State’s Urban Legends: Vermont

There is something about the New England area that just lends itself to spooky urban legends. Vermont is no exception to this rule.

The Hayden Family Curse

Vermont's Hayden Family was cursed

The Hayden family in better days.

There are curses that have been laid on villages that have passed down through the years to continue striking at their targets. But when one is dialed in on a specific family, manages to take out the entire family tree so that no descendants remain and still manages to strike at people today, well, that’s a curse!

Back in early 19th Century Albany, Vermont, William Hayden was a landowner of good means. But even though he had a healthy bank account, he still needed to borrow money from his mother-in-law (who had more money than he did) from time to time. Only thing is, he never seemed to get around to paying her back. A fact she mentioned many times.

When she was struck with a mysterious illness, she accused William of poisoning her. So convinced that she was the victim of a foul murder plot that her last words were: “The Hayden name shall die in the third generation and the last to bear the name shall die in poverty.”

The family died out less than a century later – dead broke. The estate in Albany is said to be home to the spirit of that dead mother-in-law. Music, lights and a host of other paranormal events have been reported down to this very day.

Vermont’s Frozen People

Legend tells of harsh conditions near Montpelier, Vermont that led a poor family of the late 19th Century to take drastic action. Lacking the funds to feed and clothe the eldest members of the clan during harsh winters, the family froze them and buried them.

Oh, don’t be horrified at the prospect. When spring came to Vermont, they dug them back up, thawed them out and they were right as rain. Until winter returned.

Black Agnes

Vermont's Black Agnes

She’s no Santa Claus, so stay out of Black Agnes’ lap.

Granted Vermont is not a large state, but it seems the Montpelier area is to be avoided. Should you find yourself visiting Green Mount Cemetery you might encounter a statue of Black Agnes.

Whatever you do, do NOT sit on the statue’s lap. Legend says those that do will be dead seven days later. Maybe this is where the idea for the movie The Ring came from?

 

State’s Urban Legends: Utah

Utah may be a small state and sparsely populated. But it hosts more than its fair share of some really great urban legends.

Escalante Petrified Forest Curse

It’s only natural when visiting the Escalante Petrified Forest to reach down and pick up a broken off piece of a petrified tree as a keepsake. Many people do so every year. They really shouldn’t though.

Don’t do it kid. Don’t steal a piece of this petrified wood.

Ever since the 1930s park rangers have been receiving packages in the mail containing pieces of petrified wood of various sizes. The parcels also contain letters written by people confessing their thefts and reports all sorts of tragedies that struck them after their thefts.

Among the catastrophes: broken ribs, broken arms, sudden, unexplained illnesses, terrible accidents and the occasional bankruptcy. And all after taking a stolen piece of the forest home with them.

Broken collarbones, arms, ribs, mysterious illnesses, horrific accidents, and financial ruin. The one thing they have in common? They all occurred AFTER the victim illegally stole a piece of the forest.

The park puts the stolen pieces and the confessions on display. So spend the money and get your souvenirs from the gift shop.

Lilly Gray

Lilly Gray died in 1958 and was laid to rest in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. SHe was 77 years of age and died of natural causes, according to her death certificate.

Utah's Lilly Gray

The gravestone of Lilly Gray in Salt Lake City.

But her gravestone hints at something else. Below her date of birth and date of death lies this line: “Victim of the Beast 666”.

There are no records of any strange activity or events surrounding Mrs. Gray’s life or death. But legend is more than happy to step in and offer some theories. She was sacrificed to Satan and was a practicing Satanist seems to be the leading theory.

Her husband Elmer was an odd duck and very anti-government. While he never offered an explanation for the phrase itself, he did blame the local police and kidnappers for her demise.

But one theory does stand out. Seems Lilly might have died somewhere along Highway 666. Why is that important? Well…

Devil’s Highway

Originally christened Highway 666, but recently changed to Highway 491 because of the events that follow, the “Devil’s Highway” runs through four states. All four – Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah – have reported some very strange events along this route.

Utah's Devil's Highway

An old Highway 666 sign.

Hellhounds chasing cars and slashing tires, Skinwalkers changing form and a medicine man appearing in the back seat of the car to steal the driver’s soul. The queen of them all is a young woman in a white nightgown walking alone on the side of the road. When anyone pulls over to offer her a ride, she disappears.

