Thursday, June 1, 2023

A Towering, Terrifying Demon Horse Isn’t Even the Weirdest Part

“You learn and you grow — we’ve slowed down a bit on it,” Ms. Stegman said. “Now we’re going back to a little bit more traditional advertising.”

The airport straddles two traditions of American fibbing, according to Dylan Thuras, a co-founder of Atlas Obscura, a travel media company focused on unusual destinations. Over the past decade, the airport has edged into a space occupied by online conspiracy theories that may focus on physical places and urban planning concepts, like the 15-minute city, without translating into actual tourism.

Then there’s the kind of kitsch folklore that has inspired multiple groups in Washington State to offer Bigfoot hunting expeditions; one has a $245 day tour with lessons in “techniques that have proven to lure in Sasquatch.”

“It’s hard to compete, if you’re a tourism bureau, on your wineries or your beaches because every place has wineries and lots of places have beaches,” Mr. Thuras said. “People are drawn to mythic stories.”

In Denver — a city with a park built atop thousands of corpses and near radium-contaminated streets, a psychedelic art installation masquerading as a multidimensional gateway and a restaurant housed in a mortuary that reportedly once held Buffalo Bill Cody’s remains — it can seem as if everyone one encounters has a take on the airport.

Restaurant servers say the runways are shaped like a swastika (something airport representatives vehemently deny, explaining that the design allows for multiple simultaneous takeoffs and landings). Airline employees report glimpsing ghosts and claim that Native American music is played at night to appease the spirits of the dead buried below (Ms. Stegman said there are no graves and that the music is part of an art installation that, if not for a finicky sound system, would be on all the time). Uber drivers believe that dirt left over from the airport’s construction was used to create artificial mountains to stash food for the apocalypse (Ms. Stegman just laughed and said she had not heard that one).

When the Denver airport opened in 1995, it was 16 months behind schedule and $2 billion over budget. The difficulties attracted legal complaints and government investigations, but also rumors, spread online and locally, that the extra time and cost had gone toward sinister design modifications — including more than a hundred miles of tunnels leading to subterranean meeting facilities, survival bunkers, deep underground military bases and even the North American Aerospace Defense Command near Colorado Springs.

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