Leaving the high city of Alto Hospicio that overlooks the Pacific ocean at 2,000 feet, we headed inland into the Atacama Desert. Our destination was the old Salt Petre mining ghost town of Humberstone. A town slowly dissolving into the sands and history of the Atacama desert. This town is now deserted, left to the ravages of time, a town that once flourished with life, and yet remains a remarkable piece of Chilean history, a history touched with development and commerce, but sadly a part of an atrocity that still remains a stain on Chile’s past. A little bit of history on this old deserted town indicates it was established in 1872 and finally closed its doors as a mining town in 1960. At this time in history when the town was established as a Salt Petre mine, there were a number of other mines operating in the Atacama extracting Salt Petre.
Salt Petre was in high demand in this era, primarily for the use for Gun Powder. What makes this town so unique, is its organization by the corporation that established the mine. The corporation established a complete community with every amenity available at that time, Town Hall, School, a Church, Hospital, Dentistry, a Theatre, Tennis Court, Football field and a Swimming Pool, it had Shops and a Cantina. The Miners accommodation was on site, houses that were designed to house the Miners and their families, houses were built side by side, no intervening spaces, Streets were laid out in formal arrangement. I walked the Town of Humberstone for over two hours, at times it felt like the ghosts from the towns past accompanied me, the streets, eerily silent, the Church a silent remnant from out past prayers, the Theatre holding the echoes of the Caruso the Tenor. The buildings were a history book without words, corrugated iron rusting, walls both internal and external crumbling, all evidence of the Salt within the soil, that accompanied with the harsh Sun and Sands of the Atacama, displayed a Town that once was alive, served a purpose but was doomed to die when commerce and finance constraints took over. Two interesting facts on this Town, one was it had its own self sustaining currency, the other, the Swimming Pool, this was made entirely of corrugated iron spot welded together, The Pool was not open for viewing when I was there, I have added a video clip of the overview of Humberstone at the end, which depicts the pool. I end this story of Humberstone as seen through my eyes, the attached pictures will show you the Town as it is today, I hope you agree with the pictures that on seeing them you actually can see into it’s history, The Fading Memory of Once a Community welded together for Prosperity.