The scariest of them all is the “Mad Trucker” who terrorizes drivers at night before suddenly vanishing. One reported encounter had the Mad Trucker going well over 100 MPH right down the middle of the two-lane highway, its tires apparently engulfed in fire. When the terrified driver pulled off the highway to avoid the collision the truck simply vanished into the night.

Utah’s Skinwalker Ranch

Speaking of skinwalkers – they’ve been spotted on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico (which also runs into Utah) – but the Ute Indian Reservation also has them.

On the Sherman Ranch near Ballard, Utah, they have to put up with being called the “Skinwalker Ranch” and even the “UFO Ranch” but the curious onlookers that drive by. The 40-acre ranch sits right next to the Ute Indian Reservation.

The ranch also has a lengthy list of mutilated cattle, strange floating orbs, UFOs hovering above, and to top it all off, a large, red-eyed beast similar to the Native American depictions of skinwalkers – half human, half animal. Makes dealing with the Bureau of Land Management almost pleasant.

 

State’s Urban Legends: Texas

The Lone Star State of Texas is one big place.

“The sun has ris, the sun has set and here I am in Texas yet” is an old saying in the state for a reason. So you figure they have some mighty large urban legends within the state lines.

The Candy Lady

Back in the early 20th Century children in Terrell, Texas started disappearing. It didn’t take long for a prime suspect to be named – especially when local law enforcement failed to bring the kidnapping spree to a halt.

Enter the Candy Lady.

Legend has it she’d leave candy on the window sills next to a child’s bed. After a while she’d add a note to the treat, promising even more sweets if the child would only come outside. Those that took her up on the offer were never seen again. Well, nearly all of them anyway.

One day a farmer found rotted teeth on his land and then found the body of a missing boy, his pockets stuffed with candy.

The legend, it is said, is based on the story of Clara Crane. Clara married a local farmer and they had one child, a daughter, who died in an accident. The marriage fell apart and Clara did too. She murdered her alcoholic husband, whom she blamed for her daughter’s death. She spent a few years in an asylum – where she made a doll from torn sheets that she would talk and sing to at night – before being released to return to  Terrell in 1898. A few years later, children started disappearing.

Black-Eyed Children

Texas Black Eyed Children

Black Eyed Child

Clara might have been hunting this child-related urban legend. We’ve seen the movies of strange children in abandoned homes, corn fields and along dark country roads.

But in the case of the Black-Eyed Children they appear in shopping center parking lots and outside fast food restaurants. No one has reportedly been hurt or killed by one of these unearthly kids – yet – but they do pressure the people they approach for things ranging from money to a ride in the car.

A reporter named Brian Bethel is credited with being the creator of this legend. Back in 1996 he pulled into a parking lot in Abilene. As he was sitting in his car a pair of children he estimated to be 12 years-old or less approached and asked for a ride home, adding for some reason that they were not armed.

What rattled the reporter most were the coal-black eyes both children possessed. He survived the encounter and people have reported seeing similar children with unnaturally black eyes ever since.

The Marfa Texas Lights

MArfa Lights of Texas

Ghosts, Aliens, Cars or Gas?

Science says the Marfa Lights just outside the town of Marfa, Texas are the result of glowing gases. Hey, at least they dropped the reflecting off Venus routine, right?

What makes the lights unique are the random pattern to their appearances as well as what they do. The lights start as one light, split in half, merge back together and then zip around in the night sky.

Aside from the scientific explanation, theories range from car lights to UFOs and even some ghosts just playing around.

State’s Urban Legends: Tennessee

Tennessee is the home of the Jack Daniel’s distillery – in Lynchburg if you are planning a visit. You might think the people who cooked up these urban legends did so after sampling some of the latest product.

Old Green Eyes

Old Green Eyes is not a wanna-be Frank Sinatra doomed to haunt bars as a lounge lizard. But he does haunt.

In a strange reversal of New York’s Headless Horseman of SLeepy Hollow fame, Old Green Eyes is a head without a corpse. He was a Confederate soldier who met his fate on the Chickamauga Battlefield. Problem is, they only found his head. The rest of him? Never found even so much as a fingernail of him.

