on the edge of the ravine cliff was a small abandoned village of old tents, a couple RV’s, some in good shape mind you, no substantial amount of rust visible around the exterior, and an outdoor pavilion made of old worn out wood. Toys, camping supplies, and a host of miscellaneous goods littered the forest floor. As we carefully explored this discovery, the place seemed off. Something was not quite right. The tents, I noted, were erected but never torn down. Some had accumulated water near their roof causing the entire structure to collapse in on itself. The way junk littered the floor made it seem like whoever had lived here had left in a hurry.
While I examined the area, Joseph had busied himself with breaking into one of the locked RV’s.
“George, come take a look at this!” he shouted.
Irked at the noise Joseph caused, I made my way over to him, carefully scanning the horizon, half expecting to see a figure staring back at me, drawn by the noise Joseph had caused. Lucky for me, I never saw anything.
When I got to the RV, which sat on the other side of the village, I saw Joseph riffling through its contents. Inside smelled terrible. It was musty. The floor was stripped of any carpeting revealing a damp rotting floor. Stacks of plastic bins covered the inside of this small, two person RV. Joseph was bent over one, digging through it like a determined squirrel storing a nut away for safe keeping.
I couldn’t help but feel paranoid about the whole situation. If this village was abandoned, what caused its abandonment? Does anyone know of this place and its existence? What if the reason for this town’s abandonment came back? I did not want to find out. The thought terrified me to no end. I had decided that it was time to leave.
Joseph, though he initially protested, agreed that it was time to go. He insisted, however, that I give him five more minutes to finish looting the RV. I obliged. While he set to work, I stood guard just outside the door, scanning the woods while my hand gripped the 1911. When he was done, Joseph emerged with an old shot gun, a croquet set, and a handful of buttons and foreign coins he had found.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Ready,” he replied.
In no time we were descending the slopes of the ravine back the same way we had come. Back in civilization, Joseph sold the shot gun for two hundred dollars. While I received no cut of the profit, I was just glad we got out of there when we did.
The village was quiet. Beautiful, yet mysterious. Those same attributes are what, I confess, contributed to my uneasiness. The fear of the unknown. The uncertainty of what lurks beyond the horizon. The ever-watching gaze of a forgotten myth or person. The allure of a lost story. I would go back to the village many more times, but never alone. I never found any treasures in my subsequent visits, but the allure of the mystery of this village still draws me to this day. Being the explorer that I am, I coined my new discovery the “Hobo Village.” Whether real hobos lived there or not, I will never know. Could the place have been merely a hunter’s escape? Perhaps. But then why did the hunter leave all of his stuff behind rather haphazardly?
These questions I have proposed remain unanswered, and an answer for them may never be found. If that is the case, my mind will forever continue to entertain narratives of the story of this hobo village and how it came to be, fantasies that range from wild tales of forgotten mysteries to the more practical explanations for its existence. There is a certain comfort in not knowing. The unsolved mystery will inspire me to let my imagination run wild. Either way, I am content with living with the mystery of this village, even if there are no explanations for its existence or what it was used for. Alas, though I will never know its true story, I am okay with that.
George Kotlik is a writer from the New York Finger Lakes. He is a graduate student at the University of North Florida and an avid amateur adventurer. His curiosity for adventure and the experiences derived from his travels have inspired many of the stories produced by his pen. He currently resides in Jacksonville, Florida.