A town or village that no longer has enough inhabitants to be considered a town (or in extreme cases may be abandoned entirely).
Back in the days of The Wild West, settlements would spring up practically overnight. Word of a gold or silver strike, or of a good water supply in arid land, and folks would flock in and put up a Boom Town. Many of these survived and grew, even after the initial rush was over (all major cities in the West Coast got their start like this). But many did not. After the gold was mined out, or the spring went dry, or the railroad went through a town forty miles away instead, there just wasn't much point to living there. So the town died slowly or quickly, and became a Ghost Town.
In a more general sense, in an agricultural society, most people lived on a farm or a ranch, and shipped their stuff to the nearest trading town. When people started living in more urbanized areas, since they were not farming, either they needed to go to a job or have customers because they ran some kind of business out of their house. If that dried up, whether or not they owned their house, unless they could grow enough food to feed themselves and supply other basic needs, their only option was to pack up and move on. If enough people did that, then you got a ghost town.
Given their nature, ghost towns tend to be far off the beaten path, and not appear on current maps. Thus people who wind up in ghost towns are usually very lost indeed, or if it was deliberate, have had a rough time getting there. (The big exception is tourist attraction ghost towns, which have relatively easy access, and enough people in nearby areas to keep the place up.)
Ghost towns don't necessarily have actual ghosts in them, but are generally spooky even without them. Banging shutters, creaking floors, a player piano that suddenly activates for no good reason. Sometimes the evacuation will have been so sudden that it appears that people left in the middle of dinner.
Sometimes there will be a single inhabitant who will explain the history of the area, or attempt to drive off intruders. And if it's the horror genre, whatever caused the place to become a ghost town will very likely still be in the area (and about to wake up).
This Trope is sometimes found with the Abandoned Mine Trope (one being the reason for the other). Compare Ghost City, where this has happened to a major metropolitan area, and Ghost Planet when an entire world ends up this way. Contrast Boom Town, the beginning of the cycle. See also Dying Town, when a community is getting close to becoming a Ghost Town.
Not to be confused with the 2008 film Ghost Town, whose town is actually quite populous; or with Thriving Ghost Town, which is the Law of Conservation of Detail as applied to the town's population; or with The Specials song "Ghost Town".
In Dragon Crisis!, several of the main girls get sucked into a painting of a ghost town. Unfortunately for them, there's also an Ax-Crazy murderer here.
Spirited Away has Chihiro and her parents stumble into what appears to be a ghost town in the beginning of the movie. Only to discover that it is a town that belonged to spirits and they appear only at night.
Lawless, Arizona in Marvel Two-In-One #14. This one had a literal ghost, a hanged Outlaw that the Thing and Son of Satan battled.
Lucky Luke features almost every single Wild West cliché, and therefore has an adventure in a Ghost Town ; this is even the title of the book. In that case it was a Gold Rush mining town which was abandoned after it became obvious there wasn't an ounce of gold around the place. In the end, after Luke has stirred the locals out of their greed and fear of ghosts, it revives as a prosperous farming town.
In an old CasperTheFriendlyGhost comic book, the Ghostly Trio came home from their vacation upset, claiming that the ghost town they went to had no ghosts, only a guy selling souvenirs. It did, however, have a "little haunted house" that they were terrified of, which followed them home. (Actually, it was a ghostly dog in a doghouse, owned by a prospector who was using it to sniff out gold.)
In Aeon Entelechy Evangelion the dome where Rei lives is this, absolutely devoid of human presence except for the hidden security detail and no wildlife (especially cats, which are natural detectors of everything abnormal).
Clearwater Commune in DC Nation was built on one of these. Currently a thriving hippie commune and farming community, it was once a notoriously nasty mining town in Jonah Hex's day, and popular with cultists, as it's sitting on a node of magical energy. The hippies are clueless about this.
Son of Paleface (1952) takes place partially in a Ghost Town.
By the time the Colonial Marines arrive in Aliens to investigate a communications blackout from the normally bustling Hadley's Hope colony on LV-426, the colony's corridors are unpopulated except for a hamster and Newt, as well as signs of since-passed combat. All of the other colonists have been abducted by the Xenomorphs and taken to their hive for use as food and parasitic hosts.
In Fried Green Tomatoes, all that's left of the town was a graffiti laden cafe that's been closed for years.
Silent Hill was heavily inspired by Centralia, though the explanation is rather different.
An interesting version happens in the sixth A Nightmare on Elm Street film, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. "Ten years from now" (2001) Freddy has managed to kill off all of the teenagers and children of Springwood, leaving only the adults. The town is a complete wreck, near abandonment, except the adults are still there. They've all been left in a state of psychosis, possibly due to Freddy's influence.
In Skyfall, Silva has has his base in an island ghost town.
In Zombieland, Columbus, Ohio has apparently become a ghost town.