Legend says if you walk the battlefield at night you might just encounter a set of glowing green eyes following you about. He might be hoping you’ll find the rest of him. Or he might be sizing you up as a replacement for his disembodied body.

The Bell Witch

This one inspired a book and a film. Yeah, it is that spooky.

Tennessee urban legend

The gravestone of John Bell, a victim of the Bell Witch.

The legend stems from the haunting of the Bell family back in the early 19th Century. It became so famous at the time that even Andrew Jackson – yes, the guy on the $20 bill – paid the area a visit to check it out for himself.

Rumor has it Jackson encountered the Witch in a cave – believed to be a portal she uses to travel between this world and the spirit realm. Rumor has it that after she spoke to him, he got the hell out of the area pronto.

Considering what she did to the Bell family, can you blame him? It started when John Bell shot at a strange looking creature in his fields. After that day doors and windows at the Bell house were tapped frequently by an unseen hand, sheets were pulled off of beds and a disembodied voice began speaking to the family. The voice wasn’t being nice either.

Three years later, John Bell died. A small container with a strange liquid sat nearby. The Bell Witch, who called herself Kate, took credit for poisoning John Bell.

You can visit the Bell Witch Cave near Adams, Tennessee today. If you dare…

Pine Haven School

Located in Jamestown, Tennessee the Pine Haven School is very old, long abandoned and very, very haunted.

Legends has it that a young boy was once cornered by a group of bullies in a bathroom. A careless shove into a mirror and the young child was killed when the glass shattered and falling shards fatally cut him. The bullies covered up the murder by burying their victim underneath the floorboards.

Should you enter the old building you should probably avoid looking into any mirror inside. You might see the reflection of the murdered boy there.

Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese

Robert Kroese has a marvelous sense of humor and Mercury Falls is perfect. I’ve read a couple of his other books, Starship Grifters and The Dream of the Iron Dragon. They are good books, but for humor, this is much better. As a side note: The Dream of the Iron Dragon should be up for a Dragon Award at Dragon Con this year. (How many Dragons can I put into a sentence?)

Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese

Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese

Author’s Summary:

Years of covering the antics of End Times cults for The Banner, a religious news magazine, have left Christine Temetri not only jaded but seriously questioning her career choice. That is, until she meets Mercury, an anti-establishment angel who’s frittering his time away whipping up batches of Rice Krispy Treats and perfecting his ping-pong backhand instead of doing his job: helping to orchestrate Armageddon. With the end near and angels and demons debating the finer political points of the Apocalypse, Christine and Mercury accidentally foil an attempt to assassinate one Karl Grissom, a thirty-seven-year-old film school dropout about to make his big break as the Antichrist. Now, to save the world, she must negotiate the byzantine bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell and convince the apathetic Mercury to take a stand, all the while putting up with the obnoxious mouth-breathing Antichrist.

My Summary:

This is a humorous comedy of manners in the same vein as Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. There aren’t a lot of good guys and almost no bad guys, just a lot of guys who work for other guys who are unfortunately involved in destroying the world. The hero and prime mover is Christine, who is fairly haphazard as an apocalypse reporter (or a hero for that matter). She doesn’t really seem to grasp reporting, and is understandably burned-out with her single subject matter assignments. She gets her first good assignment and promptly blows it…eh…literally getting blown up. Somehow, this results in her deciding to meet Mercury, rescuing the antichrist, and becoming a prawn in greater war between Heaven, Hell, and pretty much everyone else. (Yes, absurd use of words are a constant feature in this novel.)

Positives:

I managed to like Christine right off the bat, despite her burn-out, so I got engaged. The story tries to throw you with a lot of side-action and footnotes, but they are just window dressing for the plot and humor. As an example, you’ll feel better for remembering Don, from Don’s flooring, but he isn’t exactly central to the action. Some minor characters will turn out to be central, but … not much of a complaint… they aren’t well enough developed later to matter much anyway. The story focuses on the main three characters and doesn’t much drift.

Negatives:

The humor is constant and terrible. If you hate bad puns, silly word play, and absurd situations, well, not your novel. I’m a fan of those things, so it worked out well for me. Also, they blow up a chunk of California. You may think that this crime against humanity is a big negative, but this automatically adds a star for me. Yes, it’s arbitrary, sue me.

