EXPLORING AN ABANDONED ARMY AIRFIELD
Haunted locations used to commonly be thought of as forests, Victorian mansions, graveyards, grandma’s closet with grandpa’s ashes in it, and so on. Now, though, we have now come to the point of civilization where there are millions of abandoned urban sites such hospitals, businesses, homes, and even army bases. Though they can be tricky to access, they are some of the most phenomenally chilling places to explore.
Hamilton, CA is currently an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Novato. It consists of cookie-cutter homes, perfectly green lawns year round, and nuclear families that likely own timeshares in Lake Tahoe. Yet it’s history isn’t so vanilla.
Until it was decommissioned in 1974, Hamilton was a United States Air Force Base. According to Wikipedia, it has its origins in the late 1920’s, when it was known as the Marin County Airfield. Named after First Lieutenant Lloyd Andrews Hamilton, it was officially known as Hamilton Field in July of 1932.
According to nps.gov, Hamilton was utilized for the defense of the western section of the country until 1940. It was built to be a bombardment base and the headquarters for the 1st Wing of the Army Air Corps. Being a bomber installation, Hamilton housed B-10, B-12, B-17, and B-18 bombers. This leads us to Hamilton’s involvement with the famous Pearl Harbor attacks. Yes, you read that right, Pearl Harbor. Who knew this cute little Novato neighborhood happened to be involved in one of the biggest bombings in US history?
On December 6, 1941, The 38th Reconnaissance Squadron took off from Hamilton in four B-17Cs and two new B-17Es bound for Hickam Field, Hawaii for Air Force reinforcement in response to the growing conflicts in the Pacific. Sure enough, the squadron unknowingly was flying right into the peak of the attacks on Pearl Harbor in Oahu. Wikipedia says that radar operators mistakenly thought they were the Japanese attack force arriving from California. Oops. Fortunately, everything made it home safe landing.
The Hamilton base played an important role in World War II, training many units on the West Coast. I’ll admit it’s pretty cool that this place, local to me, was so involved in arguably the most major war to date. With its’ expansion to a wartime status, according to militarymuseum.org, there was a vast amount of mess halls, administration buildings, warehouses, schools, and even a hospital. However, not much at all happened after the war and was officially decommissioned in 1974 for its uselessness.
So here we are today, 43 years later, with much of Hamilton still standing. Many of the hangars have now been transformed into office buildings, and much of the land is now a bustling middle-class neighborhood. The rest of Hamilton is considered open space or owned by the US coast guard. The interesting part is, though, that the abandoned airfield is still accessible by hiking through open space area. Heavily gated for the most part, you can find landing strips, building foundations, and most interestingly old army bunkers. Nature has taken over most of the land as trees, roots, and grass cover many of the structures. Also, not to mention, graffiti artists have had some satisfaction making the broken-in bunkers of Hamilton their canvas (and temporary living quarters, it seems).
If you dig deep into what’s left of Hamilton, though, things start to get creepy. In 2009, according to the Marin IJ, two construction workers were hospitalized after working on the Hamilton Pool renovation for mysterious skin rashes. The pool renovation was halted. Interestingly, it had not been updated since it was built in 1935. This sparked speculation that the rashes could be chemical burns from toxic waste, such as arsenic or agent orange. As it turns out, later that year, the arsenic levels in the soil turned out to be normal. Yet it was never determined what was, in fact, the cause of the hospitalization.
Worse, in 1997, Hamilton was mentioned in an SF Gate article titled “Superfund sites tied to birth defects”. Superfund sites, or sites with excessive hazardous waste, had a strong enough connection to birth defects in these areas that officials were prompted to publish them. There just so happen to be two in Hamilton Airfield.
Women near the sites had four times the risk of having babies with serious heart defects than those who lived farther away. There was twice the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly, according to the study, to be published in the July issue of the medical journal Epidemiology. Both types of defects are disabling and may be fatal.
It’s no secret that Hamilton has a bit of a disturbing reputation. Because of this, though, it’s all the more intriguing to go and visit the ruins of what was once a bustling army airfield. If you’re bored in Novato, I highly hiking behind the hangars and wandering into the area.
P.S. In case anyone is interested, here are some really interesting government documents that have been published on Hamilton.