In Book 19 of the Lone Wolf series, Lone Wolf can visit two Ghost Towns on his cross country trip back home. One village was hit hard by a plague and is completely abandoned. Another one, the town of Amory, is a literal Ghost Town. The spirit of old enemy Roark still haunts his former home and his evil presence frightens away any living thing that tries to stay there. After Lone Wolf defeats Roark for the last time and banishes his spirit forever, he is delighted to hear birdsong in the morning after the battle — life is already returning to Amory. Lone Wolf also finds some hidden money in the floorboards of the house he was sleeping in — almost as if the town itself was thanking him.
Chamberlin, Maine in Carrie becomes one shortly after the title character's rampage through town, wherein more than 200 students at the high school are burned to death when trapped inside the building on prom night, the result of Carrie exacting telekinetic revenge for years of being bullied (by a small group of students) and nothing being done about it; more people are killed as she spreads her fury throughout the town. In the aftermath, the town is so deeply consumed by grief that most of the residents leave town as the town's entire industrial base also closes as most of their workers leave and their inability to recruit new workers.
Momson, Vermont, is described as one of these at the beginning of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot, and the title village winds up as one due to an outbreak of vampirism.
Galaxy of Fear: The town on D'vouran is small but lively when Tash decides to follow an apparently crazy man who wants to show her something relating to the world's dark secret. Within hours she comes back, shaken, and finds that everyone has vanished.
Comala, the main setting of Pedro Páramo, just seems like a standard Dying Town, but once you realize that almost every character in the story died long ago the real condition of the town becomes apparent.
The unnamed protagonist encounters vampiric activity in Bram Stoker's short story "Dracula's Guest" when he goes to investigate an abandoned town in German countryside.
Live Action Television
Carnivàle has Babylon — turns out its entire population except the bartender is made up of ghosts.
Top Gear bore witness to the effects of the Spanish real estate crash (see the Real Life folder below) in series 20, episode 3. This included an overnight stay in one of the unoccupied developments, using an abandoned airport for a drag race, and creating a street circuit in another development just outside Madrid.
The chorus of Sufjan Stevens' song "They Are Night Zombies..." name-drops a lot of Illinois ghost towns.
World of Darkness: Ghost Stories has Fort Assumption, a silver-mining town that went from Dying Town to dead in one brutal night, when the sheriff slaughtered everyone still there to "spare them the pain" of a smallpox epidemic before killing himself. The shock of the massacre caused the town to develop a literal ghost, and it's obsessed with rebuilding itself. The sheriff's own ghost, meanwhile, is not about to let it.
A location in Mother 3, at the end of chapter 7. It's Tazmily Village.
In Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, the town of Ghoulash is abandoned but for one resident.
Red Dead Redemption has the aptly-named Tumbleweed. Except for the bandits that hole themselves up there, it lives up to its name (and yes, you can clean up the town to fully restore its uninhabited state). The town is filled with disturbing Easter eggs, including ghost footprints on the steps, bizarre animal behavior, and strange barking coming from the graveyard.
Pretty much every town on Gran Pulse in Final Fantasy XIII qualifies but particularly Oerba, as it is the only one with infrastructure still mostly intact—just no people to use it.
Wario Land 4's Crescent Moon Village, in both senses the word (no inhabitants, but plenty of blood thirsty undead ghosts)
Silent Hill was once a prosperous large town that seemed to have been suddenly abandoned by everyone except a handful of locals and people who either purposfully or accidently end up in it. Perhaps it was the dwindling tourism industry or, more likely, the monsters and the periodic threat of the Otherworld that led to its abandonment. It has been theorised that the abandoned version of Silent Hill is in fact an alternate dimension, and in the real world it is a normal, prosperous town.
Champions Online has a region called the Southwest Desert where there are two ghost towns, both very different. One is a traditional old deserted mining town, Burnside, complete with ghosts from way back. The other is a nameless town ravaged by the effects of nearby atomic bomb tests in the 1950s, and completely deserted apart from a few radiation mutants straying around the edges of the atomic wastelands. Quite chilling really.
In Telltale Games' Back to the Future Episode 5, Hill Valley has become this, due to Edna setting a fire which destroyed the early town
In idSoftware's adventure shooter "Rage", the level "Dead City" is an abandoned megapolis, complete with crumbling skyscrapers, sand-covered vehicles, and bloodthirsty mutants. (But then again, most of the planet is post-nuclear-disaster, with crumbling everything and bloodthirsty inhabitants...)
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has two examples. Pripyat is of the more common type – while it's thick with radiation and anomalies, it was evacuated in 1986. Limansk-13, on the other hand, is more on the actually ghostly side: unlike Pripyat, its citizens remained after the CNPP disaster, and in the 2006 incident, its citizens (who were part of a mind control experiment involving the Radiowave Institute and the Druga-3 radar system, which effectively turned the place into a man-made Lovecraft Country) simply evaporated, with only their shadows left. You can even hear the ghosts of children during the daynote it's in the soundtrack for the location, actually, but since no other place or track shares this peculiarity, it still counts.
Nipton and Searchlight in Fallout: New Vegas became this after the Legion came to town. The former had its residents beheaded, crucified, or enslaved, while the latter was irradiated, turning the NCR troops stationed there into feral ghouls.
The Village in Elf Blood was once a ghost town, abandoned by the humans and taken over by the homeless magical races. It is extremely dilapidated, and contains many areas devoid of life.