Overall:

Look, this is a fun book. It is five star fun from cover to cover. In Grifters, I didn’t end up liking his main characters, which distracted from the fun. In this novel, I ended up liking everyone, villains and heroes alike. There is a lot of heart in the novel, you’ll enjoy it. I’m giving it five stars and recommending it to anyone who likes a bit of silly in their day.

 

State’s Urban Legends: South Dakota

From Sica Hollow to the Black Hills, South Dakota is a magical place of rolling hills and folklore. For the avid urban fantasy fan, South Dakota is definitely an interesting place to explore.

Black Hills

Black Hills of South Dakota

One small section of South Dakota’s wild and wonderful Black Hills.

Because of the rich Native American tradition in the state, many of the urban legends associated with it trace their roots back to various tribal cultures. The largest group in the area is what we now refer to as the Sioux. Land is especially important to the Sioux, and the people hold a near-sacred relationship with certain areas and their ecosystems.

Perhaps that fact is embodied in the Black Hills (Paha Sapa) of South Dakota more than any other. To the various members of the many tribes comprising the collective we now call the Sioux, the Black Hills are magical. In their culture, they view the Black Hills as the literal center of the universe.

Magical Portals

Magical portals form a distinctive part of the urban fantasy genre, and frequently appear in urban fantasy media. The aptly titled Portals by N.M. Howell is just one example of this. But, I digress.

According to one definitive website, satellites from the Eros Data Center revealed that the Black Hills look exactly like a human heart from above. Many Native Americans feel vindicated by this revalation, since they have long held that the Black Hills are the heart of our world. Besides being a mystical place to the Sioux, the Black Hills are among the most expansive and ecologically diverse in North America. They also held and hold a lot of mineral resources, some of which America risked war to exploit. Gold is not the least of these.

Beyond The Black Hills Of South Dakota 

Beyond the Black Hills, there is much to capture the interest of paranormal aficionados, as well as those with an affinity for the macabre. In Sica Hollow, there is a spring that flows with red water- likely because of mineral content. However, that distinctive, disturbing color so commonly associated with blood only added to the mystery of the forested area. With numerous suspicious disappearances attributed to a Bigfoot-esque creature and a trail colloquially referred to as the “trail of spirits,” this remote region is not for the faint of heart.

 Walking Sam

Moving on, many have a more sinister explanation for the extremely high suicide rate on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of South Dakota. Walking Sam, as the creature is known, seems very much like Slenderman and other boogeymen-like creatures that haunt men and infiltrate their minds, perverting their thoughts.

 Hooky Jack

And then there is Hooky Jack, a reputed ghost living in a Rapids City tavern. Hooky Jack once worked as a miner, but had a number of extremities and limbs lost during an explosion. When he could no longer work in the dark shafts, he ventured into law enforcement. When he died a tragic death in the line of duty, he resolved to haunt his former residence. Apparently, the Puritan work ethic of the Mid-West doesn’t stop at death.

 South Dakota is an interesting place fraught with fun (or frightening) urban legends.

 

 

 

 

State’s Urban Legends: South Carolina

When South Carolina is not dealing with hurricanes, it has some very spooky urban legends floating about to keep things lively.

The death of Julia Legare

Buried alive. It is a fear shared by many people. So much so that there is a small industry devoted to devices to help the living escape a premature visit to the grave. This has been the case for a very long time. This legend might be the main reason why.

A premature burial occurred behind this door.

The Legare Family Mausoleum in South Carolina.

Back in the 19th Century, the Legare family was a prominent South Carolina clan with many homes on the mainland and on Edisto Island. Tragically, their daughter, Julia, fell ill and died. She was buried inside the family mausoleum.

Or had she actually died?

For when the tomb was opened for the first time since her burial, many years later, Julia’s remains were lying outside of her coffin. She appears to have fallen into a coma, woke up and could not escape until she finally truly died.

Since that re-opening the door to the mausoleum refuses to remain shut. Julia’s spirit it appears will not countenance being locked within any longer.

 

Boo Hags of South Carolina

You think Dracula is a scary vampire? Wait until you encounter a Boo Hag.

