If you take a look at the top trending list on YouTube today, you’ll find the above video. For anyone familiar with creepypasta or the type of stuff on the r/NoSleep subreddit, this video isn’t particularly noteworthy. It’s a trio of spooky, “true” stories that capitalize on people’s fear of dark places and erratic human behavior. But the popularity of this video may actually be linked to another internet phenomenon: People’s strange obsession with abandoned shopping malls.

Maybe it’s because the current generation of internet users spent the majority of their childhoods in these shopping meccas. Or maybe it’s because their now-rotting husks litter the American landscape, a physical reminder of our hubristic capitalist expansionism. Whatever the reason, people seem to love hearing about and seeing pictures of empty malls.

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The Reddit community r/DeadMalls is dedicated to sharing records of these once-thriving shopping centers. Photos and video of shuttered storefronts, torn down signage, and eerily empty food courts from across the nation are shared and discussed, with most users offering up their memories of visiting these malls in their heyday.

Recently, The New Yorker published an article on the strange emotions one feels listening to the sound of “Africa” by Toto playing in an abandoned mall. This echoey siren’s call of the 1980s was recreated for a YouTube video last year that has since garnered 1.75 million views. Part of the video’s success can be attributed to the popularity of the song itself, but the added layer of being aurally transported to the empty corridors of a forgotten galleria is certainly part of the allure.

Search “abandoned mall” on YouTube and you’ll find dozens of videos from suburban explorers trekking through these empty, litter-filled halls. Some of these videos take the horror angle, peddling in jump scares and breathy close-up shots, while others take a more pure exploration approach, acting like archeologists specializing in the late 1990s. Then there are those who just want to play with airsoft guns.

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Regardless of their approach, they are all drawn to these abandoned malls. These places that were once so alive with people, commerce, and Spencer’s Gifts but now sit dead, forgotten, and, if some are to be believed, haunted.

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