In Girl Genius ghost towns are apparently quite common across Europe, which isn’t so strange given how many monsters and rampaging experiments wander around in the Wastelands.
Jackie Chan Adventures had a "historical flashback" episode starting by the Chan clan stopping in a ghost town.
One of Scott Adams' Adventure games, Ghost Town (1981).
Scooby-Doo Where Are You? episode "Mine Your Own Business" takes place in an Old West Ghost Town.
In The Simpsons episode "Marge vs. The Monorail", Marge goes to North Haverbrook, the town Lyle Lanley sold a monorail to before Springfield. She finds the town nearly deserted after their monorail crashed on its maiden voyage.
North Haverbrook recovered and became a flourishing community again in the episode, "Little Big Girl".
Kolmanskop, Namibia, once a diamond mining town, now half-buried in sand.
Japan has a large number of what are called "Haikyo", or urban ruins. They come in all forms, ranging from entire abandoned towns to single buildings. Most of them are remains from Japan's mining era, or else became abandoned when their economy slipped in the 1990s.
The Spanish property bubble led to the creation of several major property developments in the mid-2000s that never got the chance to be occupied when the bubble burst as one of the effects of the global financial crisis. However, despite a lack of full utility service, squatters have started to move in to some of these locations.
Centralia, Pennsylvania, built over a mass of anthracite that was hard to ignite but practically impossible to extinguish. The coal seam caught fire decades ago and the town was abandoned as unsafe, due to unstable ground and toxic gases. The seam remains on fire, and is predicted to continue to burn for 250 more years. However, there are still a few holdouts living there, and as of a settlement in October 2013, they're allowed to remain there as long as they live. Bill Bryson wrote a book about it, and the film version of Silent Hill was based on it.
And the smaller village of Byrnesville, just south of Centralia. The last house was demolished in 1996.
Times Beach, Missouri became a ghost town because of dioxin poisoning. The town's buildings were razed and the soil burnt to rid it of the dioxin. It's now a state park.
Love Canal, a infamous neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York that was evacuated in 1979 after it was learned that it was built on a toxic waste dump.
Rosewood, Florida was mostly-black village in an area of the Deep South notorious for lynchings. In 1923, a mob of several hundred whites, spurred by the alleged rape of a white woman in a nearby town, burned Rosewood to the ground and massacred several residents. The incident was largely forgotten, with both the victims and the perpetrators (and their descendants) remaining silent for decades. It was only until The Eighties that the massacre became public knowledge.
Elko Tract, Virginia was originally a decoy city back in World War II, built to resemble nearby Richmond and protect the actual city from Nazi bombers. The site is now private property closed to the public, but still contains remnants of the decoy city including a water tower, building foundations, and park benches.
Dana Common and Prescott Peninsula in Massachusetts, the last significant above-ground areas of four towns (Dana, Prescott, Enfield, and Greenwich) that were flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s. Despite the removal of all significant buildings in the area, Dana Common is still regularly kept up by the Massachusetts parks people as a waystation for hikers, parts of the old golf course in Prescott are still visible (but off limits to the public), and building foundations still dot the area, including under the water.
Iditarod, Alaska, the namesake of the Iditarod Trail and the annual dog sled race.
Bodie, California, which had some five thousand people at the height of a gold rush in the 1870s, went into a long slow decline in the early 20th century when the mining petered out, and was abandoned by World War II. It is now a National Historic Landmark in a high state of preservation due to its isolated, dry location high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Fort Ord, California, while still technically containing a military presence due to the Naval Postgraduate School, it is abandoned in the visual sense with a large number of boarded up buildings and overgrown plantlife.
Now the Mythbusters second abandoned location to casually drive cars through.
Cassiar, British Columbia, once a thriving mining town of 1500, it is now devoid of life. The highway in that area retains the name of Cassiar.
Thistle, Utah was abandoned after a landslide and flood in the early 1980's.
The state of Oklahoma, which has gone through numerous booms and busts over the years (oil, coal, lead, etc) is littered with literally thousands (to be exact, over 2,500) of these, to the point that there's actually an official state list and classification system for them. There are even several which are partially underwater due to the construction of artificial lakes, and many more which are entirely underwater but still visible from the shoreline. The most notable is Picher, a dangerously toxic and structurally unstable former mining town featured in an episode of Life After People.
Adak, Alaska, an otherwise standard isolated fishing town which was for many years home to a naval operations base. Several buildings were constructed to complement it, including a college, movie theater, and a bowling alley. They even had Pizza Hut, Baskin-Robbins, and McDonald's. Almost all of the town was abandoned in 1993 when the naval base closed. Here is a video showing the abandoned McDonald's.
Kitsault, British Columbia, an upstart town that was built in 1979 around a molybdenum mine. It had 1,200 residences, a shopping center, and all the modern amenities. But in 1982, the price of molybdenum plummeted, and the town died out after only 18 months. It was bought in 2004 with plans to revive it.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is loaded with ghost towns from the peak of copper mining in the 19th and early 20th century.