Skinless creatures that roam South Carolina looking for a home to invade. Once inside, a Boo Hag will hop onto your chest and revitalize themselves by sucking out your breath.

You’ll be tired, but alive. Unless of course the Boo Hag is cold. In which case it will rip off your skin and wear it for a blanket.

Keep those doors and windows well-locked.

State’s Urban Legends: Rhode Island

Rhode Island ranks dead last among the 50 states in area. But the smallest state in the Union stands toe-to-toe with her sisters when it comes to urban legends.

The Devil’s footprints

Near North Kingston, Rhode Island lies a forest with a very peculiar rock. It looks like there is a human footprint in the rock and there also appears to be the print of a cloven hoof.

Rhode Island's Devil's Footprint.

Did the Devil leave his foot/hoof prints in this Rhode Island rock?

Legend has it that a woman from a nearby native tribe murdered a white man.

While fleeing from her crime she was stopped by another man. Hoping to escape justice she called out for the Devil to save her.

Her captor, so goes the story, stomped his feet into the rock, leaving behind the human foot and cloven hoof prints in the rock we can still see today.

 

Mercy Brown

Back in early 1892, a nineteen-year-old girl named Mercy Brown died of tuberculosis and was buried. Okay, you say, that was a common cause of death back then. So what?

Mercy’s mother and sister had just preceded her in death, from the same cause, and the townsfolk grew suspicious. Seems there was a great fear of vampires in the area and this third death was too much.

The tomb of alleged vampire victim Mercy Brown

So they exhumed her body sometime later and found it unnaturally preserved and assumed the worst. Mercy was a vampire.

So they removed her heart and liver, burned them to ashes and fed them to her brother – who also had tuberculosis. To no great surprise to us today, the boy died within weeks.

If you visit Mercy’s grave in Exeter today, you will notice a chill nearby. Legend says its Mercy’s spirit and she isn’t too pleased that her body was not allowed to rest in undisturbed peace.

State’s Urban Legends: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is home to the birthplace of the United States of America – a birthday we celebrated about a week ago. But the state is also home to some urban legends that even home state spooky filmmaker M. Knight Shyamalan couldn’t have dreamed up.

Charlie No-Face/The Glowing Green Man

Some legends are made so much better because they turn out to be absolutely true, just like this Pennsylvania legend.

Pennsylvania's Glowing Green Man

Ray Robinson. The basis of the Pennsylvania legend of Charlie No-Face.

Charlie No-Face – of The Glowing Green Man – has no face and glows green as he walks the state’s byways nightly. The most popular spot is the Piney Fork Tunnel – an abandoned railroad tunnel around Hillsville. Should you encounter the ghostly stroller, don’t let him touch your car. The engine will die and you might join it in death soon after.

Now, here’s where the fun begins. The legend is true. There once was a man with no face that strolled the roads in Western Pennsylvania during the night. And he did “glow” too.

Back in 1919 a young boy named Ray Robinson stopped to examine a bird’s nest. Unfortunately, he made contact with a high-voltage trolly wire. A year before, another child had died in a similar accident in the area. Ray, depending on how you look at it, was not so fortunate or he might have been very lucky.

He survived the accident, much to the surprise of the doctors that saved his life, but at great cost. He lost his right arm, his nose and both eyes. The rest of his face was almost melted. During the day he remained inside his family’s house, making belts, wallets and other items to make a living, even into adulthood.

At night, he would walk along the road with a walking stick to navigate with. The “glow” was due to the huge amounts of petroleum jelly he used to coat his skin.

He often posed for photos and was said to be a very nice person, despite not always being treated nicely in return through the years before his death. The photo shown here is of Ray.

Blue Myst Road

The actual name on the map is Irwin Road and you can find it in Pittsburgh’s North Hills area. Of the many legends attached to this innocent-looking road the blue mist that legend says shrouds the road some nights is the most popular.

Pennsylvania’s Blue Myst Road.

A nearby cemetery hosts the graves of two doomed lovers. Their tombstones are connected by a full moon, creating the mist. According to one legend, that is.

