Ghosts of Omenainen Island

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Have you ever walked around and wondered how many dead people you're stepping on?

I have.

And now, you will, too.

You're welcome.

The world is simply full of corpses in various states of decay. Some are fresh and squishy, some old and crusty, and others entirely turned to dust.

For people today, death brings a lot of options. We have cemeteries, crematoriums, water burials, funeral pyres, and burial mounds. You can even become a tree when you die or get a water cremation.

But it wasn't always that way.

Not long ago, in some parts of the world, what happened to you after you died was up to the local Christian church.

Omenainen: Origin & Pronunciation

To a native English speaker, the word "Omenainen" may look a bit intimidating. It's really not that bad, though. It's a word from Finland and is—surprisingly—pronounced essentially how it looks in English: omen-eye-nen.

Here's a native-speaker recording of Omenainen so you can hear it yourself.

The etymology is interesting, especially if you don't already know much about the Finnish language. The word itself is an adjective used to describe something as being "appley"—meaning apple-like, resembling an apple, or perhaps more aptly, tasting or smelling of apples. The word "omenainen" has the root of "omena," which is the Finnish word for "apple."

It's odd because the word for apple in Finnish bears no resemblance to the word for apple in neighboring Nordic countries (and languages). Unlike those neighbors I just mentioned, the Finnish language belongs to the Finnish-Ugric family of languages, which also contains Hungarian, Estonian, Sami (and more)—and no one knows where the hell the Uralic languages came from.

Where is Omenainen Island?

Map of Europe showing Finland with a red border.
Finland, of course. Can you spot Omenainen Island?
Photo showing the location of Omenainen Island near the southwest tip of Finland.
Omenainen Island. If you report back and tell me that you actually spotted that tiny island, I will be very impressed.

Omenainen Island is in the Archipelago Sea—a part of the Baltic Sea between the Gulf of Bothnia, the Gulf of Finland, and the Sea of Åland. The Archipelago Sea covers roughly 8,300 square kilometers (3,205 square miles). The number of islands in the Archipelago Sea depends on how exactly you define "island," but if you count by the broadest definition, then you might end up with about 50,000 islands.

That's a lot of islands.

Imagine how easy it would be to hide bodies if you chose a random island to dump them.

Haunting History of Omenainen Island

You don't have to imagine that hard because there's already a true story about it. It's a place that sailors still avoid today.

The beach is rugged, and the island is hard to reach, with treacherous waters surrounding it. Those few who have been to the island claim that the place keeps you awake at night, and mooring ropes for boats always break. Sometimes there's the sound of a person whistling in the night and stones cracking against one another.

For centuries leading up to the mid-1850s, the church in charge of nearby Rymättylä and Nauvo refused to allow some people to be buried in the church's sacred ground—murderers, criminals, adulterers, suicides, and other sinners. Instead, the church loaded them onto a small boat or sleigh tugged along by another ship, took them to Omenainen Island, and dumped them.

No coffin, usually no grave at all, and if there was a burial, it was only under a layer of moss. The vessel used to transport the dead was left abandoned by the island for fear of contamination by the sinful dead. The workers who took the dead there left the island as quickly as possible.

There's a story floating around Finland (that I couldn't verify) that after World War II ended, some German soldiers being repatriated took their Finnish brides with them—knowing they couldn't take them all the way to Germany. On the way home, near Omenainen Island, they threw the girls off the ship and into the icy waters, where most drowned. The lucky ones—or, perhaps, unlucky—made it to the shores of Omenainen Island, where they were never heard from again. Personally, I'm skeptical of this little tidbit, but the rest of the story of Omenainen Island is easily verifiable.

In the 1960s, the Rymättylä parish finally declared the island a burial place. They put up a cross and plaque at the island's northeastern tip. No one knows how many were taken to the island, and no record was kept of their names.

An old grainy photo of the shore of Omenainen Island. In the foreground is a cross.
Omenainen Island. Photo by Larissa Purssila.

We know the name of one of the people taken to the island: Abraham Abrahaminpoika. He was the last person buried there, and he was given a plaque at some point, one that's still there today.

Black and white photo of a plaque affixed to a stone.
Abraham Abrahaminpoika. The last resident of Rymätty. Buried on the island in 1855. In the same decade, the Aapo of Iso-Vallisten was also laid to rest in Ominainen. Photo by Pete Aarre-Ahtio @ IS.

As you might imagine, there are rumors of the island being haunted or cursed. Not only are there countless dead on the island, but they were the corpses of sinners, those rejected by the church as unworthy of burial in sacred ground. Out of curiosity, I did a bit of research on the question of divine forgiveness after death in the Christian religions. Unsurprisingly, there's no consensus on the matter.

Even though we don't know their names, we can all take a moment to consider the strange fact that there is an island in the Archipelago Sea where the church threw corpses to be forgotten. The island is now full of bones under a thin layer of moss. It's easy to imagine dozens, maybe even hundreds, of restless souls wandering the island, looking for a way off, or some seeking forgiveness for their transgressions.

It amazes me that there are so many bizarre stories and interesting places in the world. So many that no one will ever hear about or experience them all. Omenainen Island is just one of those, with a dark history all its own. If you keep your eyes and ears open, these types of things are everywhere, though you may have to reach outside your comfort zone to find them.

Going about daily life, you never really think about the history of the soil beneath you. For places like Omenainen Island, the creepy stories are all that's left of lives long forgotten. But underneath you, right now, what mysteries are there? And just how many bodies have you unknowingly stepped on in your life?

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