Another says that an old building’s foundation once lay beneath the home of an old witch while a nearby house is said to be inhabited by little folk who’ll chase you away. Toss in a bizarre half-deer/half-human creature who wants to be alone and you’ve got yourself a heck of a road.

About the only thing ghost hunters find when they investigate Blue Myst Road are the irritated people in this Pennsylvania suburb who actually do live there. They are getting a little fed up with the attention.

The Bus To Nowhere

Whispered among the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the legend of the Bus to Nowhere. Its bus that only stops to pick up a passenger who is at the end of their rope and needs to get away from it all.

Once the passenger has shaken off what ails them and is ready to tackle the world again, the bus will stop and let them off. Only thing is, the passenger will have no idea how long they’ve been on the bus. In some cases it is only hours. Some times days or weeks. Occassionally, years.

Hmmm. A place where the person or persons inside are unaware of the passage of time in the outside world? Sounds vaguely familiar to me

State’s Urban Legends: Oregon

Urban fantasy offers readers a chance to mix magic with reality. It is perhaps this blend of authenticity and fantasy that continues to draw new fans into the fold. But, what about the magical myths that provide inspiration and entertainment in the pages of real histories? It seems that they, too, help drive people to explore. So let’s explore Oregon’s legends today.

Oregon’s King Of Urban Legends: Bigfoot

Bigfoot is just one of the supernatural myths that linger in the real historical records of Oregon. A wild state that’s known for its old-growth forests, pristine beaches, and diverse ecologies. So, it may seem natural that people would see – or think they saw – something amiss amidst the trees.

Bigfoot captured on film in Oregon?

This still frame from the Roger Patterson footage remains the best evidence that Bigfoot is real.

Bigfoot also appears in urban fantasy, such as in Jim Butcher’s Working for Bigfoot. Thus, it seems that Oregon is a good place to look for real tales to inspire the fiction that drives us.

While Bigfoot retains its status as a cryptid, sources have called this creature the most universal example of pseudo-science known to man.

However, even here, there is room for debate. A number of otherwise respected scientists and academics have provided empirical evidence to buttress their theories about Bigfoot. He is, they state, in fact quite real.

The Scientists Weigh In

Anthropologists such as Jeff Meldrum of Idaho State University and Grover Krantz of Washington State University have espoused their view that Bigfoot is a real phenomenon. Meldrum and Krantz based their own findings on the study of a video taken in the Klamath Mountains. (As an aside, my newest book, A Killer’s Secret is set in Klamath Falls). They also analyzed footprints originally found in the Blue Mountain area of northeastern Oregon.

The first reported sighting of Bigfoot in Oregon by white residents occurred in 1904. A number of sightings along the coast arose subsequently over the following decades. These claims often involved miners or loggers. Witnesses describe hairy, tall ape-like creatures with abnormally large feet.

However, long before 1904, area residents were familiar with the myth of Bigfoot. The local tribes knew this elusive creature by a different name, Tsiatko. This appellation was documented by ethnographer George Gibbs as early as 1865.

Bigfoot remains a source of jokes amongst the remaining loggers and a source of income up and down I-5 and Highway 101. But the fact remains that this urban legend is as ingrained in many cultures as is the need for food and shelter.

Oregon’s Murder Trails

Moving on, Oregon isn’t just the home of hippies hunting hirsute hoaxes. One thing many urban fantasy readers may be familiar with are murder trails.

Oregon just happens to be the home to one of the weirder murder trials in recent memory. In 2013, a Hillsboro man was convicted of beating his girlfriend to death. The interesting part in this unfortunate tale, however, was that a major part of the defense. The convicted murderer claimed the real killers were energy vampires.

You read that right. A licensed, practicing attorney got up and asked witnesses to tell a jury of reasonable, sane people about energy vampires.

 

Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels

Finally, Portland, Oregon was for some time considered the most haunted of the port towns. In particular, the Shanghai Tunnels have been studied for their potential paranormal activity. With their seedy beginnings, as the route by which young prostitutes were smuggled into a new life of sexual slavery and forced labor, it seems only natural that the Travel Channel would select them for a show.

Urban fantasy is a genre that thrives on mixing magic with the modern world. It seems only natural that fans, then, would find a jaunt into the various urban legends that help shape our own modern realities a worthy excursion.

 

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